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3 Cowboys ‘what if’ draft picks during the Mike McCarthy era

If Dallas could turn back the clock, what would happen if they drafted differently under Mike McCarthy?

2023 NFL Pro Bowl Games Photo by Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

In Spider-Man: No Way Home, Dr. Strange said, “The multiverse is a concept about which we know frighteningly little.” We don’t have to know much about the multiverse to wonder about “what if” scenarios concerning the Dallas Cowboys.

Will McClay has done an excellent job evaluating the best players in the draft to become impact players for the Cowboys under Mike McCarthy. Some players have been better than others, but overall, Dallas usually wins in April.

Well, what if the Cowboys drafted different players in the McCarthy era? What if they selected Justin Jefferson over CeeDee Lamb? On last week’s episode of The Writer’s Block, Jess Nevarez, Reginald Adetula, and I explored some picks that could have changed the course of the Cowboys’ history.

Here are some of those multiversal occurrences.

New Orleans Saints v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

2020: Cowboys pick Alex Highsmith instead of Neville Gallimore

When the Cowboys took Neville Gallimore in the third round of the draft, he seemed like the perfect replacement for losing Malik Collins—a player at the defensive tackle position who is younger with a high upside as a pass rusher.

Unfortunately, Gallimore has not lived up to expectations after missing time to injury and losing his starting job to Osa Odighizuwa and Carlos Watkins last season. When No. 96 is healthy and on the field, he can be a difference-maker, but what if the Cowboys took a high-upside edge player instead?

Coming from Charlotte in Conference USA, linebacker Alex Highsmith was overlooked by most teams, given the level of competition he faced. However, Highsmith stood out as the best player on the field, recording 18 sacks and 40 tackles for loss in his final two collegiate seasons.

Since joining the Pittsburgh Steelers, Highsmith has 22.5 sacks. In 2020, he recorded two sacks in limited production, which could have shown the upside McCarthy needed to keep him around and work under defensive coordinator Dan Quinn in 2021.

If Highsmith was in Dallas, they might have never drafted Micah Parsons at 12th overall and decided to take Rashan Slater instead. The reality we live in is better with Micah Parsons on the team, but Highsmith would certainly look good in Quinn’s defense.

Indianapolis Colts v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

2020: Cowboys pick Isaiah Rodgers instead of Bradlee Anae

When Bradlee Anae slipped to the fifth round, it looked like the Cowboys got the steal of the draft, given his production in college. In his senior season, Anae finished with 13 sacks and 14 tackles for loss. He had 29.5 sacks over his entire career in Utah.

Fifth-round picks don’t arrive with the expectation to be star players, but Anae was a bust and off the roster at the beginning of 2021. What if cornerback Isaiah Rodgers was drafted by the Cowboys instead of the Indianapolis Colts in the sixth round?

Rodgers was a versatile player from Massachusetts, being a quality cornerback and the team’s primary kick/punt returner. In 2020 with the Colts, Rodgers had 24 kick returns for 692 yards and one that went for a 101-yard touchdown. Getting more of an opportunity to start in 2021 on defense, Rodgers played in 17 games, deflecting seven passes and getting three interceptions.

With the versatility of being a developmental corner and one of the league’s better return specialists, the Cowboys would have never drafted Kelvin Joseph in 2021 and signed KaVontate Turpin in the summer of 2022.

While Turpin has proven to be an electric player in Dallas, the value of getting a player like Rodgers in the fifth round to play multiple positions as a starter is something most teams would appreciate.

AFC Championship - Cincinnati Bengals v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

2021: Cowboys pick Evan McPherson instead of Josh Ball

If it wasn’t for problems off the field, Josh Ball had the talent to become a top-100 pick. The Cowboys took Ball in the fourth round as someone to develop and potentially take over for Tyron Smith when he retired.

Like Anae, Ball has had an underwhelming start to his professional career. After spending his rookie season on injured reserve, Ball looked to take a leap in 2022. He never looked comfortable at tackle, and when he had his chance to play against the Houston Texans, Ball was replaced by 40-year-old Jason Peters after struggling.

With Ball seeing snaps at offensive guard this offseason, finding a place for him on the 2023 squad might be tricky. In an alternate universe, the Cowboys solve their problems at kicker and draft Evan McPherson instead.

Greg “the leg” Zuerlein was still a member of the team in 2021, but the front office could have moved on from him after drafting McPherson to be his replacement. The current Cincinnati Bengal had a field goal percentage of 84 as a rookie and was clutch in the playoffs for the Bengals to reach the Super Bowl.

Given Zuerlein’s struggles in 2021, especially in the season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas would have had the kicker to solve their problems for the next decade. Instead, the team enters another offseason without a proven player at the position, leaving fans to wonder who it will be for 2023 (no, the rhyme was not intentional).

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