Having signed Jonathan Hankins to address the 1-tech defensive tackle, the Dallas Cowboys have seemingly covered all their bases heading into the NFL draft next month. Their recent moves like the trades to acquire Stephon Gilmore and Brandin Cooks, has placed the team in an enviable spot. It would be fair to say Dallas has all of their projected starters currently on the roster and have no major holes.
Then, consider the less newsworthy transactions that are equally as important. The team retained Leighton Vander Esch, who had an excellent 2022 season. They also kept Donovan Wilson who is a Swiss army knife in Dan Quinn’s defense. That makes Dallas a true wild card leading up to the NFL draft.
Currently, the Cowboys sit at the 26th pick. It’s been hotly debated which position the team should target and what are the ramifications for each decision. In the spirit of that hot topic, let’s assess a few of those directions and what they would mean for the team going forward.
Take a running back
Taboo as the prospect of taking a running back in the first round is, it deserves mentioning. Especially, for a team like the Cowboys. It’s very apparent that the Cowboys value the position heavily. Ezekiel Elliott’s $90M contract is a shining example of that. Round one running back vitriol aside, let’s evaluate what would happen if the Cowboys took a running back with their first pick.
The two most common options mentioned at 26, are Jahmyr Gibbs and Bijan Robinson. Gibbs is a fast homerun threat out of the backfield with a skill set not too different than Tony Pollard. When it comes to Bijan Robinson, many fans are clamoring for Robinson to be clad in silver and blue. Robinson is one of the best college players in the nation and the best running back prospect since Saquon Barkley.
Explosive and exciting as those players may be, taking either of them is a shortsighted selection. First, for either one of them to have sustained success, Dallas needs to fortify their offensive line. Plus, taking a runner early could close the door on Pollard being in the fold beyond this year.
Further, if Bijan Robinson is taken, the team might double down on what they did with Ezekiel Elliott, making him the backbone of the offense and then giving him a second contract, much to the chagrin of many fans. Cynical, sure. However, this team famously said, “We go as Zeke goes”. We should expect that to be the case with the box office numbers a player of Robinson’s caliber will bring with him.
Drafting a cornerback
When it comes to the cornerback class, it’s tricky as to what players will be available when the Cowboys are on the clock. The probable options are Deonte Banks and Emmanuel Forbes. The wishlist candidates are Joey Porter Jr. and Devon Witherspoon. Any one of these options would be a great choice for the Cowboys in the future. All of them are six feet and above, so they have the size the Cowboys covet in boundary cornerbacks. Also, it shouldn’t go unnoticed but there is a lot of uncertainty regarding the Cowboys’ top two corners.
Stephon Gilmore and Trevon Diggs are in the final years of their contract. Gilmore is very likely a one-year rental given his age. Yet, Diggs is a much more complex situation. The former All-Pro will command a major salary increase above his $4.3M base salary in 2022. Diggs’ contract negotiation with the team could be a lengthy one and may not get resolved for the foreseeable future. A scenario where Diggs isn’t with the team is more probable than some may think. His status, along with Gilmore, beyond this year needs to be addressed sooner than later. Taking one of the top corners to secure that position for the next few years would be wise.
Beefing up the offensive line
Taking an offensive lineman is the opposite of drafting a running back in the first round. This offensive line is getting older, and the team has to think of the future of the unit. Tyron Smith has been injured for the last few years and is 32 years old. Zack Martin is also 32 years old. This offensive line is in serious need of youth.
Likely options at 26 are TCU’s Steve Avila and Florida guard O’Cyrus Torrence. Avila is a versatile option that can play either guard spot or at center. He’s even taken a few snaps at right tackle for the Horned Frogs. Torrence is strictly a guard that would help to rectify a Cowboys running game that struggled down the stretch of last season.
Adding Torrence could directly impact the future of Tyler Smith, and Terence Steele, who the team may want to have some flexibility at guard. Steele is coming off an ACL injury and is playing on one-year tender with no long-term guarantees on the team. Adding Avila could affect center Tyler Biadasz’s standing with the team.
Avila would likely be his replacement and provide more versatility with a higher upside. Taking either of these players, Torrence or Avila, all but cements Tyler Smith as the left of the future, with right tackle possibly still needing to be resolved, provided Tyron Smith isn’t on the roster next year.
Lastly, what if the Cowboys traded down to acquire more picks? History has shown teams aren’t shy about trading up in the latter part of the first round to acquire a quarterback. A lot of teams go this route if they need a quarterback but aren’t ready to commit to one at the top of the draft yet want the security of having one on a fifth-year option just in case.
The Baltimore Ravens acquired Lamar Jackson in this fashion. The Cowboys once did something similar with the Cleveland Browns. Trading their first-round pick in 2006 (Brady Quinn) in exchange for the Browns second-round pick in 2006 and a first-round pick in 2007. Both of those picks were used to select Anthony Spencer and Felix Jones.
Quarterbacks that should be there when the Cowboys pick include Hendon Hooker and Tanner McKee. The teams who might be interested could be the Atlanta Falcons or the Washington Commanders. For the Cowboys, this would be ideal for next year’s draft and this one. There is a perception that this is one of the weaker drafts but there is talent latent in the middle rounds. Dallas stocking up in mid-round picks would also be a great choice.