Can the Dallas Cowboys upgrade their roster through the draft?
By Richard Ball
The first two waves of free agency are over and the Dallas Cowboys have addressed a few needs. Can fans expect the team to improve via the upcoming draft?
The Dallas Cowboys‘ first pick in the 2019 NFL Draft isn’t until the second round with the 58th overall selection. By now, most should recall that they shipped their first round selection to the Oakland Raiders midseason to acquire wide receiver Amari Cooper.
In reading message boards, fans questions and comments on sites including The Landry Hat, it is clear that Cowboys fans are hoping to address some positions of need via the draft. In my opinion, I don’t think this is a realistic expectation.
When considering the positions on the offensive side of the ball, there are twelve positions of importance as the Cowboys prefer 11 personnel (one running back and one tight end) or 12 personnel (one running back and two tight ends). Those twelve positions are one quarterback, one running back, two tight ends, three wide receivers and five offensive linemen.
It is relatively safe to say that Dallas will not draft a quarterback or running back that would displace Dak Prescott or Ezekiel Elliott on the depth chart. I do think a backup quarterback or running back with the second round selection would be an improvement but I don’t think the Cowboys would want to use their pick that way.
I posted a note on February 22nd about the likelihood of drafting a tight end in the second round that would record 30 or more receptions in 2019. Like it or not, the rotation of Jason Witten, Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz will win the tight end snaps over a 2019 draft pick next year.
The wide receiver position seems stocked now that free agent Randall Cobb signed this week joining Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup to fill out the top three positions. Christian Kirk, an Arizona second round pick in 2018, led all rookie wide receivers drafted after the first round with 43 catches last season indicating to me that the expected value for a second round wide receiver is not likely greater than the expected value of the Cowboys top three receivers.
The ‘Boys offensive line is a strength for the team assuming center Travis Frederick can return to form. Tyron Smith and Zack Martin won’t be benched for a rookie and La’el Collins and whoever plays left guard (likely 2018 2nd round draft pick Connor Williams) are safe as well considering Hall of Famer Larry Allen, a Cowboys 1994 second round draft pick only started 10 games as a rookie.
On the defensive side of the ball, there are also twelve positions of importance. The Cowboys typically play four defensive linemen, three linebackers and four defensive backs in the base defense and subbing a corner for a linebacker in nickel defense.
There is a small possibility that a second round defensive lineman could make a viable contribution either at end or the one-technique tackle position. Sam Hubbard, a 2018 third round pick for Cincinnati, recorded 6.0 sacks last year. The standard for one-technique in the Cowboys defense is to clog up the middle and keep the linebackers clean so this underappreciated dirty work position could see an upgrade over the current players.
At linebacker, it is safe to say that Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch are stars and will likely only be better this year. The third linebacker position, the strong side or “Sam” linebacker, is not a flashy position in the Cowboys defense but either Sean Lee or Joe Thomas will see most of the 2019 snaps.
In the secondary, corners Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie along with nickel corner Anthony Brown don’t need to worry about a rookie taking their snaps. However, safety is a position where a rookie could make a contribution as two 2018 rookies picked after the first round had more than 70 tackles and three interceptions.
In my estimation, there are only three positions that could, and I stress could, be upgraded in the draft: defensive end, one-technique defensive tackle and safety. There were about 20 players selected at these positions in the second and third rounds in last years draft and three of them made tangible contributions that could be considered upgrades over the Cowboys existing personnel. That’s not good odds.
Realistically, all 2019 draft picks will make small contributions this year and with coaching and strength training, could be ready to make an impact in 2020. The Cowboys are banking on improvement this coming season from young players like Connor Williams, Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, Chidobe Awuzie as they continue to blossom.
This is not to say the 2019 draft is not important. I just want to temper your expectations that it will be a stretch for the Cowboys to find players in the draft that will make a difference this coming season.