The Dallas Cowboys have a reputation for favoring home-grown talent. That goes right back to the very beginning of the franchise under the just departed legend Gil Brandt, who pioneered the use of data to help find talent in the NFL draft as well as many other innovations that are now spread throughout the league. It is a frequent debate on social media as to which teams are the best at finding new talent. Here at BTB, most of us think the Cowboys, under the guidance of scouting guru Will McClay, are still the best.
That is our admittedly biased opinion. But it turns out the numbers across the league bear this out.
The #Cowboys currently lead the NFL with being responsible for starting the career of 82 players currently in the NFL. Ravens are 2nd with 77 followed by the Vikings with 75, 49ers with 74 and Patriots with 71— Jason_OTC (@Jason_OTC) August 30, 2023
Clearly, the rest of the league thinks highly of players that the Cowboys bring in, but wind up unable to retain for various reasons. And with Jaylon Smith now on the New Orleans Saints practice squad, as well as multiple players from this year’s preseason roster, that total may go up. If you look at the total, Dallas has brought more than a full roster and a half for 2023 into the NFL.
The team has come a long way from the first decade of this century, when they struggled mightily to find quality players, with corresponding results on the field. McClay’s role in this cannot be overstated. As his power and influence within the staff has grown, he has had more hits than misses, although like any team, the Cowboys are not perfect in this aspect. Still, with current players like Dak Prescott, Zack Martin, Micah Parsons, CeeDee Lamb, Trevon Diggs, and so many others, the team has a roster this year that looks absolutely loaded.
That has to play out in the season, of course. Still, preseason optimism seems very warranted. While coaching and scheme are important, nothing works if you don’t have the “Jimmys and Joes” to make things work when the games are played.
McClay’s excellence is not just limited to drafting and finding UDFA gems like Hunter Luepke. For a long time, we have bemoaned the lack of activity in free agency, but of late, the team has found ways to add key talent from outside the organization without getting into bidding wars for “premium” free agent talent. They still primarily bargain shop in free agency, and sometimes manage to hit a bit of gold like Jayron Kearse, but over the past couple of seasons they have started using draft picks to trade for important veterans from other teams. That is how projected starters Johnathan Hankins, Brandin Cooks, and Stephon Gilmore were acquired. No other team has done as much with this approach this year. Finding such trade targets also falls under McClay’s purview, and he deserves that bit of credit as well.
And I’m going to add Jerry and Stephen Jones to this, because they clearly have turned over the evaluation process to McClay, and given him arguably the strongest voice in the war room on draft day. Jerry actually prefers a consensus-building approach for running his franchise, and his support for McClay makes that work. The rest of the staff see the trust that the Jones family has in McClay, and that influences them. Jerry in particular has shown that he is very good at learning from the mistakes of the past, at least in this respect.
On a somewhat related note, since Mike McCarthy took over the head coaching job, the Joneses and the rest of the staff have become noticeably more close-mouthed about what they are doing. It has been years since their first-round pick was clearly telegraphed the way Leighton Vander Esch was. This year especially was full of surprises for the fans when the names were announced in the draft.
It’s made things much more unpredictable, and for many of us, a lot more fun. It is also entertaining to see an outside source acknowledging the job Dallas is doing.
I cannot end this without making a highly snarky remark about how a certain NFL East rival that insists their GM is an unparalleled genius is nowhere to be seen in the X (tweet for the other curmudgeons out there) above.
Isn’t that interesting?