The Dallas Cowboys wrapped up a — at least on paper — successful 2020 NFL Draft class. Landing an elite playmaker such as CeeDee Lamb in the middle of the first-round will help do that. Not to mention many other talented prospects at incredible value throughout the three day event.
As a result, there is a ton of excitement surrounding this team right now. An already stacked offense added more ammunition with Lamb, while the defense added potential contributors at corner (Trevon Diggs and Reggie Robinson III) and along the defensive line (Neville Gallimore and Bradlee Anae). Dallas received positive grades from many in the media following the draft, and it appears as if the Cowboys were able to address many needs with good players.
However, the draft is always an inexact science. You can never truly judge a draft class until at least three years down the road. Fluke seasons, injuries, schematic changes are just some of the different variables that can change the perception of a draft class in a number of ways. Three seasons, though, is probably enough time to grade a class. Players have established roles, are nearing the end of their rookie contract, and likely have enough film to get a real feel for.
With that said, it is easy to see that the 2016 draft was a big success for the Cowboys. There was (and still is) some debate regarding taking a running back in the top-4 of the draft, but Ezekiel Elliott has largely proven to be one of the game’s top backs. Jaylon Smith has had ups and downs after recovering from a serious and gruesome injury, but Dallas rewarded the linebacker with a contract extension following a solid 2018 campaign. Maliek Collins was a solid contributor on the defensive line and Anthony Brown has developed into a reliable slot corner when healthy.
The real reason why the draft class is thought of so highly, though, is because who the team took in the fourth round: quarterback Dak Prescott. Prescott was actually the Cowboys’ second pick in the round and that came after the team previously attempted to move up for quarterbacks Paxton Lynch and Connor Cook. All Prescott has done is lead the Cowboys to 40 wins over four seasons (and no losing season), two NFC East titles, a win over Russell Wilson in the playoffs, and a better overall ledger than the top-2 picks in that same draft. Prescott is still awaiting a contract extension from Dallas but it’s expected that will eventually get done.
The Draft Network’s Kyle Crabbs recently wrote a piece on the best draft classes over the past decade, and the Cowboys’ 2016 haul obviously made the list. Crabbs wrote that Dallas is “the latest beneficiary of an incredible steal in the middle rounds for a quarterback” after grabbing Prescott with the 135th pick.
2016 DALLAS COWBOYS
Ezekiel Elliott, RB
Jaylon Smith, LB
Maliek Collins, DL
Charles Tapper, DE
Dak Prescott, QB
Anthony Brown, CB
Kavon Frazier, S
Darius Jackson, RB
Rico Gathers, TE
The Cowboys are the latest beneficiary of an incredible steal in the middle rounds for a quarterback. Prescott is the face of the 2016 draft class despite being the fifth selection made by Dallas. His development as a player has seen him evolve from a rookie passer weaned in with a heavy dose of the run game to nearly surpassing 5,000 yards last season. Prescott is the engine that makes the Cowboys’ offense hum, even if fellow 2016 pick Elliott is the workhorse. Dallas’ entire offensive identity for the second half of the decade was snatched up in a single draft; the Cowboys have gone 40-24 over that stretch while averaging over 24 points per game. The postseason success has yet to come, but the hope is that a coaching change will help catapult this talented group to new heights.
Defensively, Smith was a big roll of the dice. He’s paid off in some respects but his impact against the pass isn’t where it would need to be for him to be considered an all-time steal. Instead, he’s a strong starter and a complimentary piece to the standouts of this draft in Prescott and Elliott.
Not every pick in this class hit. Rico Gathers never lived up to the hype that many were giving the former Baylor Bears basketball star, while Charles Tapper and Darius Jackson never became real contributors, either.
Still, the overall depth of the class with players such as Collins, Brown, and Frazier playing meaningful snaps and the star power that comes with Dak, Zeke, and Jaylon Smith makes it a huge success.
Marcus Mosher wrote an article for Bleacher Report that ranked the best draft hauls of the past decade. The Cowboys landed very high on the list.
2. 2016 Dallas Cowboys
Notable Selections: RB Ezekiel Elliott (No. 4), LB Jaylon Smith (No. 34), DT Maliek Collins (No. 67), QB Dak Prescott (No. 135)
You can make a strong case that the Dallas Cowboys’ draft haul from 2016 should sit atop this list since they selected three Pro Bowl players.
Prescott has certainly been the biggest factor in why that draft class is thought of so highly. You cannot overstate the importance in finding a franchise quarterback. Finding one on day three makes it even sweeter.
Still, the pick that made the draft for the Cowboys was selecting quarterback Dak Prescott in the fourth round.
He will soon be one of the league’s highest-paid players and has started every game of his career. The team has yet to have a losing season with him under center, and he set career highs as a passer in 2019, throwing for 4,902 yards and 30 touchdowns. He’s improved dramatically over the last three seasons and should receive a nice boost now that Mike McCarthy is serving as Dallas’ head coach.
It’s also worth noting that the Cowboys selected Maliek Collins and Anthony Brown (No. 189), who have started a combined 89 games over the last four seasons.
The 2016 draft helped Dallas re-open its Super Bowl window following the end of the Tony Romo era.
The 2016 draft class has had a lot of overall success since entering the league. Dallas has failed to advance past the Divisional Round of the playoffs, but the Cowboys have won 60% of their games with Prescott behind center, while Elliott, Prescott, and Smith have all been selected to the Pro Bowl.
There are high hopes for what the 2020 draft class will bring to the team. Many are expecting an immediate impact right out of the gate from Lamb at receiver and Diggs in the secondary, while most believe that the Cowboys found incredible value by grabbing Robinson and Anae on day three. Potential starting center and 2019 consensus NCAA All-American Tyler Biadasz also has some hype to his name, and Neville Gallimore has an opportunity to refine his game while learning from Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe.
This is not to say that this year’s class will be as strong as the one from four years ago, but the Cowboys crushed the 2016 draft and many feel as if Dallas did so again this time around.
We will check back in a few years and see if this year’s class lived up to the expectations many are putting on it, but it is hard not to be excited about what the Cowboys did in 2020.