With the NFL Combine wrapped up and the NFL Draft still seven weeks away, there is a lot of time to ponder what the Dallas Cowboys are likely to do. Or at least we can try to sort out what they want to do. Sometimes things are no so easy to figure. But other times the team tips its hand as it did in 2018 when the signals became very strong that Leighton Vander Esch was going to be the pick if he was available. That took a bit of time to develop, however, and we clearly aren’t in a similar position yet. Still, why let that stop us from trying to predict what the team is up to?
It’s actually kind of what we all do, as every day sees new mock drafts to dissect and critique. But this is a different approach for a couple of reasons. First, I am not a video grinder. Circumstances just make delving into “tape” unworkable for me. Second, even the best mock draft tends to get a lot of things wrong. Trying to grasp the approach of 32 franchises who have wildly different philosophies is a bit trying.
Our interest is in trying to sort out the underlying approach for the Cowboys, similar to several days back. That was a proposed strategy for the team. Since then, there has been a lot of discussion on the interwebs about how Dallas should go about things. So this time around, let’s present some options for them rather than try to lay a specific path out.
We need to outline a few assumptions. First, that new deals will get done for Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, and are likely for Robert Quinn and Randall Cobb. But Byron Jones is probably going to collect a big bag of money somewhere else. Also, it is likely that the Cowboys will continue their, um, frugal ways in free agency, so we won’t expect a big, splashy signing from outside. We always know that Dallas views the draft as the most important factor in roster building. You can make some arguments that they tend to lean too far in that direction, but the lean itself is undeniable. This does not look like a year when trading up in the first round is an option, but a small trade back might be.
What we are trying to establish here is what you address first in the draft, and then moving to other spots on day two. Looking at that, there seem to be three ways the team can go.
Fix the defense, premium positions version
On that side of the ball, top value is usually placed on the cornerback and edge rusher positions. This year is a bit of a weak one for pass rushers, although both A.J. Epenesa and K’Lavon Chaisson could be in play for the Cowboys at 17. But cornerback is a much better place to try and find talent early in the draft, with Kristian Fulton, Trevon Diggs, and C.J. Henderson (among others) are plausible first-round picks in the middle of the round. There is even a chance the Cowboys could make that small trade back to garner another pick later and still get one of those.
This would help fill the expected void from not retaining Jones. Of course, letting need drive your picks can lead to mistakes.
Fix the defense, “low value” positions version
The rest of the defense are positions that are not normally seen as worth premium picks, defensive tackle, linebacker, and safety. Of course, Vander Esch showed that the Cowboys don’t always think the same as the rest of the league. Add in that there is an almost completely new defensive staff in place, and the team may be more open-minded.
With Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith locked up for a while, it would be a real surprise to see the team go back to linebacker this year, and defensive tackle is not rich this year in likely first round talent.
But safety has two players that could tempt Dallas to break form, Xavier McKinney and Grant Delpit. It could be a fallback if they want to grab a corner, but things just don’t land right.
Forget the defense, we’ll outscore them all
Also known as the wide receiver option, or as some have termed it, the 40-burger club. Just grab another top notch target for Prescott and run up the score. In the first round, that would likely mean getting CeeDee Lamb (if he slides), Jerry Jeudy (less of a slide), Henry Ruggs III (right in the sweet spot), or a few other names later. With the way quarterback gets overdrafted and the needs of other teams ahead of the Cowboys, none of them are truly out of the question.
Now, which one of these is right?
Heck if I know. There are arguments to be made for and against all three. Part of it is just what you prefer, and the rest may be determined by how the draft shakes out by the time the Cowboys go on the clock in the first.
I will posit that it is extremely likely that one of these will be the way they go in the draft. Some player might slide and tempt them to try something else, but given the expected needs of the team, that just doesn’t seem to make much sense.
Mock drafts are looking at all three ways to use pick 17, and as mentioned, a trade could happen as well, especially if a lot of the names mentioned above are still around.
But that’s what we do this time of year. We argue and post those mocks. So join in. We’ve got a lot of time to hash and rehash things.