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Question of the week: Did the Cowboys draft strategy shift this year?

The NFL draft has concluded, and we have to ask, did the Cowboys strategy switch?

NFL: Super Bowl LVII-NFL Honors Red Carpet Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The 2023 NFL Draft concluded last weekend and the Cowboys are bringing in new faces on both sides of the ball, including first-round defensive tackle Mazi Smith. Looking at the Cowboys recent draft history, we have to ask - did the Cowboys draft strategy remain the same or has it altered from past years?

In the press conference following day one of the draft, owner Jerry Jones was quick to admit this wasn’t a pick they would have made years back. They would have been reluctant to select a run-stuffing defensive tackle with a premium pick.

Smith, who was picked 26th overall as just the seventh defensive lineman, was revealed to be high on the team’s draft board by Jones, though.

Jones finally revealed Smith was 13 or 14 on their draft board, without providing proof this year.

“OK, 14. Fourteen,” Jones relented. “I think he was 13 or 14. Right there... But who gives a s**t?”

Jones then patted himself on the back, adding, “I didn’t give you the draft board.”

Since 2015, the Cowboys have skewed slightly defense when selecting with their first pick. Picking Smith first marks six defensive players in the last nine drafts being taken first by the team, so that seems consistent with which side of the ball they like to target early. By position, it differed, which Jones wasn’t shy to say, and their next pick, Luke Schoonmaker, continued the trend of a different draft.

He was the highest tight end they’ve selected in the past 10 years, and the only one selected in the first three rounds since Gavin Escobar in 2013. Before that, it was Martellus Bennett in 2008 and Anthony Fasano in ‘06. Selecting a tight end with a premium pick is definitely a rare occurrence for the Cowboys, which seems rather fitting when assessing the success of their previous three. None of Escobar, Bennett, or Fasano received a second contract with the team, which may still leave a sour taste in some fans' mouths.

The team’s third-round selection, linebacker DeMarvion Overshown, fits the bill when glancing at the draft history. The Cowboys have drafted two first-round linebackers since 2019 and are never shy to highly value the position, especially lately, drafting two last year on Day 3 and signing free agent Anthony Barr.

The only thing missing from the Cowboys’ early draft selections is an offensive lineman. They selected Asim Richards in the fifth round, but that’s far later than they are accustomed to doing so. In the last five NFL drafts, prior to this year, the Cowboys selected an offensive lineman earlier than the fifth round. Richards was selected 169th overall. The average draft position of the team’s first offensive lineman selected over the past five years is 89th. Richards nearly doubles that. Whether that speaks to their confidence in the current offensive line, sheer lack of suitable fits this year, or a combination of both, that is another glaring difference between this draft with previous ones.

All in all, the Cowboys definitely veered off the usual path, selecting an interior defensive lineman in the first round, a tight end in the second, and waiting for an offensive lineman until the fifth. Will it work? Only time will tell.

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