The Dallas Cowboys will finally get to taste the fruits of their labor as 2016 second-round draft pick Jaylon Smith makes his NFL preseason debut this Saturday.
I’ve pointed out before that the Dallas Cowboys have had a highly checkered past where drafting in the second round of the NFL annual player selection meeting is concerned. This has been a definite issue over the last decade-plus, but Saturday evening may show us whether or not that trend has come to an end or not.
Cowboys Nation has waited for almost a year and a half to see linebacker Jaylon Smith play football, and this needs to be a sight for some very sore eyes for those who examine second-round draft history of the Cowboys.
Forget managing plays and repetitions, as the franchise has done for many months now where Smith is concerned. Before it was all about rehabilitation and caution, but those days are over. This is not to say that Saturday evening’s ‘friendly match’ against the Indianapolis Colts will tell us everything about the coming career of the former Notre Dame star, because it won’t.
Having said that, Smith should be absolutely turned loose against the Colts. I’m talking pedal to the metal for however many plays head coach Jason Garrett deems appropriate.
Back to those second round draft issues for a minute.
It’s true that Pro Football Focus ranked the Cowboys No. 1 in drafting since 2012 earlier this month, but selections in the second round couldn’t possibly have had much to do with that conclusion. In fact, I would argue that the ’12 draft for the Cowboys was nothing at all to write home about and was closer to awful.
Going all the way back to 2006, former head coach Bill Parcells selected tight end Anthony Fasano, a decent player, but not a guy who was ever going to unseat Jason Witten, who’s still rolling along towards the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Not a great pick in the second round.
With no second round pick in 2007, the Dallas Cowboys would make the same mistake in 2008 that they made just two years before in selecting another worthless backup tight end to Witten in Martellus Bennett, who’s been nothing more than a journeyman in the NFL.
In 2009, Dallas again had no second round selection thanks to the horrendous Roy Williams trade of ’08. The year after, the Cowboys again gambled with higher stakes on the table with linebacker Sean Lee, who carried significant injury concerns with him from Penn State – those were obviously well founded.
The very next season, 2011, Dallas went for the talented Bruce Carter, but again with those injury concerns. Carter was probably in the wrong system in Big D and played four seasons before walking in free agency.
How bad was 2012?
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Well, no second round pick for the third time in just six seasons and primarily because a cornerback named Morris Claiborne required so much to acquire in a draft-day trade. We could argue that this year’s second-round selection of cornerback Chidobe Awuzie is geared towards fixing the Claiborne bust.
How about tight end Gavin Escobar in 2013? He’s gone, too – and Witten is still here.
DeMarcus Lawrence in 2014? Still waiting on this to pan out, but lingering uncertainty with this young edge rusher paved the way for the ridiculous 2015 second-round gamble on Randy Gregory. I think this paragraph speaks for itself.
That brings us to Smith, acquired a little over a year ago and just now about to make his official football debut at the professional level. If team medical personnel say it’s time, then it’s time to find out whether or not Smith can play. There’s not as much to lose as it may seem because the Dallas Cowboys are as deep as they are at linebacker.
It’s one thing to take a flier on a futures commodity, but I hate to see it in the second round. If the top 50-60 players are still on the board, it’s time to be drafting players who can contribute right away if at all possible.
Time will tell what Smith will be, but Saturday night should be a strong indicator as to what’s in store for this young stud who probably would have been a top-10 selection in the ’16 draft if not for that horrible knee injury suffered in his final college game with the Fighting Irish.
Having said that, the clock is ticking. Dallas needs defensive playmakers right away – suspensions to defensive tackle David Irving and defensive end Damontre Moore speak to that fact loud and clear. Unless 2017 is considered a throw away, which it’s not, Smith needs to play well enough to become that difference-maker in the front seven that he was drafted to be.
The wait is over, so let’s see the goods.