FanPost

Unwrapping Dallas's 2018 NFL Christmas Day

It's Sunday of Draft Weekend 2018, and that means the festivities and roster additions have just about wrapped (remaining undrafted free agents aside). And what a busy weekend it was for the Dallas Cowboys! There were plenty of draft picks, multiple trades, and of course the team played host for the entire event. Jerry Jones must have looked like the Cheshire Cat over all three days.

After months of anticipating what Dallas might do, we now know what Dallas has done, which means we can review every element and see how things shake up for bringing the team success in the upcoming season. Let's go pick by pick, and then take a broader look.

For the individual picks, we can't know how good these prospects will end up being as NFL players (and so won't try to hard to pinpoint that aspect), but we can at least take a stab at rating the value and fit of each selection. Value will be rated poor/solid/strong relative to "market" expectations, and fit will assign unclear/good/great (there is no such thing as a "bad" fit coming out of the draft) ratings based on what we can project about the player in the team's scheme and/or how much the player meets the needs of the team.

The Draft Picks

Round 1, Pick 19 (overall): Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State
Value: Solid
LVE (I'm excited to get to type those three letters many times in the years to come) was a riser all offseason, moving from an easy second round fit into a lock to go 20-32 with a shot to go higher, and that's exactly where he went. Don't confuse a later-riser with a workout warrior or hype; LVE took a very similar path to breaking into the top 20 as Aaron Donald did a few years back, and Donald has proven that his stock actually hadn't shot up enough.
Fit/Need: Great
The Cowboys absolutely needed a two-down Mike LB out of this draft, and there is little doubt that the instinctive tackle machine that is LVE will be able to thrive in at least that role as a rookie. As a bonus, Dallas also was hoping to add a 'backer with the potential to play three downs and so provide Sean Lee insurance, and rather than needing to double-dip to cover both bases the team gets both out of this guy.
Overview: BPA meets "need"
It's fair to have a preference for an alternative choice at pick 19, but don't let that sully the actual chose the Cowboys made. Claims that this was a reach are patently false, and claims that LVE is risky are overblown. No LB is safe from medical issues, and it's just fine to be a "one year wonder" when you started needing so much improvement, made that improvement, had your rise hidden by injury the year before your breakout, and were so good once you got to show your stuff. And for the love of all, do not ever again compare LVE to Bobby Carpenter, or risk a smiting from the football gods. Whereas Carpenter was an effort guy of limited athleticism, a well-rounded profile (including decent pass rush skills) without an exceptional abilities, and limited instincts, LVE is a SPARQ wonder who tallies up tackles with ease by combining that athleticism with elite instincts. He may hit a ceiling and not be an all-out star, but he's going to be steady force against the run while getting the job done in coverage.

Round 2, Pick 50 (overall): Connor Williams, OT (now LG), Texas
Value: Strong
Let's make this clear: this is the lowest Connor Williams's value has been in over a year. Many have cited that Willams would have been a first rounder in last year's draft had he been in it, and it was assumed that he was still there even through much of this offseason's pre-draft process. To show this evolution, Walter Football (which archives its regular mock drafts) had Williams going 11th overall last August 1st. He stayed in that range for some time, even cracking the top 10 for various weeks, though injury dinged him at times. Meanwhile, in both of the two draft magazines I purchased this year Williams was mocked to the Bengals at 12th overall. Even once teams woke up to the reality that Williams's "short arms" made him a less-than-ideal fit at OT, he was still seen as a strong late first round pick who would be a great value early in the second. So why did he fall this far? Because the 2018 drafted was loaded on the interior OL, meaning that somebody was going to be left behind despite meriting an earlier selection. How lucky for the team that got him...
Fit/Need: Good-to-Great
The Cowboys needed to add a rookie capable of seriously competing for a starting role at LG or RT (preferably LG), and it ended up with a high-pedigree talent with LT skills whose minor physical limitations make him an OG luxury. That's basically a plug-and-play for a giant starting lineup hole. The only question that keeps this from a "Great" rating regards how quickly and how well Williams will acquit himself to OG, but...it's been done before (see below).
Overview: Catching a falling star
Connor Williams should not be a Dallas Cowboy. Because his momentum/stock was trending down, excitement from the national media has been tempered, but this is a "trolling the nation" level of pick. The Dallas Cowboys got what is really a mid-first-round talent to add to the league's best OL a full round later than he should have gone. And he's a hometown guy with max-level motivation and character, AND he can even serve as a "break glass in case of emergency" contingency plan for Tyron Smith. Incredible. The final element to remember is that we've seen Dallas take a college full-time OT with short arms and move him to OG. His name? Zack Martin.

