Free agency is largely done for the Dallas Cowboys, and for once, that is a very satisfying thing to say as they have done a remarkable job of filling out their roster. Now the NFL draft is about a month away. The team is in an excellent position. With no needs that absolutely have to be addressed, they are able to truly focus on drafting the best talent when they go on the clock without having to be concerned about finding immediate starters.
This is a draft where the new players will have to really battle for any playing time. Last year’s class had just one player, Tyler Smith, that was projected to be an immediate starter. It was the third year in a row that the first-round pick was a day one starter. The 2019 first-round pick was traded for Amari Cooper, and 2018’s Leighton Vander Esch also started from the beginning. That string looks to be broken this season. Right now, the 22 starters for offense and defense look like this.
Cowboys projected 2023 starters
|Dak Prescott||Tony Pollard||Jake Ferguson||CeeDee Lamb||Brandin Cooks||Michael Gallup|
|Tyron Smith||Tyler Smith||Tyler Biadasz||Zack Martin||Terence Steele|
|DeMarcus Lawrence||Osa Odighizuwa||Johnathan Hankins||Dorance Armstrong||Leighton Vander Esch||Micah Parsons|
|Trevon Diggs||Stephon Gilmore||Jourdan Lewis||Jayron Kearse||Donovan Wilson|
There might be some shuffling of where players line up, like the recent discussions of trying Steele at guard, but these names are the most likely starters for this year. Any changes would be because someone emerges. That could be a rookie, or a player from last season like Daron Bland or Sam Williams, who moves up in the depth chart.
This is all great, right? Well, don’t assume they can’t mess this up. Back in 2009, the team had a draft where they thought they had it all covered going in and just looked for depth and role players. The result was one of the worst drafts ever. At the time the linked article was written, in 2017, it was ranked as tied for the 13th worst draft in the NFL.
13. (tie) 2009 Dallas Cowboys (12 AV)
Dallas had no first-round pick after dealing it to the Lions for wide receiver Roy Williams the previous season, and Jerry Jones traded out of the second round as well. The Cowboys ended up with 12 picks in Rounds 3 through 7, but didn’t strike much gold. Third-round linebacker Jason Williams played sparingly over a season-plus with the Cowboys but had only one tackle. Linebacker Victor Butler (fourth round) was a decent special-teamer and backup for four seasons with Dallas. Backup tight end John Phillips (sixth round) played in the NFL as recently as last season. He had 20 starts in backup duty over three seasons with Dallas before leaving in free agency.
That draft was referred to within the organization as the “special teams draft.” They went with quantity over quality, and wound up with almost none of the latter. It was not only an abandonment of the idea of the value of higher draft picks, it was an overestimation of the quality of the roster prior to the draft.
Something that might be worth considering is what effect that flop had on the thinking of the front office. As they did with the approach to free agency in wake of the Brandon Carr signing and the move up in the draft to take Morris Claiborne, they appear to have gone hard in the other direction in how they value draft picks. Now those are seen as golden assets, particularly in the first two rounds.
Obviously the team is in a much better position than they were back then, still having their first-round pick. There might still be opportunities to trade back, but that should be done very cautiously and only if they believe they would have good options with later picks.
We discussed the idea in this article on the latest episode of Ryled Up on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to our network so you don’t miss any of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.
Overall, the value of the Cowboys’ draft capital is fairly low compared to other teams. They traded away their excess picks for Gilmore and Cooks, leaving them with one late in each round. That might increase the temptation to trade back to pick up more. It still seems that staying where they are is the best course.
On the plus side is that ability to go for the best talent on their board without concern for the position. Not only does it benefit them, but for fans, it should make almost any move more palatable. Take a running back, a tight end, or an off-ball linebacker in the first? Those are normally seen as very bad uses of a first-round pick, but this year, why not? If, say, they go on the clock and the-Longhorn-whose-name-shall-not-be-spoken-to-not-trigger-emotional-reactions is there, it may well be worth the risk of a short career arc that is endemic to running backs. They also will have the chance to go after a high value spot like a wide receiver or cornerback, grab someone who might be a sort-of need like an offensive guard, or get out of their comfort zone by picking a big, young DT or a safety. It is a chance to stock up on talent on the first two days that have the potential to be major contributors soon, just not necessarily this season.
It is quite conceivable that every pick this year, including the first one, will be added depth. That will not automatically make it a bad draft, like in 2009. If done correctly, it will add strength to the roster and help them weather the inevitable injuries during the season.
It is going to be very interesting to see how this draft class fits in and what we think of it in a few seasons. While the team has a strong group of starters already in the building, there are some areas where depth is exactly what they need. Wide receiver and guard are some obvious spots. Being able to look at this draft primarily to fill out the depth is not a bad thing at all. It may also allow some beneficial growth for players that don’t have to be pushed onto the field in a hurry. It is unlikely we see a really splash pick like CeeDee Lamb, Micah Parsons, or Tyler Smith who were day one starters. It still has a real potential to be a class that will pay dividends for years to come.