Cowboys are not significantly improved after three rounds of the draft

Apr 29, 2016; Irving, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys number one draft pick Ezekiel Elliott answers questions with owner Jerry Jones (center) and head ooach Jason Garrett (right) at Dallas Cowboys Headquarters Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 29, 2016; Irving, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys number one draft pick Ezekiel Elliott answers questions with owner Jerry Jones (center) and head ooach Jason Garrett (right) at Dallas Cowboys Headquarters Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports /

After the first three rounds of the NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys do not appear to have significantly improved the 2016 roster.

After months of anticipation, the NFL Draft is in full swing. So far, the Dallas Cowboys have added three new players to the roster but it is fair to ponder just how much better the team has become with these new additions.

One of the most difficult propositions in sports is trying to predict what a team will do in the NFL Draft. Likewise, it is impossible to assess the quality of a team’s draft until multiple seasons have passed but Dallas Cowboy fans are justified in wondering whether or not the team has made significant improvements for 2016.

The Cowboys entered the draft needing help at numerous positions, most critically at defensive end and corner back. Thus far, the team is yet to address either of these needs.

Rather, the team has taken three players that do not seem to fill any of its most obvious weaknesses.

While many fans are excited about the selection of running back Ezekiel Elliott from Ohio State in the first round, the reality is that he will have to have one of the best rushing seasons in NFL history by a rookie in order to vastly improve the 2016 Cowboys. Last season, the two veteran running backs currently on the Dallas roster, Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris combined for 1,840 yards from scrimmage.

Even subtracting 500 yards from Morris and McFadden’s combined total (a fair number to assume the tandem would lose by sharing carries in 2016) leaves the duo’s 2015 total over 200 yards greater than that of the top rookie rusher in the NFL last season. Todd Gurley of the Los Angeles Rams, who rushed for 1,108 yards in 2015, was the only NFL rookie to surpass the 1,000-yard mark illustrating that Elliot is not guaranteed to produce an immediate 1,500 rushing yards.

Were Elliott to equal or surpass the combined 2015 yardage of McFadden and Morris, his rookie season would rank as the top debut season by any running back in NFL history. While it is probable that Elliott will be an appreciable talent upgrade at the running back position, there simply is not much more room for the Dallas running game to improve, which will limit the potential impact of the Dallas Cowboys’ highest pick in over 20 years.

Where the team stands to improve the most (other than in the passing game, a area that will be remedied by the return to health of both starting quarterback Tony Romo and his top wide receiver Dez Bryant) is on the defensive side of the ball. Specifically, the Cowboys entered the 2016 draft needing to add some might to one of the league’s worst pass rushes.

Dallas has failed to address this need through three rounds of the draft. This is due in large part to bad luck in that three of the top defensive ends in the draft were taken just ahead of the Cowboys’ first and second round selections.

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So while the organization gets a bit of a pass for circumstances beyond its control in regards to the defensive end position, it must be criticized for not addressing the 2016 defense in other areas.

After passing on Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey (considered by most to be the top defensive player in the draft) in round one, the Dallas Cowboys drafted Jaylon Smith, a linebacker from Notre Dame that is rehabbing from a severe knee injury suffered in the Fighting Irish’s January 1st bowl game, in round two.

Had Smith entered the draft healthy, he would have been the top linebacker on most teams’ board so he is a talented player. Unfortunately, he is unlikely to see the field at all this season as he recovers from his injury, which includes not only multiple ligament tears but also a damaged nerve.

In round three, the Cowboys again selected a defensive player that doesn’t figure to be a difference maker next season, if ever. With pick No. 67 overall, Dallas took Nebraska defensive tackle Maliek Collins.

"According to , Collins, “Has very little scheme or position flexibility.” and “Ends up on the ground all the time.”"

Rather than finding a player that could help fill the void left by the four game suspensions of both starting defensive ends Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence, the Dallas Cowboys selected an underachieving defensive tackle that will be merely a backup player behind starting defensive tackles Tyrone Crawford and Cedric Thornton.

In his career at Nebraska, Collins recorded an unimpressive 2 ½ sacks. But on the bright side, he is considered a decent run defender so he’s got that going for him.

Disappointingly, following the prime rounds of the 2016 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys don’t appear to be much more talented, especially defensively, than the 2015 squad was. This comes as a let down given the unusually high position from which the franchise was drafting this year.

It now appears that if the Cowboys are to add difference makers in the draft, they will have to do something the team has not done well in the Jerry Jones era, find contributors in the final four rounds. It is understandable if most Cowboy fans are pessimistic about seeing the team reverse its late-round draft futility.

Next: Cowboys select Maliek Collins 67th overall

The Dallas Cowboys repeatedly stated prior to the draft that the team intends to maximize what is left of the Tony Romo window by surrounding the 37-year-old quarterback with quality talent. However, spending the team’s top three picks on a player at a position where the team was already strong enough to compete, a player that is likely not to see the field until 2017 and a backup defensive tackle does not seem to maximize much of anything other than fan frustration.