The Dallas Cowboys have a very simple approach in the first round of the draft - pick the best football player. And more times than not, they seem to know who those players are. The Cowboys have had a nice little run of drafting Pro Bowlers over the last several years as they've selected Dez Bryant (2010), Tyron Smith (2011), Travis Frederick (2013), and Zack Martin (2014).
But things get a little trickier for them in the second round. The eyes in the Cowboys war room get real big as there always seems to be some wild card player available whose draft stock has taken a hit for one reason or another. In 2010, Sean Lee was the player the front office had to have. Because of injuries to both of his knees, Lee's draft price had fallen and the Cowboys moved up a few spots to secure the pick. Last year, it was Randy Gregory that plummeted down the draft, but for a different reason. Because of a history of drug use in college, teams avoided him. Well, most teams anyway. The Cowboys felt he was too good to pass up as he had blue-chip talent and would be a great score at pick 60 in the draft. And last week, they were back at it again - taking more risks. The organization saw an opportunity to get one of the best college players at a second round price, so they went for it when they drafted Jaylon Smith with the 34th overall pick. He doesn't have a history of injuries or one iota of character concerns, but he's recovering from a serious knee injury that creates a lot of uncertainty about how his career will unfold.
Jerry Jones doesn't shy away from taking risks, but he needs the opportunity to produce a sizable gain to make it worth it. If you have an opportunity to trade a second round pick this year for a top three overall pick next year, would you do it? Of course you would, because that's a remarkable deal. That's the gain that Jerry sees in all this. Passing up on the remaining players on the draft board is what he is willing to risk losing, but getting a player who has the potential to be one of the best football players in the NFL is the reward.
But the extent of Smith's knee injury is the great unknown in all of this. He had reconstruction surgery on his left ACL a few months ago, but for any real progress to be made, he will need that nerve to fire again. Whether or not that nerve gets going is the big question that will ultimately decide Jaylon's football fate. While that brings about a lot of uncertainty for many, there are some encouraging signs.
He said the tingling down his leg and into his foot continues to advance, which can indicate the nerve axons are growing.
The Cowboys head physician, Dr. Dan Cooper, feels good about his chances as he is "optimistic that his knee itself will be stable and a good knee and he'll get all his strength back. And I also think he has a very good chance of getting his nerve recovery back."
Once the nerve strikes, it then just becomes a waiting game. When the wait is finally over, the Cowboys get an exceptional football player who plays defense, and that's just what the doctor ordered.
When Smith finally returns to the field, Cowboys fans know they'd be getting a good football player, but is it clear just how great this kid is? This isn't your average linebacker. This kid is special. Any time a player would be projected to go in the top three of a draft says a lot in itself, but it goes farther than that. His skills at the position aren't something that comes around very often. Mike Mayock saw him as a possible #1 pick in the draft if he was healthy.
"He's sideline to sideline with speed. He's as exciting a linebacker prospect as I've seen since Luke Kuechly as far as an inside, off-the-ball linebacker. That's how excited I was for him."
The Cowboys are trying to do something special, and if you want to be epic, you got to make epic moves.
When you look at the history of the NFL draft, there have been a couple instances where a team has been lucky enough to land the two most-talented players in the draft. In 1974, the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Lynn Swann in the first round and Jack Lambert in the second round. Both of those players are Hall of Famers and the Steelers would go on to win four Super Bowls over the next six years. Of course, Pittsburgh drafted a lot of great pieces to that dynasty team, but starting the 1974 draft off with two stars certainly helped.
And 21 years later in 1995, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would strike gold when they were able to land the two best players in the draft, Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks. Tampa Bay has had a long history of terribleness, but thanks to the addition of these two Hall of Fame players, Buccaneers fans would experience their first, and only Super Bowl victory.
Fast forward another 21 years and you have the 2016 draft. If Jaylon Smith's knee heals, it is possible that the Cowboys may have drafted the two best players in this draft. And if that's turns out to be the case, some really special things are on the horizon.