But if you drink the kool aid of the clickbait media, let's not forget that Dallas would have passed up on all of this...for a Gavin Escobar clone TE whom the team didn't even visit with in the pre-draft process. Oh, such a SHAME that our victorious rivals managed to cut us off at the pass and snatch that namesake player from our grasp!

Round 3, Pick 81 (overall): Michael Gallup, WR, Colorado State
Value: Strong
A year ago in the draft, the Cowboys wanted both a big pass rusher and help in the secondary. The team then passed on taking a DB in the first round because it anticipated the plentiful bounty of DB prospects would offer up strong options later, whereas pass rusher was expected to dry up. This time around, WR was the position that both lacked true first round prospects and was overloaded with second round talents, meaning that multiple appealing receivers were going to drop later than their skills merited. The Cowboys took advantage by waiting on wideout, and indeed had a high-level talent fall into its lap. You hear about "letting the draft come to you", but the Cowboys are proving to be masters at actually walking that walk.
Fit/Need: Good
The trouble with having so many bona fide second round WRs is that every one comes with some limitations and/or question marks, so Dallas was never going to walk out of this draft feeling sure that it had added a safe future starter at the position. The good news is that picking the best of this imperfect group earlier wasn't going to change that, so at least the team fit the need as best as it could have in 2018. Because we don't even know the best sort of WR fit for this team's scheme and player personnel, we can't say Gallup is a perfect fit, but that was unavoidable. It should mean something, however, that the team was considering Gallup at pick 50 before getting him an entire round later.
Overview: Playing this draft like a harp from hell (or, Galluping into the future? ugh, sorry about that)
I'm not going to waste your time talking about hands or routes or speed or anything else like that. Gallup has skills and some potential weaknesses, but you can read about them all over the place. What is worth pointing out is the occasional mention (because too many people ignore this category) of Gallup being a strong or willing blocker. Yes, national media can't be expected to pick up every trend for every team, but Dallas has clearly established that it aims for its wideouts to be capable blockers. That is one of the hidden ingredients in the team's successful run game, and Gallup fits that desire without it limiting his ability to do what the league wants from its pass catchers.


Round 4, Pick 116 (overall): Dorance Armstrong, DE, Kansas
Value: Solid
Armstrong's stock was sky-high after a double-digit sack season a year ago on a weak Kansas roster. Walter Football pegged Armstrong at pick 22 overall at the same time it had Connor Williams going top 15, and he stayed there well into the season. But continued losing by Kansas, a move of Armstrong by the team's coaching staff more to the inside of the DL, and the double-team focus of opposing offenses limited Armstrong's statistical production. An unimpressive combined showing sealed his fate, leaving him as a late Day two/early Day three prospect. But that drop smells of an overcorrection. Armstrong probably never should have been seen as a first rounder given his limited bulk and literal growth potential, but enough of his weak season was not his doing that he shouldn't have dropped so much either.
Fit/Need: Unclear
This is the first 2018 draft pick by the team that does not fill an apparent need, though of course not all picks must fill needs. Even more true is that NFL teams can never have enough sack masters, and so the selection of a legit pass rusher is always something of a necessity. A greater trouble here is that many scouts feel that Armstrong's smaller stature is better suited as an OLB in a 3-4 defense, making Armstrong's scheme fit less than ideal. He may never be more than a pass-down blind-side pass rusher, but that's still easily a role of value. As with Gallup, word has it that Dallas was considering taking Armstrong earlier (in this case, in a trade back up into the bottom of the third round), so the team sees clear promise in him.
Overview: Catching a falling star part II/One can never have too many pass rushers
Armstrong was not on the BtB radar screen given the lack of clear fit and his absence on the team's pre-draft visit list, so his selection caught many off guard. It's easy and understandable to feel down about such a pick with target names still on the board, but don't let that mislead. Armstrong may not amount to anything, but that is common even for strong value fourth round picks. Trust that the team has had its eye on this player for some time and you will see it as a worthy gamble.

