The Dallas Cowboys face a very different situation in the 2017 NFL Draft than they did last year. Instead having the fourth-overall spot, they sit at 28. They very much want to keep the recent trend of hitting with their first-round pick alive, but that is clearly a much harder task now. What they really need to have happen is for some desired players to slide a bit.
The good news: That could very well happen.
There are trends in the draft, some well established, and others shifting from year to year. A good way to get a feel for how things are shaping up for the first round (at least in the minds of football writers and analysts) is to refer to the Mock Draft Database from out parent site, SBNation. It provides a quick way to see which players and positions are thought to be going in the first round, and at least a general idea of where. Here is what seems to be developing.
Quarterbacks will be overdrafted.
You might as well make that a given every year in the draft. There is no more valuable position for the NFL, and lately, it just seems to be harder to identify those with real NFL-caliber talent. The consensus is that at least three QBs (Deshaun Watson, Mitch Trubisky, and Patrick Mahomes) will go before Dallas goes on the clock, and there is also a very real chance that a fourth, DeShone Kizer, may join them.
That is all good news for the Cowboys, who more or less accidentally answered their starting quarterback question for potentially a decade or more last year. And that has just added to the pressure on teams to find a quarterback, given how valuable Dak Prescott proved to be. His example also can feed a bit of overoptimism about finding another star by out-scouting the competition - when what is really likely to happen is that teams will convince themselves that the quarterbacks are better than they really are.
Every QB taken ahead of them is one more player of value to the Cowboys that will be pushed closer to Dallas’ spot. And there is a valid argument that most if not every QB taken in the first round this year represents a second-round (or lower) talent that is costing some team a first-round pick. That is how weak this year’s QB class is seen to be by many. At a minimum, the draft predictions are showing them being taken ten or so spots ahead of where they rank overall in the draft class.
Demand for offensive tackles is also outstripping supply.
The tackle position has increasingly come to resemble quarterback in that it is just about equally hard to identify good pro prospects and to find NFL ready players in both positions, and both are seen as keystone players for the offense. And just like with QB, OT talent is rather lacking this year. While there might only be one or two offensive lineman total taken before Dallas, they will almost certainly be overdrafted, which works to the Cowboys’ advantage. Three teams that are seen as the most likely to be going with offensive linemen (most likely tackles) are the Denver Broncos, the New York Giants, and the Seattle Seahawks. Seattle is a team that could help Dallas in two ways by taking an OT, because the next most likely pick for them is seen to be Kevin King, a cornerback that could be a target for the Cowboys at 28.
There is a somewhat paradoxical effect that may occur with both QB and OT because of the paucity of good options this year. Once one goes off the board, that selection can spark something of a run as teams, especially ones who have limited discipline in the draft, become more prone to making a reach as they see a small pool of players in a position they need drying up. This is something the better teams in the draft don’t fall prey to, but the evidence is pretty clear that not all franchises are good at this. And for Cowboys fans, teams ahead of them overdrafting tackles is a great thing.
This year may see a resurgence in running back value.
Unlike recent drafts, there is a strong belief that at least two and likely three running backs will go in the first round. That is widely attributed to the success the Cowboys had with Ezekiel Elliott last season, so as with quarterbacks, Dallas could be making a bit of its own luck here. It is widely believed that both Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey will both go somewhere in the top half of the first round, and Dalvin Cook is also considered a good bet to go high as well. Three running backs taken ahead of Dallas would be all good.
Unfortunately, there may also be an early rush to take pass rushers.
While the previously mentioned positions are all ones that the Cowboys have no interest in taking at 28, pass rusher is obviously a different story. It is considered a deep group this year, but it is also one of the key “positions of high value”. If there is going to be a run at any position, this may well be where it is most likely to happen. There is a fairly strong possibility that Myles Garrett and Solomon Thomas could go one and two in the draft if the SBN database is accurate, and Jonathan Allen and Derek Barnett are good shots to follow closely behind. That still leaves pass rushers like Taco Charlton, Takkarist McKinley, and Charles Harris that could be of interest for the Cowboys - but according to the mocks, there are three teams in the ten or so preceding Dallas in the draft order that also should be looking closely at them. Unless the Cowboys see value in someone else that the earlier teams miss, they would be forced to reach to get a pass rusher in the first - and that is not something they should do.
The other usual suspects.
Wide receiver and linebacker almost always get some attention early in the draft, so that is good for the Cowboys. And you can add in at least one tight end, O.J. Howard, that will go before them, with David Njoku also getting some first round buzz.
But the other position that is heavily drafted early almost every year is cornerback. That does not work to their favor. However, again based on the database, corner is one position where the supply may be at least sufficient to meet demand, especially for Dallas. There also are some good safety candidates that may be available.
So one more indicator says that the Cowboys will have the best shopping among defensive back prospects, while it can also hope one of the pass rushers it covets could slide. Of course, the way the draft really falls often defies all expectations. But if things go the way they seem to be trending, there is good reason to believe that there is a good defender that is going to come Dallas’ way at 28.
But wait, what do the numbers say?
There is one other thing about the SBN mock draft database that is worth considering. It gives a percentage likelihood for each player going to a given team. While it is not completely accurate (since players mocked by few writers are lumped together as “others”), it does present an interesting bit of data: You can add some numbers up, and come up with a list of players who have less than a 50/50 chance of being gone when the Cowboys go on the clock.
I did exactly that, and while I may have made a math error or two, it showed some interesting names that actually offer even more hope than I had expected. First off, it supported the ideas on quarterbacks, running backs, and offensive tackles. But things looked a little different on the defensive side of things. Based on my calculations, all these players were more than likely to still be on the board when Dallas goes on the clock at 28:
That is a list of names that was a little surprising, and which runs counter to the earlier thoughts about a run on pass rushers, plus includes a highly-regarded corner (that is only linked to Seattle as a likely team to take him before Dallas gets a shot). Additionally, Gareon Conley and Marlon Humphrey were a couple of cornerbacks that were very close to being 50/50 propositions when the 28th pick rolls around. If there is any validity to the cumulative predictive ability of the various mock drafts, there may be a surprisingly plentiful supply of defensive talent for the Cowboys to consider.
One way or another, things are looking very interesting for us Thursday.