Fans of the Dallas Cowboys may have former defensive end, Taco Charlton, to thank for a change in their draft philosophy in 2020. As a result, the Cowboys landed exciting rookie wide receiver CeeDee Lamb.
In a story that has now become infamous, the Cowboys selected Charlton out of Michigan with their first-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft over current Pittsburgh Steelers’ linebacker and three-time Pro Bowl pass rusher, T.J. Watt. The reason was that Taco was deemed a better scheme fit than Watt. That’s despite the Cowboys having a second-round grade on Charlton, who was deemed to be a developmental project.
Fast forward five years later and Charlton hasn’t been on the Cowboys’ roster for the past two seasons, having played for the Miami Dolphins in 2019 and is currently on Injured Reserve with the Kansa City Chiefs (who are headed to the Super Bowl).
Charlton has recorded a total of 11.0 sacks in four years. Four of those sacks coming while he was still in Dallas. As for Watt, he’s only racked up 49.5 sacks in four seasons and is considered one of the top defenders in the NFL.
There’s certainly an argument to be made that the Cowboys didn’t immediately learn their lesson from the Charlton debacle, making linebacker Leighton Vander Esch and defensive tackle Trysten Hill their top draft selections afterward.
But the hiring of a new head coach in Mike McCarthy helped to push the Cowboys’ draft strategy in the direction of best player available (BPA) in 2020. And as a result, Dallas may have had landed their top draft class since 2016.
And there’s no bigger case to be made for BPA than their first-round selection, wide receiver CeeDee Lamb. The Oklahoma product unexpectedly fell to the Cowboys, who owned the 17th overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft. Instead of addressing their bigger defensive needs, Dallas surprisingly drafted Land despite already having stud receivers like Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup on the roster.
Lamb would go on to have a stellar rookie season, being targeted 111 times by four different quarterbacks. He would bring in 74 receptions for 935 yards and posted seven total touchdowns. In fact, NFL.com’s Nick Shook named Lamb the Cowboys’ unsung hero recently for his work out of the slot.
"“No task seemed too great for Lamb, though, who largely made his impact out of the slot, catching 63 passes for 784 yards and four TDs from that alignment, good for the fourth-most receptions, second-most yards and tied for the ninth-most touchdowns in the league. The sky is the limit for this kid, and he won’t be an unsung hero for long.”"
Lamb’s success makes a solid case for the Cowboys to consider going best player available once again in 2021. The Cowboys own the 10th overall selection in the upcoming draft. And while Dallas has big needs on the defensive side of the ball once again, the early projections seem to indicate there isn’t a dominant defender worth a top-ten selection.
In NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah’s 2021 NFL Draft prospect rankings 1.0, only two defensive players cracked his top 12. Those prospects being Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley and Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons.
The Dallas Cowboys could easily find themselves with only offensive prospects at the top of their board when their number is called in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. And perhaps their mistakes of the past choosing scheme and team need over best player available, combined with the success of CeeDee Lamb, will lead the Cowboys to select the most talented prospect regardless of which side of the ball they play on.