Round 4, Pick 137 (overall): Dalton Schultz, TE, Stamford
Value: Solid
The NFL has an obsession with receiving-stat TEs, even though many are just glorified slot WRs. Some teams still prioritize true TEs who know how to block, however, and so they are not totally out of demand. Just as this year's WR class was deep in the second and third rounds, 2018 was a particularly broad class of mid-round TEs, and Schultz was seen as a worthy part of that group. How well he develops will be the true measure of the value of this selection.
Fit/Need: Great
Even before Jason Witten (maybe?) retired, the Cowboys were clearly in the market for a developmental TE. Witten's likely departure seemingly changed that to an outright need, but in reality it only increased the team's urgency, not its draft plan. Why? The team thankfully understands that TEs virtually never contribute as rookies, so drafting one early or otherwise would do little to no good at filling Witten's shoes this season. All that mattered was finding a developmental TE of good value, and to fit Witten's role that TE would have to be capable of both blocking and some receiving production. Schultz checks literally all those boxes, both in terms of price and skill set. He is no threat in the deep seam, but he can work the soft spots of coverage zones closer to the line of scrimmage while being a weapon in the ground game.
Overview: One order of a junior Jason Witten, coming right up!
Story time! In 2016, the Dallas Cowboys had a similar need as this one, but at a different position. The goal was not to hit on 2016 contributions, but rather to add someone who could grow into a true quality starter. Because it was not an immediate priority, I hoped for a mid-round candidate to fill that desire, and one clear candidate emerged who was not expected to thrive early but who had all the tools of a good starter. He was my #1 draft target that year, when balancing value and cost. Even better, on draft day the player, who had been expected to go in round 2 or 3, fell even further. When the first of Dallas's two fourth round picks arrived, I felt the time was right to take this player, and was crestfallen when the team passed on the opportunity (thinking he would not last much longer). Somehow, he stuck around to the team's comp fourth round pick, just as Schultz remained available to Dallas's same sort of pick in 2018. This player's name? Dak Prescott. Never have I been as thrilled and pleased with a mid-round Cowboy draft pick, and Schultz is now my second favorite in my recent history. If he can be even half as successful as Prescott so far, Schultz would be a poor man's Witten, a long-time (cracking the top 10) starter at a position that has become hard for NFL teams to fill.

Round 5, Pick 171 (overall): Mike White, QB, Western Kentucky
Value: Solid-to-Good
2018 will be remembered for its quantity of legit franchise-caliber QB prospects at the top, but that doesn't mean it lacked some mid-round options who look like strong future backups and even potential acceptable starters. White was perhaps the very best QB option who wasn't coveted first and foremost for his starter potential, but that doesn't mean he has none. That made him a firm mid-round draft option, but the late fifth round was definitely the late portion of his projected range.
Fit/Need: Good
The Cowboys have their improving young starting/franchise QB in Dak Prescott, and the team also has a young backup who is athletic enough to likely hold his own if/when called upon. What it lacked was a true developmental backup, a QB with the pure passer makeup to over time turn into a reliable backup QB and perhaps even an arm that could start for a prolonged period. Such roster pieces are highly desirable, because their flaws keep their cost down while their upside when unlocked can create a major trade commodity. No more. Dallas now has its developmental QB, meaning it can march ahead with an ideal trio at the position, and all at a very low total salary.
Overview: The QB circle is now complete
There is not a lot more than needs mention. White is a classic pocket QB with a huge and accurate arm, one who picks apart defenses when given protection. He might never handle pressure well, and his throwing motion can be slow and telegraph his targets prematurely, but he wouldn't have been available so late without those issues. He might be able to thrive even with those flaws behind the Great Wall of Dallas, and if he manages to polish up he could soon be in wide demand.

