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Why Cowboys should release four of their 2018 draft picks but probably won’t

If we’re being honest, three of the Cowboys draft picks didn’t “earn their star”.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys-Training Camp Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In the NFL, it’s imperative to build through the draft because you don’t want to be in the business of relying heavily on the inflated prices of free agency. Getting the most bang for your buck with a young roster is absolutely the way to go.

The Cowboys have 36 players on their current 90-man roster that they drafted. 18 of their presumed 22 starters for week one are homegrown draft picks, eight of those presumed starters are Pro Bowlers and they would have nine, if not for Travis Frederick’s current ailment. Out of those nine, seven were draft picks, that’s a pretty good compliment for this front office in the Jason Garrett era.

With that said, part of being good at constructing an NFL roster is the ability to let the roster battles get decided on the field. NFL teams typically protect their draft picks at all costs and give them every advantage to make the roster. The amount of draft picks that get released on cut day each season is between 22-25. Typically 18 or more of them are sixth or seventh round picks and occasionally you may see a fourth or fifth.

Below is a chart of the Cowboys drafts in the Jason Garrett era from 2011-2017:

Season Draft Picks Draftees on 53 Draftees cut (round selected) Draftees on PS Draftees on 2018 roster
2011 8 6 2 (5th & 7th) Shaun Chapas 1 (Tyron Smith)
2012 7 6 2 (5th & 7th) Danny Coale 1 (Tyrone Crawford)
2013 7 7 - - - - 2 (Travis Frederick, Terrance Williams)
2014 9 5 4 (7th rounders) Will Smith 2 (Zack Martin, DeMarcus Lawrence)
2015 8 7 1 (7th) Mark Nzeocha 5 (B. Jones, R. Gregory, C. Green, D. Wilson, G. Swaim)
2016 9 8 1 (6th) Rico Gathers 9 (All draft picks on team)
2017 9 7 2 (7th rounders) Marquez White 6 (T. Charlton, C. Awuzie, J. Lewis, X. Woods, M. White, N. Brown)
TOTAL 57 46 12 6 26
AVG. Per Year 8 5.8 1.7 (7th rd.) 1 --

The Cowboys are not afraid to cut a draft pick but it’s usually going to be a late-rounder which keeps them par for the league. In Garrett’s tenure, they have never cut a player drafted higher than the fifth round. If you look at the performances of training camp and the preseason, that should change this season. There is a plausible argument that four of this year’s draft picks didn’t do enough to “earn their star”.

TE Dalton Schultz - Fourth Round

When Schultz was drafted, he was advertised as a skilled blocker from a pro-style offense at Stanford. So far, he’s looked more like a 50/50 player and we’ve seen a lot of him (158 snaps) during this preseason as our own O.C.C. pointed out:

Dalton Schultz is the only 2018 draft pick to make the top 10 in total snaps. The draft picks with the next-highest snap count totals are DE Dorance Armstrong (125), LB Chris Covington (118), and RB Bo Scarborough (116).

Though he has played a lot of snaps in preseason, he’s not going to to be one of the two starting tight ends in 12-personnel packages. Geoff Swaim is the TE1 by default but the Cowboys really like Blake Jarwin as the TE2. If roster cuts come down to keeping only three tight ends, it’s Rico Gathers that should get that third spot. Schultz may be a better blocker but no tight end on the roster can make the types of plays that Rico makes.

The Cowboys don’t have an established tight end to rely on in the passing game anymore. What they get in Rico Gathers is more potential, athleticism, and upside than Schultz could ever bring. Only playing on half of the snaps that were given to Schultz or Jarwin, Gathers finished second on the team in receiving this preseason with 83 yards on 10 receptions. A few weeks ago, there was no shot for Rico Gathers but it looks as though the front office is coming around:

Though it’s good news that Gathers just may earn a roster spot, it signals that the Cowboys will probably be keeping all four tight ends. So, even though Gathers offers playmaking abilities that this position is lacking, he’ll be behind Dalton Schultz as the fourth man.

QB Mike White - Fifth Round

After Cooper Rush’s pitiful performance this preseason, Matt Tichenor of PFF noted that the finale against the Texans may have been his worst:

When not blitzed, Cooper Rush was 11 of 18 for 69 yards, two INTs, had three dropped passes, and an NFL passer rating of 29.4. All four of Rush’s interceptions this preseason came when the defense did not blitz.

Up until that finale, Mike White had been just as bad but probably even worse. So, of course, he outplays Rush and opens up the conversation again:

That’s not exactly a vote of confidence from my colleague, Tom Ryle there. The truth is that these backup offensive linemen have struggled but the quarterbacks have been awful. There is no pocket presence or awareness and both have looked flat out uncomfortable. Just because we saw Mike White outplay Cooper Rush in one game doesn’t mean that White played well.

In four games, White completed 62% of his passes but his average pass traveled less than six yards on 70 total attempts. White’s quarterback rating was 73.2, he could barely move the offense, had zero touchdowns, took seven sacks, and turned the ball over three times. Having a slightly better performance than Cooper Rush shouldn’t guarantee White a roster spot because that bar was set pretty low.

It’s time to consider a veteran backup, preferably one you don’t have to give up a serious capital for. A veteran on the open market is not going to be great, hopefully he’s average but at least he will have experience and not look completely lost out there.

LB Chris Covington - Sixth Round

If the Cowboys were deciding whether or not to keep seven linebackers, Chris Covington may have decided it for them in Houston. Covington had a rough night where he was whiffing on tackles, missing cutback lanes, and played with sub-par instincts. His best abilities were said to be on special teams but it didn’t show up against the Texans. Justin March-Lillard has had the upper hand in earning that sixth spot and his versatility made keeping seven linebackers unnecessary.

Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith are your starters with Joe Thomas coming off the bench. Leighton Vander Esch will factor in at some point as will Damien Wilson and March-Lillard. Every linebacker that we just listed besides Lee also can play special teams too. Maybe Covington will clear waivers or maybe he won’t but there’s no need to lose sleep over a practice squad linebacker.

RB Bo Scarbrough - Seventh Round

Quite frankly, neither candidate for that third running back spot really played well against the Texans stout defense. What it comes down to for that position is finding which guy gives you more opportunities. It’s clearly Darius Jackson because he’s got something that Scarbrough doesn’t and it’s not just his speed, it’s his vision. Jackson’s vision to see the hole and explode through it makes him much more valuable as a runner.

Bo Scarbrough has a couple of really nice plays against the 49ers but has been bottled up since. Scarbrough averaged 2.9 yards per carry and couldn’t find his rushing lanes. Against the Cardinals, Bo had a clear opening to cut to his left that would have resulted in a huge gain. Instead, Bo bounced it inside and ran into the backside of Cameron Fleming. He’s a big bruising back but he needs room and can’t manufacture it when he needs to. Bo didn’t help himself with some bad drops on checkdowns.

Right now, Scarbrough’s at best a short-yardage back that gives you some help on special teams. Well, Darius Jackson can actually give you a little juice as a return man which is not a role for Bo. With Ezekiel Elliott rarely coming off the field plus big bodies like Rod Smith and fullback Jamize Olawale, what’s the value of a short-yardage guy? Darius Jackson has a combination of speed, vision, and abilities as a pass catcher that brings more value than Scarbrough.

There’s no shame here for the Cowboys, they have a young and talented roster that was going to be tough on draft picks. Though they’re not likely to cut these four guys, they have qualifying reasons to consider it and shouldn’t be so sure that some of them couldn’t make it back to them on waivers. With needs in other areas of the roster, they shouldn’t feel obligated to hold valuable spots for draft picks that aren’t going to help them win football games.

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