Congratulations on getting through another NFL Draft. Now that we have had a little time to absorb it all, how did the Dallas Cowboys do overall? We’ve been grading the individual picks (and trades) here over the past three days, but it is the totality that is truly important. So here is our quasi-official final grade for the entire effort.
More importantly, this is not just a rehash of the names, but a real attempt to look at how all the factors fit together to produce the eleven new names (not counting the passel of UDFA signings) that have joined the team. Drafting is not just plucking names off a board. You have to consider how players fit, which prospects wind up being taken by other teams and when they go off the list, how to get the most talent for the draft capital expended, and how to address the needs of the roster. It starts with the plan, and has to include how well that plan is followed and executed.
So this is going to be a bit more detailed than most such ratings. Hopefully, it will not only come up with a realistic grade, but make sense in how that grade is determined.
First is that plan. The Cowboys are one of the teams that clearly use the draft as their most important tool for adding talent. They are far less willing to spend a lot on free agents than many. That makes the plan crucial.
While we have to infer just what it was, it is evident from what they did and what has been said by Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones, and Jason Garrett, that they wanted to get their draft board right to match needs with the available talent, come up with a strategy for picking the players to maximize value, and then firmly adhere to it. And they did a truly excellent job. Although the accuracy of that board will not actually be determined until we see how the players fare going forward, and will take several seasons, the rest was absolutely done.
Despite Jerry Jones’ well-known penchant for moving around in the draft, this year saw absolutely no trades up or down, and only one pick sent elsewhere to acquire a player. The staff did reportedly explore one trade to get an additional pick at the end of the third round, but could not find someone who would deal at an acceptable price. (We’ll get to the details of things later.) Instead, the Cowboys stayed put through all seven rounds and let the players come to them. And despite several targets going off the board before they got to Dallas, there was never any panic. (Interestingly enough, one example of a team that may have succumbed to just such pressure was the Philadelphia Eagles. They traded pick 52 and 169 to move to pick 49, one spot ahead of the Cowboys at 50. They reportedly feared Dallas would be looking to draft a TE, and used the trade to jump ahead of them to take Dallas Goedert. Those who were watching the feed from the Dallas draft room knew before the Eagles made the move that the pick was going to be an offensive lineman due to the involvement of offensive line coach Paul Alexander, so the move was unnecessary, and left Philadelphia with only five total selections.) The Cowboys just stayed calm and, for the most part, got what they wanted.
The actual picks have to be judged on two criteria: Getting the best value you can, and filling needs. Each one has to be a balance of the two. Of course, the value is determined by the evaluation of the team’s own scouting department (at least to them), so that has to be kept in mind.
To set the table, you have to consider the needs. There were multiple positions that the team needed to pick, and they can be broken into two tiers.
Tier One (needed to come up with an answer for each if at all possible):
Left guard, MIKE linebacker, wide receiver, defensive tackle, and safety. Although that may not be the actual priority of the team, the results look like it is pretty close.
Tier Two (good to have, but not as necessary):
Pass rusher, running back, tight end, and backup quarterback.
Going player by player, here is how that worked out.
Round 1, pick 19
Leighton Vander Esch filled a big need with the loss of Anthony Hitchens. He also provides a measure of insurance in case either Sean Lee or Jaylon Smith have injury problems. The Cowboys clearly saw him as a first-round talent, having signaled for weeks that he was a likely target in the first round. Solid pick.
Round 2, pick 50
Connor Williams was drafted to move to guard and take over the LG job. I have made no secret of my belief that this was the most important position for Dallas to address in the draft, and that they had to get one no later than day two. The team waited until the second round because they felt there would be more talent here than at linebacker, and the way the draft played out verifies that they were correct. It got a little nerve-wracking as there was a run on O line in the second round before the Cowboys went on the clock, but Williams was there. He was rated a late-first-round-talent by many draftniks, and the Cowboys likely had him as no worse than top of the second round on their board. The best pick of the entire draft.
Round 3, pick 81
Outside “experts” were mocking a wide receiver to the Cowboys from the start, and that just intensified when Dez Bryant was released. But the WR class was very, very deep, and spending a first-round pick seemed a waste of resources, especially since the strength of the group was after the first round. The Cowboys showed real patience here and got Michael Gallup, who was at worst a second-round talent. Another very good pick.
