It is always fun and exciting to predict how successful your team’s draft class will turn out to be. For instance, Cowboys fans are already predicting that CeeDee Lamb will emerge as a superstar receiver, Trevon Diggs will help replace Byron Jones and that Tyler Biadasz was a day-three steal.
In actuality, it is very difficult to accurately predict how successful each player will turn out to be. Nobody bats 100% and injuries, scheme, and coaching changes can all play a factor.
After four seasons though, it becomes much clearer to see how successful each draft class turned out to be. For the Cowboys, the team landed a franchise quarterback, a workhorse running back and a Pro Bowl linebacker in the 2016 class, making it among the best draft hauls over the past decade.
Bleacher Report decided to re-draft that 2016 class, and the results are very interesting. The star quality from that draft is evident: three franchise quarterbacks, one of the elite receivers in the NFL, numerous high-quality defenders and a pair of Pro Bowl rushers are among the highlights.
In B/R’s re-draft, the Cowboys would be changed dramatically. Say goodbye to Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and Jaylon Smith, as Brad Gagnon places all three in round one — but on three different teams.
At pick number one overall, Gagnon has Prescott heading to the Rams. The former fourth-rounder has exceeded nearly every expectation en route to becoming one of the best quarterbacks in football. In this scenario, though, Prescott lands in the NFC West.
What actually happened: Drafted QB Jared Goff
Where Dak Prescott was actually picked: Fourth round by the Cowboys
The Los Angeles Rams have already doubled down on Goff by handing him one of the most lucrative contracts in NFL history, and the California product did help the team reach the Super Bowl in 2018. The Rams would likely consider reselecting him in this spot if not for the presence of Prescott and Carson Wentz, both of whom have been significantly more successful.
The two rank among the top five all-time in terms of touchdown-to-interception ratio, and Prescott is the seventh-highest-rated qualified passer in NFL history.
This is essentially a toss-up because Wentz might have a higher ceiling based on his MVP-caliber 2017 season for the Philadelphia Eagles, but the North Dakota State product has also failed to finish three consecutive campaigns because of injuries.
Prescott, who has never missed a start in his career, gets the slight edge.
Carson Wentz still goes second overall to the Eagles, and the Chargers still get their stud pass rusher in Joey Bosa at three. At four, the Cowboys find themselves a different quarterback to eventually replace Tony Romo.
What actually happened: Drafted RB Ezekiel Elliott
Where Jared Goff was actually picked: First overall by the Rams
If the Dallas Cowboys weren’t positioned to compete now based on the number of highly paid, premium starters on their roster, they might be tempted to take Ramsey, Yannick Ngakoue or Chris Jones here and then grab a quarterback in next year’s draft. And an argument could be made that they’d be better off with Andy Dalton and one of those three defensive stars than they are with Goff and no other additions.
But Dallas is good enough to make a run in 2020 and, again, Goff played a significant role on a Super Bowl team just 18 months ago. The original top pick hasn’t been himself since bombing in Super Bowl LIII, but he’s a two-time Pro Bowler with the skill set to bounce back, and he’d be extremely well-supported in Dallas.
It’s also hard to trust Dalton, who posted an ugly 84.2 passer rating in his final three seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Oh, and for those championing Elliott, running backs are almost never worth a top-five pick these days—and that’s especially the case when you don’t have your quarterback situation figured out.
Gagnon is tempted to give the Cowboys an elite defender in the top-5 — like a Chris Jones — but he could not pass on the quarterback. The writer also suggests that running backs are not worth the investment of a top-5 selection.
As for the pick, Goff, who originally went first overall in 2016, slides to the Cowboys at four. The California product has led the Rams to a Super Bowl appearance under Sean McVay, but I do not think there are many people that would take him over Prescott right now. For Dallas, though, the Cowboys get a franchise-caliber signal-caller to learn behind Romo.
If you remember, the Rams opted to bring Goff along slowly during his rookie season under Jeff Fisher. It would have been interesting to see how he would have fared had he been thrown into the fire when Romo went down like Prescott was.
Both quarterbacks will be connected due to being in the same draft class and the position in which they play. The Rams invested the first overall pick — and more picks just to trade up — for Goff, while the Cowboys saw Prescott fall into their laps in the fourth-round. Both organizations are likely happy with how it turned out, but Dallas is very fortunate to not have had to give up premium resources to find their guy.
Elsewhere, the Cowboys see two more current players head elsewhere. Running back Ezekiel Elliott takes a significant slide, while Jaylon Smith — who was coming off a nasty injury prior to the draft — rises into the first-round.
17. Atlanta Falcons: RB Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State
What actually happened: Drafted S Keanu Neal
Where Ezekiel Elliott was actually picked: Fourth overall by the Cowboys
With all due respect to new Atlanta Falcons running back Todd Gurley, the team can’t pass up on Elliott, considering Gurley’s struggles since he suffered a knee injury in 2018. The team is unlikely to get the backfield punch it needs out of Gurley, but Elliott is one of the NFL’s most productive backs.
The three-time Pro Bowler and two-time rushing champion has also caught 131 passes for 987 yards the last two years. He’ll be 25 for the 2020 campaign, and he’s yet to show obvious signs of decline. He scored 14 touchdowns in 2019 and averaged 5.1 yards per carry in his final five games.
Zeke in the ATL with Matt Ryan and Julio Jones would be something to watch. Ryan and Jones consistently fill up the stat-sheet, and Elliott would provide a big-time rushing threat to complement the passing attack.
Meanwhile, Jaylon Smith goes from falling into the second round to joining the Kansas City Chiefs.
28. Kansas City Chiefs: LB Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame
What actually happened: Traded out of Round 1
Where Jaylon Smith was actually picked: Second round by the Cowboys
At this point, the Chiefs would be reeling. There’s no replacing Chris Jones or Hill, especially with Clark, Reader, Boyd and Fuller off the board. They could roll with a decent starter such as Javon Hargrave or Shepard at either defensive tackle or wideout, but instead they might as well go with a player with a higher ceiling at another position of need.
So let’s assign Smith to the Chiefs. The linebacker is rising faster than anyone else available here following a breakout 2018 and a Pro Bowl 2019 campaign. The second-round pick was still coming back from a major knee injury early in his career but has since become one of the league’s best off-ball linebackers. He’d provide a tremendous immediate upgrade over Damien Wilson or Anthony Hitchens.
In this scenario, Dak Prescott goes number one overall and is playing for a different team in the NFC, Jared Goff is the quarterback-of-the-future behind Tony Romo, Ezekiel Elliott is paired with Matt Ryan and Julio Jones and Jaylon Smith is playing defense for Andy Reid in the AFC.
Fortunately, the reality is that Prescott, Elliott and Smith are suiting up for America’s Team and two of which have even earned contract extensions for their performances thus far in their career. Prescott is the one waiting, still, but has proven to be among the best quarterbacks in the NFL and has earned the respect of those in his locker room.
The Cowboys hit the draft out of the park in 2016, and the hope is that they did it once again in 2020. Prescott, Elliott, and Smith have given Dallas an exciting and productive core as the team enters a new era under head coach Mike McCarthy.