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Cowboys 2021 draft: Most mockers know the Cowboys will take Patrick Surtain - except they really don’t

An NFL pre-draft reminder that a lot of guesswork and speculation is being presented as fact.

NFL Draft Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

It can be a challenge wading through all the mock drafts that come out during draft season. One problem they all have is that they start from a base of ignorance. As in, the authors really don’t know what the teams really think. Actually, most teams are just now getting around to putting their draft boards together, so any mock now is strictly the author trying to read the tea leaves of various indicators. In the case of using automated draft simulators, they are putting their faith in algorithms that may have little connection to NFL reality.

Mock drafts can be kind of fun. The only problem that goes with them is that we can get sucked into thinking they mean something.

For the Dallas Cowboys, there is a bit of a mock draft consensus emerging that the team is most likely going to be drafting Patrick Surtain II. It makes a ton of sense, if all the assumptions about the draft are correct. Therein lies the rub. There are some things being accepted as a given that don’t really track well with history. Here are some that stand out.

Almost every mock out there, including the ones from respected draft experts, have the first three picks all quarterbacks, with at least one more coming before Dallas is on the clock, and many have five in the first nine picks. That would be a historic draft. Never have so many quarterbacks gone so early.

The problem is that it is very easy to argue that only one of the current group of quarterbacks is deserving of a top 10 pick. That just isn’t the judgment of many writers out there. History tells us that it is hard to get one true franchise QB out of any draft class, and three is probably about as many as has ever happened. In this century, it has happened exactly once, in 2004, when Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, and Ben Roesthlisberger were all taken in the first round, and Roethlisberger didn’t go until pick 11.

We can debate how great Manning truly was, but the fact is that that group accounted for four Lombardi Trophies and five total Super Bowl appearances while leading their offenses. The only other draft class that surpasses them is 2000. And it doesn’t prove much, because all the success of that class is due to Tom Brady. Who, as you might have heard, was not a first-round pick.

All the evidence is that NFL teams do badly overdraft quarterbacks. Looking through the recent history of first-round QBs shows us just a handful that truly paid off, for example Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen. There are some that have not done well at all, some have been traded, and a bunch that could still work out.

Maybe the QB hungry teams will all take the plunge. In many cases, it would seem that they would either have to deviate from their draft board by passing on higher graded players, or they just will overgrade the quarterbacks. It is a position where some of the normal rules really don’t apply.

But what if they don’t? What if, for instance, the Carolina Panthers just don’t see a real upgrade over newly acquired Sam Darnold, who was himself a top three pick? They are one of the usual suspects in the expected QB rush. If they convince themselves that the real problem with Darnold was the coaching staff and roster with the New York Jets, which frankly is not hard to do, then they may think they can go a different route. Maybe several teams being projected to take a signal-caller might decide to use that draft capital on a player that is more likely to be worthy of the choice than the fourth or fifth best quarterback in the draft.

That can impact the Cowboys in different ways. If the expected QB rush goes a bit bust, then it is entirely possible that Surtain will not be there for them. He is one of the contenders for top cornerback in the draft, and those are always coveted. With a fairly limited group of clear blue-chip players overall this year, that might lead to them being left with less palatable choices. Maybe they will lean to a trade back, providing there is a willing partner.

All this assumes that if Surtain is there at 10, he will be the highest-ranked player on Dallas’ board. We don’t even know if he will be their highest ranked corner when they do get the board done. Jaycee Horn is considered by some to be a better choice, and Caleb Farley would be in this conversation if he hadn’t had back surgery. The Cowboys have not been shy about acquiring players with injury histories. Would they extend that to the first round, or would Farley be a way to make a trade back work?

Sometimes drafts do go pretty much as people think, but there are times when everyone kind of scratches their heads at some picks. There are certainly some names that might be a lot more coveted by other teams. In the quarterbacks, Mac Jones is one that many just don’t see as top 10 material, while others think he is a lock. With other positions, names like Micah Parsons, Christian Darrisaw, and Kwity Paye could get some top ten attention. That’s great if they are taken before the Cowboys go on the clock to push a better player down. It might be a bit dicey if Dallas has too favorable an opinion of any of them. The one that worries many is Parsons. He is a great talent, but there really should be a rule about not taking off-ball linebackers in the first round.

The lack of a true NFL Combine this year and the challenges of getting truly meaningful information from pro days means that things are even more uncertain. That could lead to even more baffling picks than we normally see, and we always see some. Even if they don’t come before Dallas is up in the first round, they could really help in later ones.

Just a little bit of chaos could see the Cowboys having to pick between players like Penei Sewell, Kyle Pitts, and Rashawn Slater, in addition to the top corners already listed. There are arguments for and against going with an offensive player, but we won’t replay them here. Just remember that when someone proclaims “There is absolutely no way that Pitts/Sewell/Slater makes it to 10,” just close your eyes, assume a relaxed pose, and chant the mantra “CeeDee Lamb” for a couple of minutes.

Dallas is early enough in the first round that the script might play out the way so many think it will. Just don’t be surprised if something wild happens early on day 1. And hope that the Cowboys are prepared for it.