When you’re sitting with the 24th overall pick in the draft, it’s important to temper expectations. There are a lot of teams picking ahead of you, so the chances of landing a first-round graded player are rather bleak. That is exactly what the Dallas Cowboys were facing on the first day of the draft, and it would have taken all the stars to align just right for them to come away with one of the top collegiate players in this draft.
Thanks to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones combined with advances in modern technology (i.e. the zoom function), a crack staff of letter-matchers led by our own One Cool Customer was able to decipher the Cowboys' top 16 players on their board. If you haven’t seen it yet, here is the completed work of the Twitter forensic team.
And Jon Machota over at The Athletic kept the magic going with a total of 34 players identified.
The whole reasoning for Jerry to feel compelled to flash this draft sheet to the media was to quiet any talk about their first-round pick Tyler Smith being a “reach.” Clearly from their draft evaluation, he was the 16th best player on the board, making him a fantastic selection at 24. Alas, the Cowboys’ pick has been validated!
While all the attention centers around the justification of Smith, there’s another element to this that few people are talking about. When the Cowboys were finally on the clock, there was one, count them, one player remaining on their first-round board, and that player was Georgia safety Lewis Cine. So, why didn’t the Cowboys select him?
The easy way to answer this question is to say the team prioritized need over talent. A case could be made that the gap between player no. 13 (Cine) and player no. 16 (Smith) was so small that position need entered the equation. That’s fair. But to fully understand why the team passed up on their final first-round graded player for a player from another position, we need to appreciate what the team has in veteran safety Jayron Kearse.
Kearse was initially signed to a cheap one-year deal in free agency a year ago. He was just one of three free-agent safeties the team signed last offseason in an effort to build depth at the position. Little did we know he was going to ball out and lead the entire team in tackles. His performance was so good that many expected him to price himself out in Dallas to where he would take his talents elsewhere.
But the usually frugal Cowboys opted to hang on to him, re-signing Kearse to a two-year, $10 million deal. Applauded for his versatility, Kearse emerged as one of the best tackling safeties in the league last season. Out of the 75 safeties who played at least 500 snaps last year, Kearse finished with the second smallest missed tackle percentage (3.9%) in the league. He was tackling everything. Utilizing him as a hybrid linebacker, the Cowboys were afforded the luxury of employing more nickel and dime packages without impacting their ability to stop the run.
While he appears to have a glaring strength, we can’t overlook the versatility aspect. He played all over the place for the defense last year...
- In the box, 415 snaps (41%)
- On the edge, 168 snaps (17%)
While in coverage:
- In the slot, 202 snaps (20%)
- Free safety, 177 snaps (17%)
- Outside corner, 50 snaps (5%)
It was surprising to see him lined up on the edge as much, but he proved he could be an effective blitzer. Kearse had 11 total quarterback pressures last season, the third-most among safeties. And although his coverage snaps were almost half as many as the amount of time he spent down low, he still managed to break up 10 passes this season, the most by any safety in the league last year. That is one trait you won’t find with Georgia’s Lewis Cine.
Make no mistake about it, Cine is a great talent. How can you not love the way he attacks the ball carrier, covers ground, and lives for contact. He led the Bulldogs’ defense in tackles despite three recently drafted linebackers (Nakobe Dean, Quay Walker, and Channing Tindell) all roaming around out there. While he would be a nice addition to any team, the Cowboys already have their physical, box-climbing, team-leading tackling safety on their squad.