The Cowboys Draft Solution
Jerry Jones has received a lot of criticism over the past two decades for his general managerial skills (or lack thereof), and much of it well deserved. It has, after all, been 21 years since the Boys’ last danced in the big game, and Jones and company have managed only three playoff wins since that last Super Bowl victory in 1995. But you have to give the man his due in this regard – he doesn’t ever quit.
Now you may argue that is by no means a good thing, and you won’t get much of an argument from me in this case. I, like most of you reading this, thought the smart move would have been to hand off the torch many years ago to a qualified NFL general manager to run the football side of his empire (no one can argue with Jerry’s acumen on the business side of things), but it’s Jerry’s toy and he’ll continue to play with it for as long as he likes.
But that being said, let me take Jerry’s side for a moment and suggest to you that since 2010, the Cowboys have done a solid job of selecting players in the draft that have made significant contributions on the field– at least in the first few rounds when a “missed” pick is like the kiss of death. The 2012 draft could be considered the one exception to their recent draft board success, as they coughed up their 2nd round pick to acquire the under-performing Morris Claiborne with the 6th overall pick, but let’s take a look at their recent history:
Round 1- Dez Bryant – 24th overall
Round 2- Sean Lee – 55th overall
Round 1 – Tyron Smith – 9th overall
Round 2 – Bruce Carter – 40th overall
Round 3 – DeMarco Murray – 71st overall
Round 6 – Dwayne Harris – 176th overall
Round 1 – Mo Claiborne – 6th overall
Round 2 – no pick
Round 3 – Tyrone Crawford – 81st overall
Round 4 – Kyle Wilber – 113th overall
Round 1 – Travis Frederick – 31st overall
Round 2 – Gavin Escobar – 47th overall
Round 3- Terrance Williams – 74th overall
Round 3 – J.J. Wilcox – 80th overall
Round 1 – Zack Martin – 16th overall
Round 2 – DeMarcus Lawrence – 34th overall
Round 1 – Byron Jones – 27th overall
Round 2 – Randy Gregory – 60th overall
Last year’s draft will still have to play itself out, but top pick Byron Jones looks like he’ll be a solid starter for many years in the league. 2nd round pick Randy Gregory is a different story however, as he’s fighting through some serious off the field issues. Suspended for the first four games of the upcoming 2016 season for testing positive again for marijuana – the same reason he fell out of the first round in the draft last year when he tested positive at the NFL Combine of all places. Gregory was a risk-reward pick the Cowboys knew they were taking when they selected him, and it may still be a gamble that works out for them – we’ll just have to wait and see.
But let’s focus on the here and now and this year’s upcoming draft (April 28-30). How exactly do we fix what’s ailing the Cowboys before the start of next season? First and foremost Tony Romo needs to recover from the collarbone surgery he had yesterday, and needs to stay on the field for the majority of the snaps as he did in 2011 through 2014. But how was Romo able to stay healthy during those four years and miss only 2 out of a possible 64 starts? Their vaunted offensive line only got stronger with each year, adding pro-bowlers Smith in 2011, Frederick in 2013 and Martin in 2014, so what changed on the offensive side of the ball in 2015 that put Romo’s life in danger every time he took the field? The answer is DeMarco Murray had moved on to the City of Brotherly Shove.
When the Cowboys allowed Murray to sign with the Eagles, they lost a back that was not just the league leader in rushing yards, but also an incredible blocking back. His ability to pick up blitzes was every bit as important as his threat as a runner when it came to keeping the opponents’ rush at bay – and Romo standing. They also lost a complete “three down” back – someone that was on the field for all situations, including pass catching out of the backfield – another threat that can keep a rush delayed by engaging linebackers in coverage.
The 2015 running back “by committee” plan was suspect at best when designed, but went completely out the window when Lance Dunbar was injured and Joseph Randle was released, leaving Darren McFadden as the Cowboys main man in the backfield. McFadden, as his numbers in Oakland will attest, is an “OK” running back, but he’s not close to the complete package that Murray was for the Cowboys, and falls way short in the blocking/protection department. If Jones go into the season with a combination backfield of McFadden and Dunbar again, look for more broken Romo bones.
So what’s the answer then? Murray isn’t coming back, by all accounts he’s on his way to Tennessee via trade (although supposedly the Cowboys did kick the tires on a possible trade with Philly themselves). No, the answer to the problem is sitting in Columbus, Ohio and his name is Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott is not only a dynamic three down back capable of producing explosive plays as a runner and receiver on the perimeter, but he is also a punishing blocker in pass protection. The complete package – just as Murray was for the Cowboys – and eight years Murray’s junior in age (28 to only 20).
The Cowboys may be hesitant to draft a running back with the 4th overall pick, as RBs have fallen out of “draft favor” in recent years among most teams. But the Rams bucked the trend last year by selecting Todd Gurley with the 10th overall pick – and I promise you they don’t regret it one bit. And although the list is short when it comes to running backs the Cowboys organization have selected with a top ten pick, the one and only time they did it worked out fairly well – his name was Tony Dorsett (selected 2nd overall).
I realize the Cowboys need help on the defensive side of the ball as well, particularly at cornerback and with their own pass rush (especially with the questions surrounding Gregory and the bust that was Greg Hardy last year), but if you don’t have Romo you don’t have a season. Period. Use free agency to fill some of those needs, or figure out a way to move down and still draft Elliott while getting a player that can help on the defense as well, but just don’t lose this Buckeye.
With DeMarco Murray headed out of Philadelphia, if Elliott isn’t wearing the Star on his helmet next year there’s a good chance he’ll be wearing Eagles green for the next six or seven. And believe me Cowboys fans you don’t want that.