There is an argument to be made that the Cowboys have been the most successful franchise in the NFL over the last 10-15 years as far as first-round draft picks.
DeMarcus Ware will be in the Hall of Fame within a few years of being eligible, if not on the first ballot. At just 27 years of age both Tyron Smith and Zack Martin are arguably the best players in the league at their positions, both are two-time First Team All-Pros, and each are on Hall of Frame tracks. Dez Bryant and Travis Frederick have both been to several Pro Bowls and made the First Team All-Pro once, and with a little luck (and perhaps a Super Bowl) one or both could potentially end up in Canton. As a rookie Ezekiel Elliott made the Pro Bowl, was First Team All-Pro, and led the league in rushing. It’s too early to say he’s on a Hall of Fame track but I don’t think anybody would be surprised if he ended up there 15-20 years from now. Heck, even Terence Newman, a player who is a punchline for many Cowboys fans, has been a capable starter for going on 15 years and has 41 career interceptions.
That type of production is astounding, especially when you consider that Bryant, Smith, Frederick, Martin, and Elliott have all been selected since 2010. That’s five first-round picks in eight years who are among the best of the best in the league at their position, and if I had to guess at least two, and perhaps three, four, or even all five could end up in the Hall of Fame.
I’d put that first-round track record up against anybody in the league.
However, the problem with the Cowboys going back many years now has been round two. For whatever reason the team would make logical, sound decisions with their first pick and then go off the reservation, taking big risks with their second.
For over a decade round two for the Cowboys has been defined by a litany of injured linebackers, character risks, unnecessary trades, and the continuous, non-stop, mind-numbing decision to spend premium resources on tight ends despite the fact that the team already had Jason Witten. Between 2004 and 2013 Witten made the Pro Bowl nine times in 10 years, he was First Team All-Pro twice, and yet during those 10 years the Cowboys decided to spend three second-round picks (out of eight) on tight ends. Of course you already know that not a single one of those three picks saw a second contract with the team.
If it wasn’t a tight end it was an injury risk such as Kevin Burnett in 2005, Sean Lee in 2010, Bruce Carter in 2011, or Jaylon Smith in 2016. If it wasn’t an injury risk it was a character risk like Randy Gregory in 2015. And if it wasn’t a tight end, an injury risk, or a character risk, it was a cute trade, like in 2014 when they gave up a third-round pick to move up from 47 to 34 for DeMarcus Lawrence, or in 2012 when they gave up their second-round pick to move up in the first from 14 to 6 for Morris Claiborne.
Whatever the case may be, over the last 10+ years the Cowboys have found a way to waste premium resources on unnecessary risks who ended up providing almost nothing in return, save Sean Lee of course, and perhaps (hopefully) Jaylon Smith.
That all changed last Friday night when the Cowboys selected Chidobe Awuzie with the 60th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Now, I may be biased because I love Awuzie as a prospect and as I wrote a month ago I would’ve been perfectly fine with him at the 28th pick, let alone at 60. I also had him neck and neck with Kevin King (who went 33rd overall) as far as ideal players available for the Cowboys going into Day 2 of the draft. That sentiment seems to have been shared by most as Awuzie was ranked 27th overall by CBS Sports, with King at 25, Mike Mayock had Awuzie at 40th overall and King at 34, while Daniel Jeremiah had Awuzie at 39 with King at 43.
To go even further, with the injury to Sidney Jones I think there is an argument to be made that Awuzie was the second-best cornerback in the draft, and to land him at the end of the second-round was too good to be true.
What makes it even better is the fact that the second round has been a complete and utter wasteland (again, save for Sean Lee and maybe Jaylon Smith) for the Cowboys organization for more than a decade now.
For me the Cowboys have not gotten a clean prospect with no discernible risks, who meets a true need (unlike drafting a tight end when you have one of the best in the league), and who provides this type of value in round two since probably Andre Gurode in 2002, coincidentally also from Colorado. That year many thought Gurode was a borderline first-round talent, as many thought with Awuzie this year, the difference was that Gurode was the 37th overall selection while Awuzie went almost a full round later.
The Cowboys have perhaps the strongest track record of first-round picks throughout the entire league in recent memory, and yet for whatever reason the decisions made in the second round have consistently held the team back as they have spent those premium resources frivolously. If last Friday night is any indication that tide is starting to turn, and with an already very young and promising roster in place that may be a very scary thing for the rest of the NFL.