The Dallas Cowboys have done an outstanding job building their roster. The team is loaded with stars as eight different players were selected to the Pro Bowl this season and that doesn’t even include Travis Frederick who has earned that honor over the last four seasons he’s played. The team is optimistic that he will be able to return next season. Not only are they stacked at the top with talent, but the bottom of their roster continues to grow in strength. The team lost Sean Lee for nine games, but it didn’t matter. Tyron Smith was out for three games - no problem. Even Frederick missed the entire season, but Joe Looney stepped up and played all 1,076 offensive snaps at center the season. In fact, the Cowboys endured all kinds of adversity along the offensive line; but players like Looney, Xavier Su’a-Filo, and Cameron Fleming were solid when called upon. Normally, these types of injuries would be the kiss of death for the Cowboys, but they were able to hold serve because of their improved depth.
By the time of the draft last year, the Cowboys had several holes on the roster as a handful of starters had departed. They didn’t have a no. 1 wide receiver after they released Dez Bryant. They lost their no. 1 tight end when Jason Witten retired. They had no left guard after they didn’t hang on to Jonathan Cooper. The team looked to be thin at linebacker when Anthony Hitchens accepted a big bag of money to play for Kansas City. And let’s not forget how much everyone wanted to see Earl Thomas in a Cowboys uniform because apparently, they had no reliable options manning the back of the secondary. Last year, the front office had their work cut out for them but they got to work.
Two of those holes have now been filled with new players who earned Pro Bowl honors their first year with the Cowboys - Amari Cooper and Leighton Vander Esch. They also drafted Michael Gallup who really started to come on late in the season. The team also feels good about Connor Williams being their starting left guard for future. Williams held the job at the beginning of the year, but succumbed to injury only to have Su’a-Filo take over later in the year. Williams was back at left guard come playoff time. And nobody was complaining about the safety position because Xavier Woods quietly held down the fort.
Xavier Woods forced an incompletion on 80.0% of his red-zone targets this season – that's more frequent than any other safety. pic.twitter.com/ha14VIGrbC— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) January 20, 2019
Even the tight end production started to take form as Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz showed improvement down the stretch of the season.
The Cowboys stayed true to what they do best - build with the draft. Whether it was past draft picks, new ones, or future draft picks - the front office addressed their needs from all directions, but they never panicked and overpaid. Many people expected them to consider Calvin Ridley or D.J. Moore with their first-round pick because they were really hurting at wide receiver, but the Cowboys trusted their draft evaluations and always put talent ahead of need. That’s why they have an All-Pro linebacker on the team who is just 21 years old.
Could the Cowboys have used a player like tight end Dallas Goedert? Sure, but they let other teams trade away their draft capital to secure him. The Cowboys were pleased to land Williams with the 50th overall pick.
Collecting talent is the winning formula whether it addresses an immediate need or not. This has allowed the team to build up their roster. Examining the weakest spots on the roster reveals that things aren’t that bad at any one spot:
- DT (1-tech), Antwaun Woods - pretty darn good player
- SS, Jeff Heath - still solid
- LG, Connor Williams - steadily improving
- TE, Blake Jarwin - his three TD’s in the season-finale makes him an intriguing candidate
The worst of the worst is actually not that that bad. There is not a single position on the team that just screams at you as a spot they must address with a top resource. Could they use upgrades at certain positions? Absolutely, but several positions qualify there. Maybe it’s time to start looking at tackles. Will Tyron Smith wear down? Will La’el Collins be under contract after the 2019 season? Or maybe they should sharpen their cornerback group. Nickel corner Anthony Brown is entering the last year of his rookie deal.
Every position is on the table which is why it is important to select the best pure talent regardless of what position they play. Would you take a player like Alvin Kamara on your football team even though you have Ezekiel Elliott? I hope your answer is yes as those two together would make the Cowboys offense explosive. Kamara was taken 67th overall in the 2017 NFL Draft. The Saints already had a 1,000+ rusher in Mark Ingram, but it didn’t deter them from passing up on an amazing talent like Kamara. Before Alvin showed up, the Saints had endured three straight losing seasons, but now they’ve made it to two straight heart-breaking Divisional round losses. That’s progress. In fact, this past NFC Championship game not only featured the explosive Kamara, but also contained three running backs who eclipsed the 1,000 yard rushing mark in 2017 - Ingram, Todd Gurley, and C.J. Anderson.
What about a player like JuJu Smith-Schuster? The Cowboys didn’t have a big need at wide receiver a couple years ago, but that didn’t stop them from having Smith-Schuster as one of their pre-draft visits. He was selected 62nd overall that season. You can never have enough star receivers, right? The Los Angeles Rams have two 1,000+ yards receivers this season in Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods. Even Cooper Kupp was on pace to break the 1,000 yard mark before he got hurt.
And what about a player like Travis Kelce? He was a part of a deep tight end class back in 2013. He was the fifth tight end taken that season and fell all the way to 63rd overall. Three of those five tight ends are Pro Bowlers (Zach Ertz and Tyler Eifert are the other two). This year’s tight end class is also expected to be deep with potential stars available late in the second round. Could the Cowboys find their Travis Kelce? Man, wouldn’t that be the Dak-friendliest thing possible to have a talent like Kelce running down the seam.
Looking back over the last six drafts, here are the top 25 players selected between picks 58 and 70. There is talent everywhere, it’s just up to the Cowboys draft team to find it.
One thing that stands out is the great talent at the wide receiver position. Great receivers always seem to be available on Day 2. The Cowboys are sitting good with Cooper and Gallup leading the way, but there is still a lot of uncertainty with the other guys. Cole Beasley’s contract is up. Both Allen Hurns and Terrance Williams could be cap-casualties to free up some money. And who knows if the team is going to try to bring Tavon Austin back?
There are some really intriguing college star wide receivers hovering around pick 58 and adding him to the Cooper/Gallup team could really boost this team’s offense. If Jerry Jones wants his offense to be as explosive as the Rams, then finding another receiving star could be the answer. What if they have a chance to grab the next Tyreek Hill?
The Cowboys can go a lot of different directions this year. There are some good defensive tackles as well as cornerbacks who will make it to 58. While they might not be able to secure a starting spot their rookie year, they could be great options for the future. That’s the beauty of this Cowboys team - they aren’t backed in a corner. Had they not traded to acquire Cooper, this would be a completely different story and we’d be talking about how they’re going to pull off finding a star receiver. The Cowboys assessed the upcoming draft and got ahead of that problem by going after Cooper. Now, they can sit back and just pluck away good talent.