Round 6, Pick 193 (overall): Chris Covington, LB, Indiana
Value: Poor
Don't get too worked up about the "poor" label here; when it is applied to a sixth round pick, that simply means a team drafted a player who profiled to not be so. Covington had previously been converted to a QB before moving to LB, so you can see that this is a clear physical specimen project.
Fit/Need: Unclear
Every team needs special-teamers, and it can be more effective on occasion to add a player specifically for that purpose than to hope some players who fail to secure starting roles do well on specials instead. Dallas surely is confident that Covington can be a special teams force, and perhaps hopes he can serve as a better-than-street-FA-caliber backup LB. Considering that Dallas is short on LB depth even with the addition of LVE, this pick would instantly be of greater value if Covington can prove worthy of defensive snaps.
Overview: A classic late-round Cowboy draft pick
This is precisely the type of pick that gets fans down. They hope their team can snatch another dropping prospect, only to see their team draft the supposedly undraftable. Oh nos! I have made peace that this is the way of things. There was a time when this kind of pick would get me down too, but the fact is that if a prospect falls this far, he is very likely to never emerge as a major contributor. A "no-name" player is as likely to succeed as a name one, so trust in the intent of your team over the rankings of draft experts.

Round 6, Pick 208 (overall): Cedrick Wilson Jr, WR, Boise State
Value: Solid-to-Strong
Wilson is another member of this remarkably deep WR class. There were appealing names available in every round, and his was one. He is unlikely to be a future star, but he's an option who offers real promise at wideout.
Fit/Need: Good
If you frequent BtB, you likely saw that there were two positions that some hoped to see benefit from a draft "double dip": LB, and WR. Although the second selection for each will have to work to make the roster, with back-to-back picks the team did indeed add the back end of a double dip, so consider this a mission accomplished. Wilson is definitely something of a stretch for the team given his draft profile, but he adds one more name to the mix, one that is significantly more talented than what you would typically find as an UDFA. He isn't known to be a blocker, so he'll have to show that much more in his catching skills.
Overview: It's getting late
Let's be frank and admit that Wilson probably won't make the roster. Does that make him a bad pick? Hardly...it isn't easy for any pick taken this late to make the roster. But this is where the folly of the notion "we have too many draft picks and they can't all make the roster, so let's dump some picks" comes into play. Wilson without a shadow of a doubt will offer competition, and he MIGHT hit. If he hits, Dallas will have added a depth (or better) wideout at a terrifically low salary, and if he doesn't it won't mean any harm. The best way to manage multiple late "hits" is to take more shots, and that is precisely what this is. The one flaw with the Wilson selection is that he would be an ideal practice squad stash, but he might actually be took talented to not be sniped away by another team.

