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The unpredictable nature of the 2020 NFL draft and the Cowboys role in it

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This may be the most unpredictable NFL draft we have ever seen.

NFL Draft Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

In recent years, fans of the Dallas Cowboys have had a pretty good idea where the team was headed in the draft. Over the last four years, the first-round pick was pretty well tipped if you were paying attention. Ezekiel Elliott, Taco Charlton, and Leighton Vander Esch were all names that were pretty easy to figure out, even if you didn’t like them, and of course Dallas sat out the first round in 2019. But with the limitations forced on the league by the current pandemic, along with the decision to press ahead with the original schedule in a virtual format, things are very different. Confusing is another way to put it. Long-time insider Bryan Broaddus, who admittedly is no longer with the mothership, is apparently experiencing some disorientation along with the rest of us.

That certainly looks like two completely different messages in less than half a day. But I shouldn’t pick on Mr. Broaddus, who I actually hold in esteem. He is just going through something that is league wide.

All this could make this year’s NFL Draft both wildly entertaining and terribly frustrating.

It involves two levels for us, that of the Cowboys as an organization, and the way the entire league is having to do things in ways they never envisioned.

For Dallas, the big thing is the change in the coaching staff. That applies mostly to the defense, which is also the part of the team that needs the most help on draft day. Wide receiver is the only real place the offense badly needs an infusion of talent, and even that may not be as dire as some think. But with the depth of talent in this draft class, it is hard to imagine the team not dipping into that pool, and should things shake out a certain way, it could be in the first round.

Defense, however, should be the main thrust. With Mike Nolan and Jim Tomsula in place, we are seeing a very different emphasis than under Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard. The issue at linebacker that Broaddus was trying to sort out springs from the idea that is floating around of having a SAM linebacker/designated pass rusher. This would indicate a likely interest in players like Wisconsin EDGE rusher Zack Baun. He looks more like a traditional 3-4 OLB, but we are also being told that flexibility and multiple fronts are to be features of the Cowboys’ defense this year. Baun is listed at 235 lbs, which is light for a hand on the ground end. But standing up, he has shown the ability to be a real factor in a pass rush, and the experience as a linebacker in the Badgers’ system would help if he is needed to provide some coverage, and bodes well for being able to handle the run game.

More generally, this also may extend to the secondary, which may mean that Dallas is more willing to invest draft capital in a safety like Alabama’s Xavier McKinney. All this just adds up to a lot more uncertainty about just what the Cowboys are going to do, especially in the first three rounds.

Of course, who you pick at any given spot is dictated by whom has been taken before you go on the clock, and that is where the real chaos could set in. In normal years, that groupthink Daniel Jeremiah referred to in his tweet is a very real thing. Scouts talk to one another at pro days and there is also a lot of checking notes with each other via phone or other communication. Now, with scouting departments having to put nearly all their time into grinding video and no more pro days, that is largely gone. Perhaps even more importantly the media has very limited access as compared to the past. The information flow from teams is way, way down. Plugged-in reporters and commentators are having to operate in the dark in many ways. The prediction that mocks are going to be much less accurate than in the past looks dead on. Of course, some mocks were always way off, but there were always some that had a good resemblance to reality. That is going to be much harder to do.

Although it is not going to be universal, it is likely that many teams will have to rely more on the input from the scouts. That’s just another way of saying that GMs and head coaches should not be as prone to override their scouts and make decisions like the Charlton one or the drafting of Trysten Hill in the second round last year, as is believed to have happened with Dallas. There is also not as much chance for players to win the staff over in visits, which is certainly a subjective element. That’s clearly a good news/bad news situation, because all scouting departments are not created equal. If a team has a good one, they should be able to do very well when other teams make mistakes ahead of them. If not, then they are the ones who are letting good players stay available later than they should.

There are also some intriguing reports that many teams are going to be looking to trade back early in the draft. That’s partly because of the factors listed already, and also due to the way the talent is seen to be distributed in this class. Some believe that the talent in the second round is closer to that in the latter half of the first than in some years. It could lead to a lot of trade activity, which is just one more chaotic element we may see.

The draft is always fun, or maddening. Or both. This year is shaping up to be very interesting indeed.