How The Dallas Cowboys Aced The Draft With Their First Two Picks


As one of the most visible and successful franchises in the NFL (and arguably the world), the Dallas Cowboys will always have naysayers. It’s been awhile since their last Super Bowl victory, but hope springs eternal with each new season.

This past week, during the 2015 NFL draft, it’s my reasoned opinion that they may have put the necessary pieces in place to make a run at the big game next February.

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In round one, the Cowboys selected Byron Jones, a top-notch cornerback who was born, raised, and fully educated in Connecticut. At 6’1”, his height brings a distinct advantage in a league increasingly filled with tall receivers.

From all accounts, he is also a young man of high character and a strong work ethic. He even spent last summer as a Congressional intern at the U.S. Capitol.

Fun fact: In February, Jones set an NFL combine and world record in the broad jump, by leaping 12-feet, 3-inches. Clearly, he is a strong and gifted athlete.

Jones offers flexibility as well, having been a starting safety for his first two years of college, then shifting to cornerback in his junior and senior years.

For several years, armchair analysts discussed the fact that the Cowboys needed to shore up two areas in order to have a more complete, competitive team: the offensive line, and the secondary. They solved one part of this equation over the past three seasons, using high draft picks for the O-line.

Their offensive skill positions have been good, even elite. With quarterback Tony Romo, they have been competitive despite weaknesses in the aforementioned areas. The guy simply knows how to make a play happen despite the odds. His highlight reel is legendary. With the proper protection in front of him, he is frequently stellar.

Yes, he has made some pretty tough mistakes at bad times, but his stats are consistently among the very best in the league.

Along with tight end Jason Witten, wide receiver Dez Bryant, and a series of good running backs, the recent cohesion and strength of the offensive line has made their offense among the very best.

But that’s only one side of the ball.

In 2013, the Cowboys’ defense was the worst in the NFL and in franchise history. That is not merely a statement of opinion. They were statistically rock-bottom in total yards allowed, with a staggering 415.3 per game. They were bad against the pass (27th) and worse against the rush (30th).

Leading up to the 2014 season, they lost all-time team sack leader DeMarcus Ware to the Denver Broncos, and defensive team captain linebacker Sean Lee to injury. Despite the odds, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli fielded a far better squad than anticipated. They jelled as a team. No big names were needed.

Having said that, their second round pick gives them the very real opportunity to kick things up a notch. With the 60th overall pick, they selected defensive end Randy Gregory out of Nebraska.

At one point, Gregory was pegged to be a top ten selection, but he slipped into the bottom of the second round because of concerns about his ability to handle stress and the fact that he failed a drug test at the combine.

However, the kid is an amazing talent on the field, and he seems to be worth the risk. He could truly be the difference maker for this team. With teammate and fellow defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence on the other end of the line, Gregory can do some serious damage to quarterbacks.

If you are a fan, I would encourage you to go watch his highlight reel if you have a few minutes. I promise you will be excited.

It seems that Marinelli and head coach Jason Garrett have a calming effect on players like Gregory. Listening to the audio of the phone call after they picked him, both coaches sound measured and calm, almost paternal. This type of community makes players feel special. More importantly, it makes them feel committed to the team and its success.

How committed? Well, he got a Cowboys star tattoo on his arm this week. I think it’s pretty clear he’s looking forward to playing in Dallas.

You may be asking yourself how one guy can make the kind of impact that wins championships. Well, when the secondary isn’t forced to cover receivers for over six seconds per play, their job becomes easier. When quarterbacks are forced to get rid of the ball or throw while backpedaling, they make mistakes.

But most of all, sacks fire up a team. Always. Sacks shift momentum. Sacks are the primal heart and soul of a defensive unit.

Gregory knows how to get sacks. He is tall, quick, and elusive.

Jones will bring a new dimension to this secondary. He is solid, focused, and smart.

Both young men are high-caliber and high-impact players who can make an immediate difference on a team that was so very close last year to tasting glory again.

Having watched many players over the years who bring both baggage and high expectations, I have a good feeling about these two guys. They are very different, but each one brings a much-needed element to this team.

Kudos to owner Jerry Jones and the rest of the Cowboys draft room. Well done.

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