Vice President of Player Personnel Will McClay and the rest of the Dallas Cowboys front office and scouting department have received tons of positive reviews for their ability to identify talent and add impact players through the draft. After all, the Cowboys have one of the most talented rosters across the National Football League.
As well as the Cowboys have largely drafted — hitting on several of their first-round draft picks and finding a franchise quarterback on day three of the draft — the team has had their fair share of misses, too.
The 2017 draft is a great example of this. Dallas was coming off a highly successful 2016 draft class that netted the team the likes of quarterback Dak Prescott, running back Ezekiel Elliott, and linebacker Jaylon Smith, as well as a 13-3 campaign that ended in a heartbreaking loss to the loss of Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in the Divisional Round.
Expectations were that the Cowboys would build on their ridiculously good draft class from the year before and continue to add talent around their new face of the franchise on an inexpensive rookie deal. Instead, Dallas prioritized need and scheme over raw talent, ending up hurting the roster’s talent level.
The Athletic’s Dane Brugler went back to the 2017 NFL Draft and ranked each class from one to 32. To not much of a surprise, the Cowboys were closer to 32 than they were to the top. Brugler ranked the Cowboys’ 2017 class at number 20.
As you are aware, the Cowboys drafted Michigan’s Taco Charlton over Wisconsin's T.J. Watt in round one, the overwhelming story of how this draft class went for America’s Team. Dallas doubled-up at corner on day two in Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis. While both have flashed the talent that the Cowboys liked, neither one has been able to show that they are a long-term answer in the secondary.
Brugler selected Awuzie as the team’s best player from this draft haul. Awuzie has had an up-and-down career with the Cowboys, but he will be relied upon heavily after Byron Jones left in free agency.
Best player: Chidobe Awuzie
The Cowboys suffered a tough loss when Byron Jones signed a lucrative free-agent deal in Miami, but in terms of on-field play in 2019, there wasn’t a huge gap between Jones and Awuzie. And if he builds upon last season, Awuzie might be the next cornerback to depart Dallas for big bucks in the offseason.
Not all was bad for the Cowboys, though. The team added starting safety Xavier Woods late in the draft, which was considered to be a steal even at the time. While Woods has not been signed to a long-term deal, he has been a solid starter in the Cowboys defense.
Best value: Xavier Woods
The Cowboys were shocked to see Woods still on the board as the sixth round started so they traded a future fifth-round pick to add the 191st pick and draft the safety. Although he hasn’t convinced the organization he is a long-term defensive piece, Woods has unsurprisingly outplayed what the Cowboys gave up for him.
Still, the selection of Charlton in the first-round will always be what this draft class is remembered for. Charlton was cut last September after just two seasons with the team then was cut by the Miami Dolphins following the 2020 NFL Draft.
It certainly does not help that T.J. Watt, selected just two picks after Charlton, has developed into a star pass rusher for Mike Tomlin and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Biggest miss: Taco Charlton
Over the last 10 years, the Cowboys have been one of the best teams at drafting in the first round, but Charlton is one of the few blemishes on their report card. The Michigan product struggled with consistency and coaching over his tenure in Dallas and was released two weeks into the 2019 season. The pick is extra painful considering the coaches preferred Charlton over Watt, who was drafted two picks later, in Dallas’ 4-3 scheme.
As bad as the 2017 draft class was, the 2016 haul has proven to be a large success — thanks to the development of Dak Prescott — and the 2020 class has received strong reviews from several in draft circles.
The Cowboys have hit on a ton of picks and have largely drafted well, but the 2017 haul has to sting.