The year was 2016. I was minding my own business on a warm Saturday afternoon in July when secret messages started rolling in behind the scenes at Blogging The Boys that we had ourselves a golden nugget of information. That nugget came in the form of the Cowboys draft board thanks to a selfie that was tweeted from the war room with the stacking of draft prospects in the background.
To an outside observer, this is nothing more than a bunch of small-print scribbles, but to crack-staff writers with an unhealthy level of curiosity, this turned out to be pure gold. My contribution to this CSI-deciphering experiment was minimal, but my colleagues were relentless. By the end of the weekend, BTB had decoded a great majority of the names from the Cowboys' 2016 draft.
While 2016 is a long way in our rearview mirror, having access to this leaked board is like being a member of the jelly of the month club... it’s the gift that keeps on giving. Having access to this list of players has explained quite a bit over the years. For example, we know why they traded away WR Ryan Switzer for DT Jihad Ward back in 2018 as Ward was the 46th player on their board. In fact, later that same year, the Cowboys traded away CB Charvarius Ward for some OL depth with Parker Ehinger who just so happened to be 93rd on their board. Sadly, neither of these players ever played a snap for Dallas, but at least we understood why those deals were done.
In all, seven total players from this draft board who were not originally drafted by the Cowboys were eventually brought to Dallas later. Some of these names should look quite familiar to you:
- 2018: DT Jihad Ward (46th)
- 2018: G Parker Ehinger (93rd)
- 2018: S Darian Thompson (50th)
- 2021: S Keanu Neal (42nd)
- 2021: S Jayron Kearse (134th)
- 2021: LB Devante Bond (112th)
While some of these players were drafted earlier than where the Cowboys had them stacked, others weren’t drafted at all. Either way, the team’s scouting department never lost interest in these players and brought them to Dallas when the opportunity presented itself.
Every year, it’s fun to revisit this list and see if there are any upcoming free agents available who, at that point in time, were on the Cowboys' radar. With that in mind, here are four players who wouldn’t be a surprise if they signed with the Cowboys this offseason.
DT JARRAN REED
2016 draft board ranking: 28th
The Seattle Seahawks moved up to select this former Alabama stud. He was a key player for the Seahawks' defensive line and even got a two-year extension after his rookie contract was up. Seattle had a change of heart the following year and released him to save cap space. Reed went on to sign a one-year, $5 million deal with Kansas City in 2021 and then a one-year, $3.5 million deal with Green Bay last year.
Reed isn’t the player he once was, but he is a strong run defender. The Cowboys' interior defensive line has seen a lot of change recently as they released Trysten Hill and John Ridgeway, allowing the latter to be poached from the practice squad. And with both Johnathan Hankins and Carlos Watkins entering free agency, the team is lacking big-bodied run-stoppers in the middle.
OL GERMAIN IFEDI
2016 draft board ranking: 33rd
Before the Seahawks took Reed in the second round, they made offensive lineman Germain Ifedi the last player selected on Day 1. With great size and athleticism, it looked like Ifedi would be a mainstay in the trenches for a long time. And at first, he was as he started all but four games during his four-year rookie deal with the Seahawks. In his rookie season, he started at right guard and then played the last three at right tackle. He then signed two separate one-year deals with Chicago before signing a one-year deal with Atlanta last season.
Ifedi is not a guy who would solve problems for the Cowboys offensive line, but rather just provide some emergency depth. He might even be a “fill a void” signing only to be cut loose during final roster cuts if the Cowboys have better options. Dallas loves targeting former first-round picks and they also love offensive linemen with position flex and Ifedi is both of those things.
LB DEION JONES
2016 draft board ranking: 49th
Deion Jones was selected in the second round by the Atlanta Falcons where he earned All-Pro honors and Defensive Player of the Year votes as a rookie. He’s had over 100 tackles each season with the Falcons with the lone exception being in 2018 when he only played six games. He was traded to Cleveland last year for a 2024 sixth-round.
The former veteran linebacker Deion Jones has come up before as a possible option for Dallas because of his connection to Dan Quinn. In the past, it’s always been a costly investment because of his high-priced contract, but Jones is a free agent now and is coming off a down year. His cost will drop and his better days are likely behind him. If the Cowboys end up losing Leighton Vander Esch and want a veteran who knows Quinn’s system, Jones could be an option if his market price is considerably less than some might expect.
RB KENYAN DRAKE
2016 draft board ranking: 68th
Kenyan Drake was a third-round pick by the Miami Dolphins in 2016 and spent his first few years as a guy who fans just wanted more of. He was the Dolphins' version of Tony Pollard as he had breakaway speed, good pass-catching ability, and was even used as a returner. He was traded to Arizona in 2019 where he rushed for 639 yards and eight touchdowns in just half a season with the Cardinals. They were so impressed they slapped the franchise tag on him in 2020 where he put together another solid season rushing for 955 yards and 10 touchdowns. Drake signed a two-year, $11 million deal with Las Vegas in 2021 to package with Josh Jacobs. He broke his ankle late in the season and was released during final roster cuts last year. He signed a one-year, $1 million deal with Baltimore last season where he rushed for 482 yards over 12 games.
Drake never became the star running back many thought he could be and is now just a change-of-pace receiving back who can give a team some depth. The Cowboys are in a bit of a pickle with their running back situation. If the front office decides not to throw any more money at Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard, they could hit the reset button and look for cheaper ways to supplement the rushing attack. That would include free agency and the upcoming draft. A couple of weeks ago, we suggested this approach, and adding a player like Drake would fall in line with that philosophy.