If you looked up and down the Cowboys roster, you would find several holes. Some holes are small, others are craters. For example, the team could use a 1-tech defensive tackle, but they already have some other options on the team that aren’t terrible. They may opt to keep playing Maliek Collins out of position as a backup plan if they cannot improve the position. While it’s not ideal, they are still okay at this spot. And a talented strong safety would be a delight to add because all they have currently are solid backup-type players. But again - they’re solid at the position. The Cowboys managed to get by at both these positions last year without any atrocities.
While those are certainly holes for the Cowboys, there isn’t a bigger need on this team right now that finding a viable starting left guard. Jonathan Cooper played the position last year and performed better than a lot of people expected, but he is now a free agent and coming off a knee injury suffered in the season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles. Backup backup-guard, Joe Looney, is also a free agent. The Cowboys essentially have nobody at guard unless you count Chaz Green, and let’s face it - nobody wants to count Chaz Green.
So, grabbing a guard should be a top priority in this draft, right?
Please allow me to use my favorite gif from the move Encino Man to answer that question.
Recently, my esteemed colleague Tom Ryle wrote a piece about how selecting a guard in the first round wouldn’t be a bad idea. The Cowboys need a starting left guard and it’s very possible that a player like Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn or even possibly UTEP’s Will Hernandez are the teams best available players on their board when pick 19 rolls around. What do you do then? You got to stick to your board, right?
If a player like Wynn is your clear and decisive best player remaining, then taking him is the right choice. The Cowboys are trying to collect great players and he’s a guy who would step in and be a day one starter and make this tough offensive line even tougher.
But if there are some other players tiered real close to where he’s at on the Cowboys’ board, then they need to give strong consideration to going another direction. Let’s go through this together and look closely at their options. Let’s assume all the first-round graded players are off the board. We’ll go with our BTB board that we are collectively putting together (I knew that would come in handy).
The first 14 players look like this (green denotes a position the Cowboys would benefit from drafting):
The hope was that one of those players fell to 19, but in this scenario our hopes have been flattened and we’re forced into a contingency plan. It’s time to start looking closely at the highest ranked second-round graded players now. What are some good choices left for the Cowboys?
Any one of these players could be available at 19, so if these were the choices, what player should the Cowboys select? As stated earlier, if the top player on your board clearly stands out above the others and plays a position that helps the team, then the decision is easy - you take him. But for the sake of this discussion, the decision is not easy as it is presumed that there are a few players that are in contention for that draft pick selection.
Going through these players at other positions we have...
Michigan’s Maurice Hurst has great explosiveness off the line, but he’s a 3-tech defensive tackle and the Cowboys already have a few of those. Where the team stands on playing Collins and the future of David Irving would have a lot of impact on how important another 3-tech DT would be.
Florida’s Taven Bryan and Stanford’s Harrison Phillips aren’t worthy of a first-round investment this early in the round. A similar level DT might be there for the Cowboys in the second round.
UTSA’s Marcus Davenport and Boston College’s Harold Landry are two of the stronger edge rushers in this draft. Assuming they pay him (and they will) the Cowboys already have DeMarcus Lawrence on the roster and they just made a first-round investment in Taco Charlton in last year’s draft. Wouldn’t they be overloading on the edge?
No. The defensive end position is the second most important position in football after the quarterback. You can never have enough of these guys. Drafting Davenport or Landry would allow the team some flexibility at the position. Who knows what things would look like a year from now. Maybe they play Tank under the franchise tag price and make him prove he’s not a one-year wonder? And by then they’ll have a better idea of what kind of player they have in Taco. Adding another edge rusher in the mix is not only smart, but it could make them dangerous. Let’s put a pin in this.
Both LSU’s Darrius Guice and USC’s Ronald Jones II are great running backs, but the Cowboys aren’t interested in going this route this early. It’s a deep RB class with some great choices later so this is an easy “pass.”
Like the running back position, the Cowboys have no desire to splash around with one of these choices. Wyoming’s Josh Allen and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield may be on the radar for teams needing a QB, but with Dallas confident in the young Dak Prescott, it’s a waste of draft resources to consider a quarterback in the first round. That is also an easy “pass.”
Wynn is right up there with the top players left and worthy of consideration. Both Hernandez and Iowa’s Jame Daniel would make great trade back choices, but 19 is too early to take those guys.
Similar to last year, there are a lot of good cornerbacks to choose from throughout the first couple days of the draft. The presumed move of Byron Jones to corner combined with last year’s rookies Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis gives the team plenty of options at the position. And that doesn’t even include Orlando Scandrick (who most people don’t expect to return) or Anthony Brown (who played well off the bench). Taking a CB here doesn’t maximize the value of this pick.
This draft is lacking in elite talent at the tackle position and it may cause some teams to reach a bit, but the Cowboys won’t be one of them. There are some solid swing tackle/guard converters that can be found for Dallas, but they can address that later in the draft.
Alabama’s Rashaan Evans is a good player, but it would be a reach to take him here. Plus, there could be comparable linebackers (Leighton Vander Esch) who have outside shot at being there at 50.
So what’s it going to be?
Pitches for the war room’s favorite DT, G, and DE can be made and there are some good players to choose from, but all things being equal - Davenport should be the name they turn in here. Not only would a strong defensive end provide more of an impact, but there are also some intriguing targets at both defensive tackle and guard on Day 2 who could start for this Cowboys team.
Should all the top players from first-round group vanish before Dallas is on the clock, the team shouldn’t be forced into taking a guard because it fills a big need. There are other guards available in the draft. The team needs to find a player that’s going to help them win more games. A player in the trenches is a good way to go, but spread the wealth of the top heavy talent a little bit and stack more of it on defense. Bob Sturm said it perfectly when talking about adding more beef to the offensive line:
“we must diversify this portfolio.”
Bigger question and answer. But with a hard cap and $50m a yr on OL, we must diversify this portfolio quite a bit.— Bob Sturm (@SportsSturm) February 22, 2018
The irony here is that for years the Cowboys have had such a big need for a top collegiate edge rusher, but the opportunities in the draft haven’t always been there. And the first time they are sitting in decent shape at the position could be a time where the best draft resource presents itself. You don’t want to pass up on an impact player like that especially if it spreads some of that wealth to the defensive side of the ball.