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2021 NFL Draft: Shouldn’t be too much of a surprise if the Cowboys take an offensive tackle at No. 10

What if the draft isn’t “all about the defense” after all?

Dallas Cowboys v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images

In the months and weeks leading up to the NFL draft, fans and pundits alike obsess seemingly endlessly over their team’s weaknesses. They go to great lengths to devise costly free agency schemes and spend countless hours constructing elaborate mock draft fantasies about how to address those weaknesses. We collectively obsess over those weaknesses, but we don’t talk about our team’s strengths a lot.

In a closed system like the NFL, and with finite resources at your disposal (cap space or draft resources), should you invest those resources into fixing your weaknesses or building your strengths?

Most successful companies, successful leaders, or successful organizations, are successful because they have very specific strengths that make them better than their competitors. To remain successful, they invest their available resources, be it time, money, or managerial talent, to further build their strengths.

Every successful organization also has weaknesses, but you only devote serious resources to these if they rise to the level of a fatal flaw that could derail the entire organization.

Fundamentally, NFL teams are no different. Some teams have a great offense, some teams have a great defense, some teams have a great special teams unit, but it’s really hard to be good at everything. Case in point, only one team managed to rank in the top 10 by DVOA last year on offense, defense, and special teams: The New Orleans Saints, and that didn’t even get them beyond the divisional round in the playoffs.

Heading into the draft, the draft pundits seem to have identified CB, S, and DL as the Cowboys’ main weaknesses, at least going by the positions the majority of mock drafts have the Cowboys selecting at the top of the draft. After the Cowboys’ 2020 defensive performance, that is completely understandable. But would you classify any of these positions as a fatal flaw that needs to be addressed with the highest priority, specifically with the 10th overall pick in the draft?

Speaking to 105.3 FM The Fan on Monday, Stephen Jones explained that while this draft will be all about improving the defense, the top pick could also end up being an offensive player.

“That’s one of the goals in this draft, is to improve defensively,” Jones said. “And then, as you said, if the right guy presents himself – not unlike CeeDee did last year – sometimes, you’ve just got to be in a situation where, if he’s by far the best player left on the board, then you’ve got to have confidence that you can make that selection.”

Just a few days earlier, Tony Pauline of Pro Football Network said Penei Sewell could be the Cowboys’ top target.

“From what I’m hearing is, right now it looks like if Penei Sewell falls into their laps, that’s the player they’re going to select. Otherwise, it’ll be one of the cornerbacks, Patrick Surtain or Jaycee Horn.”

And also on Monday, Peter King hinted at Rashawn Slater as a possible Cowboys target.

Said one NFC coach: “I can’t see how the Cowboys pass up [Northwestern tackle] Rashawn Slater if he’s there. That offensive line is declining fast.”

At the end of the day, the 2021 draft will be a question of building strengths vs fixing weaknesses. The Cowboys should be looking to build on their strengths.

Having locked up both Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott long term, and with three studs at wide receiver this season in Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup, they should look very, very hard at what’s needed to maintain (or rebuild?) the long-term dominance of the offensive line, especially with questions about Tyron Smith’s health.

If either Sewell or Slater fall, the Cowboys should pick either of them without blinking, and then look at what resources they have left in terms of draft capital to address some of the weaknesses on the team.

Cornerback Patrick Surtain would, of course, be a great consolation prize if the top two tackles are gone, but selecting him wouldn’t answer the question about the long-term dominance of the offensive line. If the Cowboys think that question needs to be answered with a first-round pick, they might look to a Travis Frederick-type move down the draft order for the next available tackle. Or would a day two tackle be enough of an answer?

One more week until we find out.