Round 7, Pick 236 (overall): Bo Scarbrough, RB, Alabama
Value: Strong
Actually, maybe it isn't too late to snag a value of substance. No position offers more options of quality later in the draft than RB does, and this selection perfectly illustrates that reality. Scarbrough was thought to be a fine fifth rounder who might sneak a round earlier or drop a bit later, but this is definitely late in the back's range.
Fit/Need: Good-to-Great
Personally, I feel teams should take a mid-round RB every year or so. The quality of later RBs is so strong, and the value of even a rotational back so proven, that it's a missed opportunity not to. Dallas hasn't taken full advantage of that lately, and it left the RB depth chart as Elliot, Smith, and some crickets. The trade for Tavon Austin apparently gets someone into the third-down RB mix, but the corp really deserved another true rusher. Enter Scarbrough. He has never been a full-touch bell cow, but he is a massive thumper who loves contact, which is a perfect fit to sub into the game against a tired defense when Elliot could use a breather. Don't be surprised to see Scarbrough run some people over on the way to a 5.0+ YPC as a rookie...IF he makes the team.
Overview: Marion Barber III says hello
The Cowboys almost dropped the ball here, but it seems value met need met opportunity. This is example numero uno why it would have been foolish for Dallas to give away late round picks willy nilly in order to make minor draft pick moves upwards; by keeping the picks, Dallas was able to make one more draft pick that holds real promise than it otherwise would have. Scarbrough looks to have better odds to make the roster than either of the two previous picks, and that neither means they are mistakes not that this is a massive steal (or roster lock). It's simply an excellent entry into the team's neverending "roster churn".

The Sum Of The Draft Parts

In the immediate aftermath of NFL drafts, we see loads and loads of draft grades. Inevitably, these grades take on the form of pick-by-pick scoring, most especially because individual grades are expected even as the draft is still ongoing. Frankly, it's pretty silly. Teams draft with the intent to assemble the best class possible for the upcoming season and beyond, not just the best individual picks.

This has become more true than ever with the Dallas Cowboys. For the past couple of years, and laid out in Gallup's profile above, Dallas has correctly anticipated how the draft would fall at multiple need positions and used that as a light tiebreaker to maximize its ability to cover its needs. The most common criticism you will see of the team's draft is that "WR was its biggest need" (not even true) and so it was a mistake for the team to not begin the draft with a WR. Barf. Starting with a WR independent of how the wideout options ranked on Dallas's board is exactly how a bad draft pick would have been made. Everyone understands the wisdom of "BPA" drafting and claims it is desirable, but it is easy to toss that aside when a team passes on a glory skill position just after cutting a former star at the same position.

How Well Did Dallas Handle The Key First Two Days?

Still think that Dallas didn't assemble the right collection to start the draft? Let's put that to the test! What Dallas needed most, if BPA would allow it, were additions at LB, LG, and WR, and conveniently the 2018 draft class appeared to offer a breadth of options for each of the early rounds. Here are two alternative opening trios the team could have gone with (removing the "butterfly effect" from consideration, naturally):
Alternate 1
Pick 19- Calvin Ridley/DJ Moore
Pick 50- Connor Williams
Pick 81- Josey Jewell
Alternate 2
Pick 19- Calvin Ridley/DJ Moore
Pick 50- Fred Warner/Malik Jefferson
Pick 81- Orlando Brown Jr (OT, with La'el Collins moving back to LG)/Cole Madison?
Actual
Pick 19- Leighton Vander Esch
Pick 50- Connor Williams
Pick 81- Michael Gallup

In a testament to the team's overall draft strategy this year, none of these collections is terrible. Dallas saw it could flexibly attack its needs rather than be forced into any particular pick at any one spot, or lord forbid a genuine reach. Or, perhaps the team addressed its offseason needs anticipating that strong and broad classes at these positions would allow them to be safely filled in the draft? That would really deserve a high offseason planning and execution grade!

But these groups are not all equal. In Alternate One, a hyper-athletic and likely three-down LB has been replaced with the instinctive-but-unathletic Jewell, perhaps the last remaining appealing MIKE LB prospect. He would project to fill the 2018 rookie MIKE need well, but only if he got up to speed quickly enough to not be held back by his physical limitations, whereas LVE is so athletic that he should be able to serve the role even if he has a long way to go with the mental and technique side of the game. Jewell also would not provide the best three-down LB insurance behind Lee. That means Jewell would only fill about 2/3-parts of the team's 2-full-parts LB need, and that is not worth the WR upgrade that couldn't be expected to help much more in 2018 than Gallup should.

