We generally try to stay away from hyperbole here at BTB. Most of the time things fall short, never living up to grand pronouncements. But, for argument's sake, let's take a look at what could happen if five rookies picked up during the past two draft weekends (2015, 2016) pan out. It's a great dream, but it's actually not too far-fetched.
Over the past two drafts, including the UDFA signing period immediately following the drafts, the Dallas Cowboys have managed to get five first-round quality players while only owning two first-round picks. Just think about that for a moment. With only two first-round picks, Dallas has gotten Byron Jones, Randy Gregory, La'el Collins, Ezekiel Elliot and Jaylon Smith. The cynic would say, yeah, but a couple of those guys come with huge red flags. Agreed, there is no denying that the Cowboys took a few risks, and that could really end up hurting them if they don't work out. But at the same time, just imagine if they do work out. The Cowboys future over the next decade could be defined by the moves made over the past two drafts.
The Safe Bets
Byron Jones - The Cowboys picked up corner/safety hybrid Byron Jones about where he was expected to go in the 2015 draft, in the late first round. Whether he was a corner or a safety was somewhat of an issue, something the Cowboys used to their advantage in 2015 when they played him in both spots. Now, the want him to be the back-end safety, the quarterback in the backfield, and Jones' qualities - intelligence, size, instincts and unmatched athleticism seem to be perfect for the role. How good he will be we don't know yet, but it's a safe bet to say that he will be the starter at safety for quite a while.
La'el Collins - One of the most unfortunate stories in draft history. Because of something he had nothing to do with, he went from a middle first-round talent to an UDFA. He was one of the top-rated linemen in his draft, but the Cowboys ended up signing him as an UDFA. Now, the former college offensive tackle has been kicked inside to guard, where many experts thought he should play. He's a brutal run-blocker and has already made the highlight films with his pancake blocks. He'll only get better, adding to the Cowboys already potent offensive line. Another sure-starter for Dallas.
Ezekiel Elliott - Placing him in the safe bet category is putting the cart in front of the horse, but it's really difficult for anybody to find anyway Elliott doesn't become a star running behind the Cowboys offensive line. He was consistently rated as the top back in the 2016 draft and a Top-10 talent. He's one of the most well-rounded backs to come out in a long time (running, catching, blocking) and he has a nose for the endzone. You can expect Elliott to be the starter in Dallas through his first contract, at least.
These three aren't just starters, they have the potential to be very good to dominant. If that was all the Cowboys walked away with for their two first-round picks in 2015/2016, that would be called a success.
Randy Gregory - We know the story. Gregory was an early-to-mid first-round talent in the 2015 draft. Many saw him as the best pass rusher and that he would go in the first ten picks. But the character issues, especially with marijuana use, caused a slide the Cowboys finally stopped at pick #60. Now he's serving a four-game suspension after a rookie year that was slowed by injury. So, can he turn it around? Can the Cowboys help him turn it around? If they can, then the Cowboys should finally have a true weapon at defensive end. You have to remember what people were saying about Gregory before the 2015 draft.
CBS Sports - Compares To: Aldon Smith, San Francisco 49ers -- With the same combination of length and explosiveness to terrorize quarterbacks, Gregory has elite potential.
NFL.com - "He's super raw, but those physical tools are through the roof. That's why you pay coaches." -- NFC scouting director
MMQB - But in terms of two major criteria for a pass rusher—athletic tools and relentlessness—Gregory looks nearly off the charts. For those reasons, he's as tantalizing a positional player as there is in this draft class.
Walter Football - Gregory looks like a dynamic pass-rusher for the NFL. Many college speed rushers don't have a repertoire of moves as they rely on their speed 100 percent of the time. Gregory, however, would use a spin move, swim move and bull rush effectively. Gregory is instinctive about when to deploy those moves, too. On tape, he seems to diagnosis his blockers in an instant to know what type of rush will work best.
Gregory is no ordinary defensive end. He has the athletic ability and instincts to be a rare kind of player. He could be the Cowboys devastating pass rusher that all teams need. If he can get his head on straight.
Jaylon Smith - This is a different case altogether from Gregory. When people speak of Smith's character and off-the-field demeanor, it's nothing but praise. The issue, as we all know, is the nerve in his knee - will it ever fire correctly again. If it hadn't been for the injury, many scouts predicted a Top-5 talent. More than one said he was the best defensive player in the draft, and Mike Mayock said he might have gone as the first overall pick. This is a guy being compared to Luke Keuchly. A true three-down linebacker who has sideline-to-sideline ability. This is a special player who had the potential to be the overall number one pick. That's high praise. So if that nerve fires again, the Cowboys aren't just getting a player, they are getting a potential game-changer.
Happy Days... Maybe
There are no guarantees in the NFL. Players sometimes never live up to their abilities. Sometimes their off-the-field issues take over. They can have injuries that sap them of their talents. We acknowledge this. But, sometimes things work out. And if they do in this case, look at what the 2015/2016 drafts will have brought the Cowboys.
A solid back-end safety with a high ceiling. A road-grading offensive guard. A running back who is as talented as any that have come out in the last decade. A defensive end who has the potential to be elite. A three-down linebacker who controls the field.
If the Cowboys are lucky, then the past two drafts might be looked upon with great fondness down the road. An extraordinary confluence of events that changed the franchise's future.