Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good. And last year the Dallas Cowboys got very lucky during the 2021 NFL draft. Jaycee Horn and Patrick Surtain II were selected with two consecutive picks before Dallas’ tenth overall selection. With two players the Cowboys presumably wanted now off the board, they traded back to twelfth and let Micah Parsons fall into their lap. Hats off to Will McClay for making that pick when the general consensus was hesitant on Parsons.
2021 was different than most years for the Cowboys. They got lucky and drafted the Defensive Rookie of the Year who contended for the DPOY. However, it is in years such as 2022 that fans should be more confident in the draft process.
Cowboys fans should have faith in Will McClay in 2022
While Will McClay was named VP of Player Personnel for the Cowboys in 2017, he has been overseeing the draft process since 2014. You might remember that draft as the year some were calling for Johnny Manziel to be drafted as Tony Romo’s successor before they took Zack Martin.
But since taking over in 2014, McClay has followed a predictable pattern.
There is a chance this is simply pure coincidence, but McClay has oscillated back and forth between offense and defense for his first-round selections:
- 2014: Zack Martin (Offense)
- 2015: Byron Jones (Defense)
- 2016: Ezekiel Elliott (Offense)
- 2017: Taco Charlton (Defense)
- 2018: Leighton Vander Esch (Defense)
- 2020: CeeDee Lamb (Offense)
- 2021: Micah Parsons (Defense)
With the sole exception of 2018, the offense is always selected in even-numbered years as the Cowboys go back and forth.
So based on McClay’s preference for rotating his first-round selections, they will likely select an offensive player in the first round this year. This shouldn't come as groundbreaking news given the fact that most analysts are mocking either an offensive lineman or wide receiver to Dallas. However, history suggests they aren’t looking at DE or LB at 24.
But the fact they are drafting on this side of the ball should be encouraging. Because, since McClay started assisting with the draft, they have only made seven offensive picks out of their 24 selections (29%) in the first three rounds. But of the offensive players selected in these rounds compared to the 17 defensive selections, they make up:
- 6 out of the 8 All-Pro selections of this group
- 11 out of the 18 Pro Bowl selections of this group
- Nearly 40% of the games started
- 43% of the weighted approximate value (a statistic similar to wins above replacement)
While Trevon Diggs and Micah Parsons look to be on their way, the only defensive player selected by Will McClay who has made more than one Pro Bowl is DeMarcus Lawrence. And 2021 was the first year a McClay defensive draftee made the All-Pro team (both Diggs and Parsons made it).
McClay knows how to draft offense, especially in the first round. Elliott, Martin, and Lamb are all very solid draft picks, regardless of who was on the board when they were selected.
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And when an offensive player is selected in rounds two or three, it is not as if there is a complete dropoff in talent. The names that fall into this group are Connor Williams, Michael Gallup, Connor McGovern, and Chaz Green. Of these players, Green is the only real miss.
Offense is McClay’s specialty. And since this is a year the Cowboys will presumably go offense, this should be encouraging.
If you want some other strong patterns:
- McClay likes to go defense with his second-round pick, regardless of the first-round selection. Since 2014, the only offensive player selected in the second round out of their eight total picks was Connor Williams.
- In the third round, McClay likes to address the trenches. Dallas has had nine third-round selections, and six of them have been offensive or defensive linemen.
So, given the Cowboys' needs and McClay’s draft history, there is a very real possibility the first three rounds look like this:
- Offensive guard or wide receiver
- Linebacker or defensive end
- Offensive tackle or center
McClay likes his defensive picks, especially in the second and third rounds. Maybe this year is different. The defense has never been the team’s strong suit during McClay’s tenure, and you can argue that is not the case in 2022.
But the good news is that offense is almost a lock at the 24th overall pick, which is where McClay thrives. You might not be confident in the Cowboys during the postseason and you might not be confident in Dallas during free agency. But be confident this year during the draft. The team is safe in Will McClay’s hands.