The Dallas Cowboys are never shy about telegraphing their draft strategy, and Jerry Jones threw out some more info about their plans on Wednesday when he mentioned the possibility of trading up. With a deep class at offensive line and wide receiver, the Cowboys top two needs, a trade back from 24th overall has felt like the more likely scenario.
The Cowboys have been focusing on bringing back their own in free agency with players like Dalton Schultz, Michael Gallup, Jayron Kearse, and other starters on team-friendly deals. They’ve lost big names in Amari Cooper, Randy Gregory, and La’el Collins.
A trade up in the draft would be further confirmation the Cowboys feel their roster is in a better place than some fans do at this point. The reigning NFC East champions took advantage of a weak division to earn six of their 12 wins, and lost a home playoff game to the 49ers.
Wide receiver is a roster need created by the Cowboys in the name of cap space and scheme fit, so that creates work the Cowboys must do to get back to where they were a year ago at the position. Any talk of trading up for a receiver would involve names like Treylon Burks and Chris Olave as they rarely make it to the Cowboys pick in the latest mocks, with just two weeks until draft night.
Another weapon on the edge for Dak Prescott is a likely target if the Cowboys can find a trade partner. If that happens the Cowboys would be putting more faith in day two offensive line prospects compared to receivers like Skyy Moore and George Pickens if they do address wide receiver at any point in the first round.
However, trading up for a shiny new toy in Kellen Moore’s offense would do little to address the problem on this side of the ball at it’s core. Cowboys receivers generated 56 explosive plays last season, the fifth best mark in the league and a strong indicator of team success. Even without top end speed at the position, the Cowboys benefited from extra possessions against tired defenses thanks to Dan Quinn’s defense creating abundant turnovers.
The Cowboys can’t rely on this same turnover differential in 2022, and the need for speed at receiver remains an issue at the position. Their pre-draft visitors at the position put an emphasis on this trait, with Burks, Olave, and Drake London all capable of taking the top off a defense.
In theory, this should also help the Cowboys running game, which brings us closer to addressing how the entire offense had poor performances toward the end of the season. Opposing defenses were able to play deep coverage against any speed threat Dallas had on the field, and still defend the run with light boxes. No matter who the Cowboys line up at receiver, they’ll still be woefully too dependent on Prescott to bail them out on long down-and-distance situations if this doesn’t change.
The other solution would be a complete philosophical change on how the Cowboys value their running game, but the hope of this happening left The Star when Moore and Mike McCarthy returned. Ezekiel Elliott is going to get his touches, and at the absolute least the Cowboys need to make defenses respect the threat of him getting to the second level. A lack of creativity does little to influence second level defenders before the snap in this offense, making it even more difficult for the current offensive line to get a push.
The Cowboys pass offense was supposed to be set up for years to come as a team strength that kept them in contention. It’s understandable that they want to adjust on the fly to keep it this way, building around CeeDee Lamb and considering a trade up in the draft to possibly help this unit more. Without fully knowing if this offseason has been about retooling for another run or rebuilding for a more distant future, the timing is suspect to invest this much draft capital into Dak Prescott and Kellen Moore. Keeping their franchise quarterback upright and seeing what he can do to elevate the receivers already in place, while improving their run game behind a guard like Kenyon Green or Zion Johnson, has always been the right idea. Better yet, both prospects have a chance to fall into the Cowboys lap at 24, along with Tyler Linderbaum.
There are several big name prospects with rumors of a first-round slide, such as Kyle Hamilton and Kayvon Thibodeaux, but the capital Dallas would have to give up to climb for either blue chip player is enormous. Hamilton playing safety makes him an unlikely pick for Dallas, but trading up for a defensive end is always a possibility in the NFL.
The Cowboys should feel fortunate to be in a position to address their needs by staying home with the 24th overall pick, while holding onto the 56th pick in round two. They’ve put themselves in position this offseason to realize that reputation doesn’t win football games, and there’s no better example of this than on the offensive line. Dallas is far removed from having the league’s best line, and patching it with another first-round pick presents less risk than throwing a new receiver into the fire to catch passes from a QB under constant duress, and has a struggling run game.