The Cowboy currently hold ten picks in the 2018 NFL draft, but the bulk of the pre-draft scrutiny is currently focused on the No. 19 overall pick: Offense or defense? Calvin Ridley or Vita Vea? Christian Wilkins or Mark Andrews?
As we move deeper into draft season, we'll start familiarizing ourselves with the top 100 prospects, as our attention focuses on the Cowboys' first three picks of the draft.
But a strong argument can be made that the success of the 2018 draft class will ultimately be determined by the five picks the Cowboys have in the fourth and fifth round, four of which are compensatory picks.
The rule of thumb has been that a good draft yields three multiyear starters, and most teams are looking to get these guys in the first three rounds. Of course, that won't stop some eager beaver draftniks from expecting teams to find the likes of Tom Brady (sixth round), Jared Allen (fourth round), Richard Sherman (fifth round) or Antonio Brown (sixth round) on the third day of the draft, every year.
In the fourth and fifth rounds, teams are much more likely to pick a player like Tashard Choice (fourth round), a solid guy who will contribute where he can but never amounts to more than depth at a position and eventually is supplanted by better talent or moves on when his contract is up - to another team or another career.
But that's not a knock on Choice. The production from underappreciated day-three picks like Choice are critical to a team's success. These are the guys who will have a big role on special teams, will spell the starters for a few snaps each game, and may have a specific role in some personnel packages. But most importantly, the guys are often the “next man up” when a starter goes down.
Per Pro-Football-Reference.com nine of the 22 Cowboys players with the most starts last year were taken after the third round or not at all:
- Damien Wilson: 4th / 127th pick / 2015
- Dak Prescott: 4th / 135th pick / 2016
- Orlando Scandrick: 5th / 143rd pick / 2008
- James Hanna: 6th / 186th pick / 2012
- Anthony Brown: 6th / 189th pick / 2016
- Jeff Heath: UDFA / 2013
- La’el Collins: UDFA /2015
- David Irving: UDFA / 2015
Four or five years from now, when we look back at the 2018 Cowboys draft, we'll expect to see at least two, preferably three, starters taken in the first three rounds.
But what could turn this from a good draft (three starters in the first three rounds) into a great draft is if the Cowboys get more starters on the third day of the draft. And with five picks in the fourth and fifth rounds, they are uniquely positioned to make that a reality.
Of course, the abundance of day-three picks also gives the Cowboys the flexibility to trade up, which would likely increase their odds of drafting a future starter, but would also reduce the size of their draft class.
Unfortunately though, even if the Cowboys should win this draft, that may not automatically translate into playoff success.