clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Cowboys draft 2023: Forget best player available, go for players who will make an impact

In the complex decisions about who to pick in the draft, the idea of need can be redefined.

NFL Combine
WR Zay Flowers is one possibility for the Cowboys’ frist pick.
Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys have already started making moves to shape the 2023 roster, franchise tagging Tony Pollard and planning to put a second-round tender on RFA Terence Steele. Soon they will be restructuring or even redoing contracts to free up the needed cap space for the season, and the official free agency period is just about a week from starting. But the biggest event each year for the Cowboys is the NFL Draft, coming at the end of April. That has, for years, been the predominant path for adding talent to the roster.

The flood of prospect evaluations and mock drafts is already inundating us. That also means that we will be talking a lot about best player available and need. One common way of synthesizing the two is to say “best player available at a position of need.” For example, the Cowboys could face a situation where the best player left on their board is a quarterback, but they are not going to spend a high draft pick on that position with Dak Prescott, so they will look elsewhere.

R.J. Ochoa recently took a look at how some of the national mocks have Dallas taking a tight end in the first round, and how that would have very little impact on the team’s performance this season. That struck me as a very intelligent and insightful way to look at things. Drafting an “impact player” may be a much better criteria for judging draft picks.

There are a few things that should be included in this idea. First, while the team does a good job of sticking to their board for the most part, the difference between players is not as great as we may think. This is where need comes into play. You don’t want to just automatically take the best remaining player if, as is the case with tight end, they are very unlikely to have an immediate impact on the field this season. While the front office pays a lot of attention to future value, arguably too much in a league that is very much all about winning now, it makes a ton of sense to pick someone a little further down the board that will have a good chance of playing a lot of snaps. Further complicating that is the “apples to oranges” issue. It is hard to say if a defensive end is really that much better than an offensive guard. The positions are just so different.

Everything also has to take the roster that exists before the draft into account, as in the example of quarterback. If there just isn’t a clear hole that a rookie can fill, it makes little sense to take him with a high pick.

With all that in mind, here are the various position groups and the potential for immediate impact, grouped into high, medium, and low.

High impact (First- and second-round targets)

Wide receiver

The Cowboys use 11 personnel a lot, meaning they need three starting-caliber wide receivers. They currently have one in CeeDee Lamb. Michael Gallup is projected to be WR2, but there has to be some concern over how he never looked fully back to his pre-injury level last year. That means that a rookie wide receiver has the opportunity to be a day one starter. This could change if the team does the unusual, for them, and signs a high-level free agent. That is not how they roll, so this is a position to watch.

This year’s WR group, however, does not look that strong. That is more reason to be open to looking for a very good one early, even if they are not right at the top of the remaining players on their board.

Offensive guard

Connor McGovern is entering free agency. Should the Cowboys elect to re-sign him, that would drop the position’s potential impact significantly, probably all the way to the low category.

But the team appears to be hesitant to bring McGovern back. If they don’t, Matt Farniok looks like the best they have on the roster right now, and he has not been tested much. If they take a guard, or perhaps more likely a college offensive tackle they would plan to move inside the way they originally were going to use Tyler Smith, they would do so with an eye to him being the starter coming out of camp.


But wait, you say. Isn’t linebacker one of those positions that you never want to spend a lot of draft capital on?

Well, it is being reported that there has not been much progress in working out a deal to re-sign Leighton Vander Esch. He was an undervalued part of Dan Quinn’s defense. Not only did he have arguably the best year of his career in 2022, he was the field general for the team. When he missed a few games down the stretch, the overall performance of the defense was visibly impacted. Additionally, Anthony Barr is also slated to enter free agency. This is now a big hole to fill. If a stud replacement becomes available during the first couple of days of the draft, this would be a good investment who again could be starting in the first game. Additionally, the Cowboys have not exactly been shy about investing high draft picks in the position. Micah Parsons, anyone?

Medium impact (Third- and fourth-round targets)


The Cowboys are likely to lose Anthony Brown in free agency, but DaRon Bland looks to be set as his replacement. With Jourdan Lewis hoped to be back from his injury, this is a position where any draft pick would likely be fighting Nahshon Wright and Kelvin Joseph for CB4. Frankly, those look like pretty good odds, and reveal a need for quality depth.

Running back

Whether or not the team works out a way to retain Ezekiel Elliott, this is a position they should definitely address in the draft - just not too early, because it is not hard to find good talent in the mid-rounds. But numbers alone argue for a decent investment in the position.

Tight end

Here is your sweet spot for the position. The team appears ready to move on from Dalton Schultz and lean on Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot. There is still a need for depth as well as a strong TE3 for a team that likes to use the position heavily.

Low impact (Later on Day 3)


It would be really nice if the team could figure out how to retain Donovan Wilson, but that seems a bit doubtful. However, with Jayron Kearse back as the leader of the room, Malik Hooker, Israel Mukuamu, and Markquese Bell make this less of a priority in the secondary than corner.

Offensive tackle

Things could change here depending on the health of Steele, but if he’s ready to go, Tyler Smith gives them the other starter and Tyron Smith makes for one heck of a swing tackle. They also might get Jason Peters back on a low-cost deal.


Yeah, Tyler Biadasz is the guy. Backup is also in decent hands if Farniok is not called on to be the starting LG.

Defensive end

Even with the likely loss of Dante Fowler, this looks like the strongest position on the roster with DeMarcus Lawrence, Dorance Armstrong, Sam Williams, and Chauncey Golston. Oh, and that Parsons fellow adds a bit to the pass rush, too.

Defensive tackle

They need more bodies at the moment with both Carlos Watkins and Johnathan Hankins set to enter free agency. But Hankins would be an excellent re-signing who probably wouldn’t cost much. And, frankly, this team does not invest much in the position, so this is at least partly a bow to that.


This is all about the backups. If he finds a market, they will lose Cooper Rush to free agency. But Will Grier is still around. It is always good to take a QB late just for developmental/insurance reasons. Wonder if Mike McCarthy talked to any on an elevator at the combine?


Yeah, outside of maybe a late flyer on a kicker, this is not where they want to invest any draft picks at all.

That is a priority list for the draft. Unfortunately, with just one pick in each of the first four rounds, they will not be able to address all of them where it would be best. But that is the eternal problem. A couple of positions will have to be addressed later than optimal. This still is the best way to try and find the best impact players in the draft.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Blogging The Boys Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your Dallas Cowboys news from Blogging The Boys