Round 4, pick 116
You can never have too many good edge rushers, and the Cowboys got one in Dorance Armstrong Jr. The team reportedly was looking to trade back into the end of the third round specifically to get him, but that didn’t work out. And they wound up getting him anyway, likely because the Kansas team he was on was so bad for his entire collegiate career. Jerry Jones said they had a high third-round grade on him. He joins a crowded DE room, but there are a lot of questions about the other members, so he is very valuable insurance with a likely floor of rotational rusher, and could possibly become a starter.
Round 4, pick 137
Tight end Dalton Schultz was drafted to replace a specific player. No, not Jason Witten, who is reportedly going to retire to go to MNF as an analyst. Schultz is the replacement for James Hanna, lost to the dreaded bone bruise just before the draft. He fits the Cowboys template for a TE, which means he is very useful in the run game. Don’t underestimate that, the Cowboys absolutely need to run the ball, it’s their identity.
Round 5, pick 171
Maybe the Cowboys have finally taken the idea of drafting a quarterback each and every year to heart, picking up Mark White here. One of the top non-first-round QB prospects (Dane Brugler, one of the more credible draft analysts out there, had him as the sixth best QB overall), White will come in to challenge Cooper Rush for the QB2 position. And why is taking a QB somewhere in each draft a good idea? Here’s one reason.
Round 6, pick 193
If there is one questionable pick in the draft, it was the selection of linebacker Chris Covington here. He was not highly considered by most outside analysts. But three words are important to remember here: Sixth. Round. Pick. If you are going to take a flyer, this is a good place to make a bit of a gamble. These are almost always long shots to make the team. And like Vander Esch and Schultz, he was likely drafted to replace a specific player lost to the team, Kyle Wilber. Wilber was a special teams ace, and that is how Covington might just beat the odds and stick with Dallas.
Round 6, pick 208
Covington was a double dip at a position of need, and WR Cedrick Wilson was another. Clearly, the Cowboys are determined to have a large group of receivers to winnow out as they work on building that “Dak-friendly” offense. Like every player drafted, the Cowboys had a higher grade on him than his eventual draft position, at least according to their post draft remarks.
Round 7, pick 236
Bo Scarborough is a big, bruising power running back. He is hardly the compete package that Ezekiel Elliot is - but he could be a more than capable substitute on first and second down. When his draft position is factored in, he may wind up the real bargain find of the whole group. And for third downs, the Cowboys came up with another solution.
Pick 192 traded to the Los Angeles Rams
In return, the Cowboys got speed merchant Tavon Austin. And while he is listed as a wide receiver, the team made it clear that they are looking at him to fill the role they envisioned for Lance Dunbar before injury cut his career short. Austin is a dual threat as a receiver and a rusher. He did not have huge success with the Rams, but he was available because he is not a great fit for the offense they are running with Jared Goff. With the expected direction the Cowboys are going, he could be a great fit in Dallas.
Ryan Switzer traded for Jihad Ward
The Cowboys swapped players with the Oakland Raiders, and although Ward has not been good at all in his first two years, he does fill that need for a defensive tackle - and is almost certainly better than anything the Cowboys could have gotten in the last couple of rounds of the draft, which was all they had left when the trade was made. Switzer was made expendable by the trade for Austin. It is a bit sad to see him go before we even had an idea of his real value, but for the team, this was a smart move.
That means that at the end of the draft, the Cowboys had only one need that was unaddressed, safety. They had several targets, but all went off the board before they got to the spot Dallas wanted to take them, and the staff widely refrained from reaching. Look for a free agent signing or two to happen before camp to fill out the safety group.
Almost all needs met, and with players that were judged by the team to be more valuable than the spot they were taken (with the possible exception of LVE, who may have been seen as precisely on target). And no draft capital was used up in trades.
Give them an A- overall, with the failure at safety the only thing keeping them from a higher grade. You can’t downgrade them any more, because sometimes, feces just occur. In the article linked above, Brugler cites them as being his fourth best draft class this year. So my grade isn’t just homerism.
We have to see the product on the field, but the Cowboys look to not only be one of the teams that really helped themselves in the draft. They look to have had one of the best, most consistent approaches overall. That is a real change from what we have seen in recent years.
And that is a very good thing.
What overall grade would you give the Cowboys’ draft?
This poll is closed
A - They finally have adult supervision!
B - Close but no cigar on too many good players.
C - Just not as impressed as many.
D - They could have done so much better, especially in their priorities.
F - Probably because I’m a troll from another team’s fan base.