As for Alternate Two, both other needs have now been affected. Warner would be a very poor-man's version of LVE, though he would at least bring 2018 and three-down upside, or Jefferson would offer three-down and future upside roughly equal to LVE's minus anything close to the same 2018 impact. On top of that, the team might not have even gone OL at pick 81, as we can't be sure it liked Orlando Brown Jr, and even if it took Brown that would likely mean the outcome we wished to avoid: moving Collins back inside to LG. A Collins/Brown combo with Dallas's Big Three on the OL would have been absolutely beastly in the run game, but it would have meant a large agility/mobility hit, and Brown has very real bust potential. Alternate Two might even have the most physical upside of the three trios, but it would easily have the most risk as well.

What Dallas went with instead was an absolute masterclass in building a complete draft group with foresight, BPA, and needs targeting. Interior LBs were valued higher than ever before: Dallas pick-81-target Darius Leonard went 36th overall, and 116-(no earlier than 81) target Warner was gone at 70. Whether Dallas had considered this possibility as a probability or just had LVE as the easy BPA at 19, taking LVE early and locking up the LB need meant the team wasn't affected by this development and didn't have to reach in response.

It is also clear from the fact that Dallas had visited with WRs projected in just about every round of the draft that Dallas was going to be as flexible as possible when filling its receiver need and not rush to take one prematurely. A "plug-and-play" caliber OG was a much more vital need to fill, and would have been tougher to take care of later. Frankly, taking LVE at 19 more risked missing on the needed OG than it gambled on losing out on a quality receiver, but Dallas got its man anyways.

What About The Later Rounds?

Three major needs addressed by the first three picks freed up the rest of the draft to balance value, fit, and need. A TE who could both block and catch was definitely the next-biggest priority, and any defensive addition would have been welcome to go along with a desire to add another RB and/or QB.

As it turns out, Dallas was able to secure all three of the other desirables on offense, which is a fantastic development for those who have come to realize that the offense was in danger of forming cracks that could start to crumble the entire scoring unit. A double-dip at WR was a cherry on top of it all. Day three looks like a home run for that half of the roster.

Ah, but what about the defense? The greatest priorities were DT and S, and in the end neither was addressed. Pass rushers are of greater value, and Dallas secured one of those to go with the depth add at LB, but the defensive half of this draft class feels light. Is that a miss?

The Missing Pieces

Dallas didn't stop at making actual draft picks. There are other ways to "skin the cat"; the front office worked the phone lines for potential veteran additions to the roster, and with success! If the draft couldn't offer the chance for the team to fill out its roster quite right, these moves could.

The "Rest" Of This Year's "Draft"

Tavon Austin: After Dallas added Gallup, it either began or was already deep in talks to deal the 192nd pick for Tavon Austin of the Rams. While Austin's stock is low and there are questions regarding whether he will ever amount to even a fraction of the expectations placed on him when he was drafted, he is extremely athletic and can contribute in many ways. It should not be forgotten that he did well enough over his first three seasons to earn a contract extension.

His role in Dallas is already taking shape. Dallas envisions Austin as the next "Lance Dunbar", catching the ball out of the backfield while offering a speedy rushing option as well. It is notable that Austin has 1238 rushing yards at 6.7 yards per carry over is career. Austin can also motion or line up in the slot, and he has been a threat as a return specialist as well. That is an awful lot of potential value for a player who won't count for more than $4M against the cap, and then only if he sticks on the roster all season and performs.

Jihad Ward: The additions of Gallup and Austin to go with the team's other offseason wideout additions rendered at least one of the returnees expendable. It seems that the rest of the league understood that as well, and the Oakland Raiders called up Dallas asking specifically about second year slot WR/return man Ryan Switzer. We can imagine the conversation going something like this:
Oakland - "We know you can't keep all of these WRs on your roster. Let us solve your problem by dealing Switzer to us"
Dallas - [skeptical] "We really like Switzer. You'd have to make us an offer we can't refuse"
Oakland - "Who do you want?"
Dallas - [half-jokingly] "Jihad Ward?"
Oakland - "Done!"
Dallas - "Wait, rea...I mean, oh, yes, fair enough, glad we could come to a deal"

