Cowboys First Round Pick Pattern: Draft For Need On Day One

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Nov 28, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Lance Dunbar (25) runs with the ball behind the block of tackle Tyron Smith (77) against the Oakland Raiders during a NFL football game on Thanksgiving at AT&T Stadium. The Cowboys beat the Raiders 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Three years with head coach Jason Garrett as a principal in the draft day war room, and the Cowboys first round pick strategy has appeared to be different every year – stand pat at No. 9 for offensive tackle Tyron Smith, trade up 10 spots for cornerback Morris Claiborne, move down 13 spots for center Travis Frederick.

But despite the varying methods, the strategy has always been the same: Use the first round to draft for a Day 1 starter at a position of immediate need. Depending on how the picks fall before them, the Cowboys appear to be more than willing to trade up, move down, or stand pat to do it.

2011, OT Tyron SmithCowboys return just two starting linemen from previous season.

The offensive line had collapsed in 2010. Former five-time Pro Bowl left tackle Flozell Adams was released prior to the season, and the void was filled very capably by 26-year-old Doug Free. The rest of the line was porous, however, and three aging starters – guard Leonard Davis, center Andre Gurode and tackle Marc Colombo – would not return in 2011.

O Line was a huge need for the team heading into the 2011 draft, and when USC tackle Tyron Smith fell to No. 9 it was an easy call to stand pat, turn in the card, and make him a Cowboy. He was very likely the highest-rated offensive lineman on the Cowboys board at the time. Houston defensive end J.J. Watt, who went two picks later, may have been a higher-rated player, but the Cowboys went with need.

2012, CB Morris ClaiborneCowboys dump three corners in the offseason

In 2012, the team traded up to draft LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne. The Cowboys secondary let them down in 2011. Cornerback Mike Jenkins was hurt much of the year, and Alan Ball and Terence Newman were making highlight reels for all the wrong reasons. In 2012, Ball, Newman and Frank Walker would not return. Jenkins would, but largely because he was still on his rookie contract, as the team seemed wary of Jenkins following two straight down years.

The Cowboys needed cornerback help, and they got it in free agency by signing Brandon Carr. But with Jenkins’ play perceived to be in decline, and Orlando Scandrick relegated to the slot, cornerback was still considered a huge position of need entering the 2012 draft.

The Cowboys said afterward that Claiborne was the highest-rated cornerback on any Dallas draft board since Hall of Famer Deion Sanders in 1989. St. Louis was known to be shopping the No. 6 pick in the draft, and when Claiborne slipped the Cowboys pulled the trigger on a trade. The move hasn’t played out as hoped, but it was highly praised at the time. In this case, the Cowboys spent two premium draft assets, a first and a second, for what they believed to be an impact player at a position of clear need. They were true to their board, and they drafted for need.

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  • Old Frog

    Agree with all of it except the assumption that they will pass on Martin if he’s there.

    • John

      Just identifying a pattern since Garrett joined the war room, which has been to use first-round picks on positions of immediate need. If they stick to the pattern, Martin won’t be a Cowboy…

  • David

    Dallas needs to get an impact player at FS, LB, DE or OT/OG in the 1st round.

  • Michael Davis

    Just please don’t reach for Ealy or Jernigan at 16. If D-Line is the “for sure” way there going then trade back and target a D-Linemen. Of course this is all a mute point If Donald or Barr is there on 16. They should grab one of them for sure.

    • John

      They haven’t shown a tendency to reach. Last year they had high second-round grades on Frederick and Pugh, and could have had either at 18. Instead they were patient and traded down. If no one at a position of need merits the 16th pick this year, they’ll likely try to trade down. If Johnny Football is still on the board, that pick might be worth more to some QB-desperate team. It’ll be interesting to see how things shake out…

  • Rich

    Drafting for need is not a problem since there are so many. Needs that is.

  • Juanito Juanito

    d line, 1st and 2nd round

  • Alfredo Martinez

    Excellent view… If this is right and according at Valley Ranch invites, Antony Barr is the player Cowboys will draft…