The idea of “what if” has intrigued me since childhood. The idea that different choices could effect so much change in someone’s life was appealing. Now apply that to a team like the Dallas Cowboys and you get an entirely different roster and record. Maybe even a Superbowl win or two. So let’s play a little “what if” today on what I believe was a major turning point in the Cowboys’ future: The selection of Julius Jones over Steven Jackson in the 2004 NFL Draft.
Here’s the history: Going into the 2004 NFL Draft, the Cowboy possessed the #22 pick in the first round. With their starting RB Troy Hambrick now a free agent, Dallas desperately needed a work-horse in the backfield. The favorite in a class of running backs which included Virgina Tech’s Kevin Jones, Michigan’s Chris Perry, Oklahoma State’s Tatum Bell and Northern Illinois Michael Turner, was Oregon State’s Steven Jackson.
Instead of going with the obvious choice, Bill Parcells and the Cowboy’s Front Office traded down from the first round with Buffalo. The Bills received the #22 pick (QB – J.P. Losman) from the Dallas Cowboys in exchange for the Bills’ second round pick (43rd overall – RB Julius Jones), fifth round pick (144th overall – TE Sean Ryan), and first round pick in 2005 (DE – Marcus Spears).
But What If: The Dallas Cowboys drafted Steven Jackson with the #22 pick in the 2004 NFL Draft instead?
What is the probable future effect?
First, Dallas would have been set for a long time at the starting running back position. Jackson has recorded six consecutive 1,000 yards seasons and 47 touchdowns in his first seven years. He has been the Rams’ sole offensive weapon for a long time.
With the selection of Jackson, Dallas would not have selected RB Julius Jones, TE Sean Ryan or DE Marcus Spears in the next draft.
Missing out on Spears in the 2005 NFL Draft means the Cowboys probably address that need in the second round. Instead of picking LB Kevin Burnett with the #42 pick, Dallas would most likely taken a DE as they were making a transition to a 3-4 defense. The next three defensive ends taken were: Iowa’s Matt Roth, Oklahoma’s Dan Cody, Notre Dame’s Justin Tuck.
With their 4th round pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys selected Marion Barber III. I think they still draft Barber here, but this time as Jackson’s change of pace back. I think running behind Jackson, Barber remains fresh and would still be on the team today.
The selection of Felix Jones with the 22 pick in the 2008 NFL Draft now does not happen. Instead they address another need by selecting California’s WR DeSean Jackson. Jerry Jones basically pulls the same move he used to get Dez Bryant two years later. Jackson was the best receiver in the draft, but his attitude caused him to drop to the second round. Jones learned his lesson about relying to heavily on character issues and missing out on Randy Moss. He won’t make that mistake again.
With Steven Jackson and Marion Barber has our two headed running back monster, there would be no need to draft RB Tashard Choice in the 4th round of the 2008 NFL Draft.
With DeSean Jackson added to the wide receiver core (along with Terrell Owens, Miles Austin, and Patrick Crayton), there is now no need for the Roy Williams trade that took place later that season.
This also means we don’t lose our first, third and sixth round selections in the upcoming 2009 NFL draft.
And with the 20th pick in that draft, the Cowboys fill another need by selecting USC’s Clay Matthews (originally picked #26 by the Packers) to replace the exiting Zack Thomas. With Matthews selected, there is no need to sign LB Keith Brooking in the off season.
Now the questions really start to pile up:
Does Dallas still select Dez Bryant the following year if we have DeSean Jackson and Miles Austin? If not, does Dallas select USC’s S Taylor Mays with the #27 pick in the 2010 NFL Draft?
What if they addressed their wideout need later in the draft with Syracuse’s WR Mike Williams at #90?
With Clay Matthews and Bradie James at ILB, do we still draft Sean Lee or Bruce Carter?
And with Steven Jackson entrenched at running back, do we still draft DeMarco Murray?
Obviously, this is all purely speculation and very subjective. But getting Steven Jackson would have drastically changed the fortunes of the Dallas Cowboys’ franchise and many others. Oh well, it’s just fun to go down “the rabbit hole” a little bit to answer that age-old question: What if?