Some Dallas fans are taking the cynical route here, labeling Ward as a worthless bust just because it seems he has fallen out of favor with a new regime in Oakland. It is being overlooked that he will be just 24 next year, a recent 44th overall pick with undeniable talent. Dallas favored him when they saw him up close at the Senior Bowl in 2016, and thanks to the team's penchant for allowing its draft board to be leaked we know for an absolute fact that the team likes Ward (as posted here, Ward was the 46th overall player on Dallas's draft board, seen as a true high third-rounder and slotted just a handful of spots behind actual Cowboy pick Maliek Collins).

What is more likely, that the team rushed to dump Ryan Switzer to the first taker, or that Oakland made such an appealing offer that Dallas jumped? If nothing else, Dallas could have waited out a week or so for teams that are still unsatisfied to made calls about Terrance Williams OR Cole Beasley OR Switzer. To act now is to strongly suggest that the Cowboys really like their end of the deal.

The team does not like to invest too much in "1-Tech" DTs, but it did appear to be in market for a cost-efficient add at the position. The draft must not have gone Dallas's way, and while Ward is more of 1T/3T hybrid than a wide-bodied 1T only, if anything that adds to his appeal. We have every reason to think that Dallas truly liked Vita Vea in this year's draft as a 1T body with 3T skills, and Ward has all the makings of a lesser version of that. It is unlikely at this stage that he will make good on all of his draft day potential, but that isn't what Dallas wants or needs of him. All Ward has to do is provide an upgrade at tying up blockers and disrupting opposing running games, and he very likely will be able to meet that bar.

Unfinished Business: The One Item Remaining On The Wish List

If something is still rotten in Denmark for Dallas fans, it is the team's lack of any addition to the Safety position. Though the current notable threesome of Jeff Heath, Xavier Woods, and Kavon Frazier are all still young and hold further promise, there is a lack of pedigree and proven production. The Safeties did not set the league on fire in 2017 as it is, and now it has "lost" Byron Jones to the Cornerback position.

There were unlikely dreams of Minkah Fitzpatrick or Derwin James at the top of this year's draft, favorites that some would (right or wrong) see as immediate upgrades in the next few rounds after that, and if nothing else potential developmental options who could have been taken late to add depth and competition. Dallas went with Choice D, "none of the above".

Is that leading to disaster? For the team's part, it professes to be satisfied with the current group. In terms of pre-draft visits, S was essentially a lesser WR, with the team taking a peek at various mid-and-late-round options, so the Cowboys would have made the right add at the right time. But that approach suggests truth behind the words of the front office. If the team felt it had to draft an upgrade, it would have worked harder to include S among the "need" group of LB/OG/WR. Instead, the team only seems to have desired a right value/fit pick, nothing more.

So either the team is being fully truthful here, and we should trust (or at least hope) that it knows what it is doing, we cannot forget the potential ace in the hole: free agency. For whatever reason, the market for the S position has been ice cold this offseason, leaving names such as Tre Boston, Kenny Vacarro, and the much-discussed Eric Reid all waiting for jobs. It is difficult to imagine that they will not sign somewhere sooner or later...so why the delay?

Mark May 9th on your calendar. On that day, players who sign with new teams do not count in the factoring of compensatory draft picks, no matter their salaries. On that day, Dallas can sign a player of more than minimum salary without risking the expected Anthony Hitchens compensation pick that it has worked so hard to protect (at this moment, every team signing has been canceled out by a non-Hitchens free agent loss, with Hitchens standing alone un-canceled).

Don't be surprised to hear withing 48 hours of that date that Dallas has added Vacarro, Boston, or Reid. It's quite possible that an agreement has already been reached, and both parties are just waiting out this deadline And if you doubt that these free agents would want to wait, realize that their market opens up once their signings would not impact compensatory picks. By coming this far already, it makes sense to wait another week and a half and then once again have the consideration of the entire league.

