Yesterday, we started pondering the legitimacy of Jerry Jones’ “big splash in the draft” reports that leaked out last week. With the team under new management, the organization has removed the influence of Jason Garrett and replaced him with a hands-off player personnel guy, Mike McCarthy. Now, we’ll sit back and wait and see if the Jerry is more free to do the things he want to do, or if the stability of the Cowboys war room will remain in tact.
While that’s one factor, today we are going to look at another element that may play a key part in all this - draft position. Looking back at the Cowboys last eight drafts, there is something unique about them. You can essentially stack all these drafts into three groups (Note: original draft order is provided):
There’s a little bit of cluster there as most of the Cowboys picks have fallen in smaller ranges. It speaks to the fact that the Cowboys have usually finished as one of the top six teams (three times) or right near the middle of the pack (four times). There is the one anomaly were the Cowboys finished 4-12, resulting in the fourth overall pick in 2016.
When the Cowboys had a chance to pick early, they drafted an All-Pro running back in Ezekiel Elliott. When they’ve picked near the end of the round, they still net resulted a couple great players in Byron Jones and Amari Cooper. That sort of takes a little bit of the sting out of the Taco Charlton whiff.
Today, we wanted to focus in on the times the Cowboys have picked in the middle, ranging from pick 14 through 19 because that is where they are picking this year as they currently hold the 17th overall pick in the upcoming 2020 NFL Draft. If we examine each of those instances, there might be something revealing that could help us predict what the Cowboys might do in April.
For starters, half of those four picks in the middle - the Cowboys traded out of their original draft spot. In 2012, they surrendered their second-round pick to move up eight spots so they could select LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne with the sixth overall pick. It is possible the minds in the war room had a short list of “elite” talent from this draft and the Cowboys wanted to make sure they got a piece of it. Obviously, that didn’t work out, but the fact remains they believed Claiborne was a special player and they made a move for him.
The very next year, the Cowboys were at it again, moving out of their original draft position. This time, they went back as they traded the 18th overall pick to San Francisco in exchange for the 31st overall pick and an extra third-rounder. The Cowboys used their late first-round pick to select Travis Frederick. Now, this story had a much better result as Frederick is a five-time Pro Bowler and to this day remains one of the top picks in his draft class.
In this scenario, the Cowboys must’ve felt like any of the remaining players left on their board was not someone they absolutely had to have and they could just be patient and get someone they liked later while picking up some extra draft capital.
But when you look at 2014 and 2018, the Cowboys stayed put. While fans at the time where up in arms about not making a move for Aaron Donald or Derwin James (both great players), the Cowboys must’ve felt really good about their board to where one of their top graded prospects was going to make it to them. And as it turned out - they did. Both Zack Martin and Leighton Vander Esch were great picks as each of them earned All-Pro honors their rookie season.
On the surface, it may appear that the Cowboys exhibited more patience (and certainly they did), but it could just be more of a direct link to the players they coveted and how the draft is played out.
Fast forward to 2020. Who could be a player that would qualify as a “big splash” move?
A handful of players come to mind. Maybe the Cowboys have finally found a playmaking defensive tackle they love where they’d spend a first-round pick on him. A new coach at the time, Jason Garrett, helped break a 30-year drought of drafting an offensive linemen in the first round (Tyron Smith, 2011). Could another coaching change help break the first-round defensive tackle drought that has lasted for nearly 30 years as well (Russell Maryland, 1991)?
What if the Cowboys are super high on Auburn’s Derrick Brown or South Carolina’s Javon Kinlaw and feel one of them is the last blue-chip players from this draft class. Would the Cowboys trade up to get him?
Maybe there is an edge rusher they love. Iowa’s A.J. Espensa or LSU’s K’Lavon Chaisson are a couple big names to remember. What if the team has one of them super high on their board and they fall just far enough to only have to spend a third-round pick to jump up and get him?
Or what if they absolutely adore Ohio State cornerback Jeffrey Okudah and they pull a Morris Claiborne-like deal all over again? Surely, that can’t bust on another trade-up corner in two-straight attempts, right?
While the names aren’t important, the concept here is what matters. It’s hard to know where the Cowboys minds are at when it comes to certain players, but one thing we do know is that Jerry loves to have the best of something. If he feels there is an opportunity to land one of the top players in this draft, you better believe he’s going to try to drive the ball over the water.