With the Dallas Cowboys loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Tuesday night, you can just about close the book on any playoff hopes for the 2020 season. Sure, there are those that closed the book a long time ago, and there are others who will hold out hope until it’s mathematically impossible for the Cowboys to make it. Either way, we’re going to start looking ahead to the 2021 draft while covering the rest of the Cowboys 2020 season. After all, how they finish the season will determine their draft position.
With that in mind, the Cowboys currently own the fifth pick in the 2021 draft pending on the last four games of the season. ESPN decided to do a mini-mock of the first 10 picks with Mel Kiper and Todd McShay.
The big question for the Cowboy this offseason is the status of Dak Prescott. He’s technically a free agent, but the Cowboys front office has publicly declared Prescott is not going anywhere, and they could even franchise tag him again if they had to. If we are to take Jerry and Stephen Jones at their word, then a quarterback would be off the table for the Cowboys with their draft pick. We’ll operate under that assumption, as do Kiper and McShay.
What the Cowboys would like to do is package their draft pick in a trade-down scenario with a quarterback-hungry team. Unfortunately, the top two quarterbacks, the ones everybody would really want to trade for, Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields, go off the board with the first pick (Lawrence to the New York Jets) and the second pick (Fields to the Jacksonville Jaguars).
5. Dallas Cowboys (3-9)
McShay: The Cowboys need to figure out the Dak Prescott contract situation. He’s a free agent after the season. The good news is they will know whether they need to draft a signal-caller by the time the draft rolls around. If they don’t re-sign Prescott, I think Wilson could make some sense here. I really like his game, and he’s going to rise over the next few months. But if they’re going to give Prescott a long-term deal, the defense can’t be ignored with this pick.
Kiper: I don’t see the Cowboys going with a quarterback. They have made it clear multiple times that Prescott is their guy. I’m inclined to believe them. And really, with Lawrence and Fields off the board, I don’t have top-five grades on Wilson or Lance. Let’s go with the other side of the ball here.
There is the assumption that the Cowboys won’t go quarterback. Instead, defense is the priority. The problem - the best defensive player on the board doesn’t play one of the positions you generally want to use a top five pick on. There are no truly elite pass rushers or corners in this draft.
Kiper: You know, really, the Cowboys got unlucky that there isn’t a premier edge rusher in this class. That’s what they need. But I don’t see a top-five or even top-10 pass-rusher in the 2021 group. Gregory Rousseau (Miami FL) and Kwity Paye (Michigan) are at the top of this class, but they’re not elite guys.
There are cornerbacks who make this pick an interesting option.
McShay: Defensive back has been a need for years in Dallas. Could [Patrick] Surtain be the answer? He’s not having the best year at Alabama, but he’s the top corner in the draft and can take away opposing No. 1 receivers. That’s something the Cowboys haven’t had.
This seems like McShay and Kiper are talking themselves out of a pick that really makes sense if they truly believe in the corner’s talent. For one, just because you got a good corner last draft doesn’t mean you don’t select another the next time around. You need three good corners to operate effectively on defense in this league, and the Cowboys currently don’t have that. They also have free agent decisions to make on Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis, so it’s not like their secondary is stocked.
Instead, Kiper/McShay stick with the best player available approach even if the position is not the most enviable in terms of using premium draft capital.
Kiper: That’s why I’d lean toward [Micah] Parsons. Yes, Dallas has used valuable picks on linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, but Parsons is a better player right now. Vander Esch has had problems staying on the field, and Smith hasn’t lived up to his big contract. The Cowboys could move on from him as soon as this offseason.
McShay: Another opt-out, Parsons does a little bit of everything, and the Cowboys could use a little bit of everything. He can drop in coverage and stay with tight ends. He can be disruptive against the run and wrap up running backs turning the corner. And he can close on the quarterback when turned loose on a blitz.
The consensus pick: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
This is where things are tough for a personnel guy in the NFL. Parsons is probably the best defensive player in the draft, at least at this point without going through workouts and the combine. Plus, the Cowboys run defense is woeful and he could surely help that, but he plays a position that is not considered one of the premier spots on a defense.
The Cowboys could opt for Patrick Surtain. He plays corner which is a premier position and the Cowboys could certainly use more help in their secondary. Surtain goes with the next pick to the Falcons. The problem is that Surtain is not even the top-ranked corner on some boards, Caleb Farley ranks higher depending on the service you prefer, and some boards have Surtain ranked much lower than even Top 10. There is also the possibility of reaching for a pass rusher like Gregory Rousseau.
Depending on your opinions of players like Surtain/Farley/Rousseau, Parsons might be the only real choice you have.
So there is the question - best player available versus using high draft capital on the most important positions. What would you do?
It looks like Micah Parsons wouldn’t mind landing in Big D.