It’s a very difficult thing to try and predict which player the Dallas Cowboys will draft two weeks from now. We all understand this.
Mock drafts everywhere take their best shot, but the truth is drafting in the NFL is a science unconquerable by the common man. You might as well be mocking lottery numbers (let me know how that goes, though).
What’s a bit easier is narrowing down positions that teams, in this case the Cowboys, will likely address with the talent pool. It stands to reason that Dallas is in the market for a receiver, offensive/defesnvie linemen, and help in the linebacker group.
That last position was addressed in great detail by the incomparable Bob Sturm over at The Athletic this week (read here). Sturm dove deep on how the position is an area of extreme need because of the reliability, or lack thereof, of Jaylon Smith.
You’ll remember that it’s only been two years since the Cowboys selected Jaylon with the 34th overall selection in 2016. It was the team’s second pick and while the selection of Ezekiel Elliott had a more “win now” vibe to it given what was then an expiring Tony Romo window, the Jaylon pick was one obviously made with eyes on the future.
Dallas knowingly drafted Jaylon with the potential of him missing his entire rookie season. Never mind the fact that in order for this plan to properly work the Cowboys would have to get another season out of Rolando McClain, and that blew up in their face when he was suspended 10 games that June (he would never play for the team again).
The Cowboys got lucky with depth players like Anthony Hitchens stepping up in 2016 and 2017 (even though many thought he’d miss all of 2017 after an injury in the preseason). So far, two years in, the risk has not been worth it with Jaylon Smith. Perhaps this is why linebacker could be the direction the team goes in the first round at AT&T Stadium in a few weeks.
What would that say, though? What message is it sending regarding Jaylon Smith?
There were murmurings that the Cowboys could use Jaylon more at the SAM linebacker spot in 2018, and that in itself would be an admission that Jaylon isn’t quite the player they envisioned less than two years ago. If, hypothetically, the Cowboys felt the need to draft Jaylon’s replacement (Rashaan Evans, LVE, whoever you want), well that would be quite grim.
In all fairness, the Cowboys seemingly had a proper plan in place for Jaylon (assuming you think even this was fair). They wanted to keep him on a pitch count of sorts last season as it was his first real work of football since being injured in January of 2016, but the Anthony Hitchens injury derailed that. The plan to have a second-round pick slowly matriculate his way into the NFL in his second season fell flat.
In the world of all possibilities, Jaylon Smith can still become the player we saw at Notre Dame that somewhat justified where and why he was drafted. In the world of practicality though, especially given what we saw last season, it stands to reason that Jaylon Smith can’t be counted on. It’s unfortunate that this is the case so early on into a career where legitimate draft stock was invested.
Would the Cowboys taking a linebacker early imply total failure in Jaylon Smith? Maybe you don’t want to use those words, but it certainly isn’t a vote of confidence, and it’s definitely not a step forward in the reclamation project entering its third year.