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Mapping a 2020 NFL draft strategy for the Dallas Cowboys

With seven picks, basically in the middle of rounds, the Cowboys need to use them wisely.

NFL Draft, Day 3 Max Faulkner/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

With the NFL Combine underway, you can smell the NFL Draft in the air. Or at least some sweat. In any case, the Dallas Cowboys join the rest of the league in the first real step in preparing for this year’s selections. Dallas is back in the first round after sitting out last year’s day one, but they have a lot of needs. Some will hopefully be taken care of during free agency, especially by signing some of their own. Still, the Cowboys have long put great value on drafting.

The Cowboys have seven picks this year. They don’t have a sixth-round selection, having traded it away for Robert Quinn (a wise investment), but are projected to get a fifth-round compensatory pick for Cole Beasley. While the league hasn’t announced the comp picks yet, the formula has been pretty well cracked. Using that, the picks for Dallas as projected by our old friend K.D. Drummond are as follows:

  • 17
  • 51
  • 82
  • 122
  • 156
  • 180 (comp pick)
  • 233

Picking midway through the first round means you should still have some legitimate first-round value still on your board. Top 100 picks are seen as the premium picks, with fourth- and fifth-round selections places where you can sometimes find overlooked gems. That seventh-round spot seldom turns out to provide much value.

While the approach to drafting the Cowboys use is still a subject of much discussion, the best theory is that they look to get the best player available at a position of need. This brings us to what those needs are this year. According to CBS Sports, they stack up like this:

  • Wide receiver
  • Cornerback
  • Defensive line
  • Safety
  • Edge rusher
  • Tight end
  • Quarterback
  • Interior offensive line
  • Linebacker
  • Offensive tackle

Note that those are the overall offseason needs. Wide receiver will hopefully be addressed at least in part by re-signing Amari Cooper, and this list obviously assumes the Dak Prescott will get his big payday.

So for the sake of argument, we will assume that wide receiver will be more like the fourth or fifth greatest need on draft day, but that Byron Jones will not be brought back (a mistake in my view) due to the cost of the deal he will require. We also don’t know whether Robert Quinn might be back either, but we’ll assume for now he won’t. (Again, not how I would approach it, but Stephen Jones is throwing out a lot of cap space talk that indicates the team may be looking for other options.) That puts the top needs as something like this, with WR and edge rusher a bit of a dead heat:

  • Cornerback
  • Defensive line
  • Safety
  • Wide receiver
  • Edge rusher
  • Tight end
  • Quarterback
  • Interior offensive line
  • Linebacker
  • Offensive tackle

That now requires a look at the way the draft talent is distributed. Again, we will use CBS Sports for a ranking of prospects. (Trust me, I’m not smart enough to come up with a list of my own.) Going in order of the Cowboys’ needs, here is what they have. This list will not address likely top 10 selections, since the probable cost of moving up for them is too high.


There are some good prospects that could line up well for the Cowboys in rounds one and two, especially if things like the inevitable over-drafting of quarterbacks push some names down a few spots. A few names to watch (with where CBS has them) to watch:

  • Kristian Fulton, LSU (18)
  • Trevon Diggs, Alabama (24)
  • C.J. Henderson, Florida (25)
  • Bryce Hall, Virginia (27)
  • Damon Arnette, Ohio State (53)
  • Cameron Dantzler, MIssissippi State (57)

Defensive Line

The Cowboys have been reluctant to spend premium picks on defensive tackles, but there is a new defensive staff that may be pounding the table for a change. The talent is a bit skimpy in the middle of the first, but those day two possibilities are intriguing, particularly if a couple slide a bit in the third.

  • Neville Gallimore, Oklahoma (21)
  • Jordan Elliott, Missouri (67)
  • Raekwon Davis, Alabama (69)
  • Justin Madubuike, Texas A&M (71)
  • Marlon Davison, Auburn (82)
  • Davon Hamilton, Ohio State (88)


Again, this is a position Dallas has been loathe to use a high pick on. Stephen Jones even joked a bit about it. But if they get serious about going high to fix the issues here, this is a draft that may make it worth the cost.

  • Xavier McKinney, Alabama (15)
  • Grant Delpit, LSU (22)
  • Ashtyn Davis, California (36)
  • Antoine Winfield Jr., Minnesota (54)
  • Terrell Burgess, Utah (61)

Wide receiver

As in many years, there is wide receiver talent all over the board. With the higher needs (again assuming Cooper is back), the first round seems too rich for what the Cowboys need to do. But look at some of the talent clustered around their picks in rounds two through four.

  • Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State (42)
  • Jalen Reagor, TCU (43)
  • Justin Jefferson, LSU (51)
  • K.J. Hamler, Penn State (52)
  • Donovan Peoples-Jones, Michigan (76)
  • Tyler Johnson, Minnesota (78)
  • Devin Duvernay, Texas (79)
  • Antonio Gandy-Golden, Liberty (84)
  • K.J. Hill, Ohio State (117)
  • Jauan Johnson, Tennesee (119)
  • Gabriel Davis, UCF (124)

Edge rusher

This is the first group that just doesn’t match up well with the Cowboys’ needs and draft picks. It is top heavy, with three names in the top 15, but the value just doesn’t look to be there on day one and two when Dallas goes on the clock. Given the other high needs, day three is probably when the Cowboys will start looking. And maybe they need to really think about seeing what it would take to keep Quinn.

Tight end

It’s really slim pickings here. It’s a weak class overall, which is reflective of how the position has become less valuable at the college level. With Dalton Schultz the only tight end from last year still under contract, Dallas has to figure something out in free agency. Jason Witten is not believed to be part of the plans this year, but Blake Jarwin might be more important as a target to bring back than we might realize.

The last four positions on the priority list are strictly day three considerations, and the Cowboys should be just looking for players they are higher on than the rest of the league for any selections there. They obviously don’t currently have enough picks to address every need listed.

So what kind of strategy does that indicate Dallas should employ? If they can get over some of the prejudices they have shown in the past, this is what I think they should do:

First round: Safety. The talent is there, and it would help solve a real problem

Second round: Cornerback or defensive line. The team has said that defense is the priority this year, which makes sense.

Third round: Whichever of the two options they didn’t get in the second. If the pickings turn out to be slim, then wide receiver would be an option, or maybe an edge rusher they think highly of, although that seems far less likely given the way the class looks.

Fourth round: This is where they would take a WR if they didn’t get one in the third. If they do go WR earlier, then this is where they need to find a DT or corner.

Fifth round and later: By now, they have to really work at matching remaining needs with the best they can find. These players are all going to be long shots to make the roster.

That is my take. How do you see things stacking up? It’s mock draft season, after all, and you know you want to share with us.

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