Could this be wishful thinking? Absolutely. But until every veteran S of quality has signed with someone else, that route for improvement is ready and waiting, and passing on the drafting of a DT and a S would make more sense with the holes filled by veterans of greater 2018 impact than would come from late round picks.

Final Words, and Notes

Dallas entered the week with fears that it would be left hanging with a scary hole on the OL or a major LB downgrade due to the loss of Anthony Hitchens. Those fears should now be erased, and doing so did not prevent the team from adding appealing prospects who have the potential to replace Dez Bryant and Jason Witten in the long term. All this was done without departing from value-based drafting, and that means it was done right.

You might not be in love with every specific player taken, and you might regret that a favorite was passed on, but that is already behind us. All that matters going forward is what these players we do have accomplish individually, and in the short term how well together they help help advance Dallas's 2018 championship mission. We will have that answer in less than a year, but from where we sit now it looks like Dallas once again has worked this most important of events well.

Notes
-While I feel Schultz was the best cost-efficient potential Witten replacement in the draft, I sure do hope that Jerry Jones works his magic and gets Jason Witten to return. If anything, having a lesser Witten clone on the roster makes it that much more appealing for the future-HOFer to stick around and show the new kid the ropes. I want Witten to teach Schultz everything to know about angles, rub blocks, and finding the soft spot in zone defenses.

-The last time I locked into a riser as much as I did with LVE, it was with Aaron Donald. No, I don't grade LVE with nearly as much confidence as I did Donald (my personal highest-rated non-QB prospect of all time, and at the top of my confidence scale with the likes of Larry Fitzgerald and David DeCastro). Take that for what you will.

-The previous time Dallas nailed the precise first round pick that I hoped/expected it would go with end up with was Byron Jones. I didn't want him because I thought he was certain for stardom (though I felt he had that upside), but rather because I saw him as an ultra-safe bet to positively contribute in a secondary that absolutely needed an injection of young talent. He has done precisely that, but he was also young and raw with his technique, so the idea that he is a finished product and so capped as just a solid player is far from certain. Now that Jones is headed to CB, the very position I've argued he should be at from day one, I think we'll see him step up big time.

-The end of Trader Jerry? Dallas did not make a single draft pick that wasn't one of its "own", one of just two teams (the LA Chargers was the other) to do that. Even the one pick that had been in possession from another team, the sixth rounder from Oakland, ended up used for a veteran player trade. Does this mean anything? Darn if I could tell you.

-On the other end of the spectrum, the LA Rams did the opposite and did n't make a single "original" Rams draft pick, and a handful of other teams were limited to just one.

-I don't care how limited you think Dak Prescott is; he is at least a quality starter, and the scurry for potential franchise QBs once again in the draft shows just how miserable it is to not have the position solved. We benefit from having QB prospects push down higher-rated non-QBs, and the fact is that our team has not been a part of this QB scramble for a long time. Troy Aikman dominated the position in the 1990s, and Tony Romo transitioned cleanly to Dak Prescott has saved us from the scrum for over a decade more. Strangely, even when the team did not have a long-term franchise QB from 2000 to 2006 it did not actually ever enter the franchise QB sweepstakes, choosing instead to take frequent less expensive shots at upside QB players while letting veterans handle the short-term lifting. Matt White is amazingly just the 6th QB drafted by Dallas since 1990, and only Quincy Carter was taken higher than the fourth round. Considering that a bust QB pick in the first round is called a "five year mistake", Dallas's ability to go so long at the position without taking that risk, and yet suffer very few noncompetitive seasons, is fortunate indeed.

-Can I request a reverse "trolling the nation" post that "trolls" US over that Dallas Goedert trade-up pick by the Philadelphia Eagles? I just love that the Eagles threw away a pick in a draft in which it already didn't have many for a guy the Cowboys didn't even visit with and who doesn't fit what Dallas likes out of the position. I would get a lot of schadenfreude over seeing misinformed fans of other teams think that the Cowboys just had a fast one pulled on them! Hook us up!

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