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Dallas Cowboys Draft: 1st round success

Tyron Smith - 1st round success story

The Dallas Cowboys have been very effective and successful when drafting in the first round recently. This is mainly due to the franchise taking a coherent and systematic approach on draft day. First, the Cowboys have used free agency to restock and fill glaring needs, thereby allowing them to enter the draft with the flexibility to follow a “best-player-available,” or BPA, strategy. In the past five drafts, the Cowboys first round selections have met two specific criteria.

Despite the sound of it, BPA really means the best player at a “position-of-value.” This is the first measure that the Cowboys top picks should meet. The best player on the board when it is time for the Cowboys to pick may play a position that is deemed a lesser priority in Dallas’s scheme. Or it could be a player at a position that is currently filled by an entrenched veteran, such as quarterback. There are two recent examples of the Cowboys facing this scenario and each time, they surprised everyone by sticking to their value system.

In 2013, the Cowboys held the 18th overall pick. They had glaring holes on their defensive line, especially at tackle. When Florida DT Shariff Floyd began to fall, it was widely assumed that the Cowboys would select him. Instead, Dallas traded the pick to San Francisco for the 31st overall pick and an additional 3rd rounder. It was revealed later that Floyd was indeed the best player left on the Cowboys board. Yet, there was a disconnect between the team’s scouts and the new defensive coaches. The coaches (Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli) switched the defensive philosophy back to a 4-3 from the 3-4 the Cowboys had been running. Floyd was scouted as a fit for the previous scheme. Marinelli, the defensive line coach at the time, felt using a 1st round draft pick on a run-stuffing, 1-technique DT was a waste of resources. The final say went to the coaches.

Last season saw a similar scenario. Johnny Manziel, the glitzy media darling of the draft, began his own free fall. The Cowboys, armed with the 16th overall pick, had the opportunity to make a splash and draft the former A&M product. However, Dallas had Tony Romo in place and using a premium draft pick on a player that would be a backup for the foreseeable future made little sense for a team lacking depth and needing a talent upgrade. First round draft picks should be expected to step into a starting role immediately. Travis Frederick and Zack Martin were the top selections for the Cowboys in those two drafts and were starters from Day 1. But they had something else in common that is the second criteria for Cowboy draft picks in the first round since 2010: They were the top players in the draft at their respective positions.

Prior to the additions of Frederick and Martin, the Cowboys had selected a player in the first round that they deemed to be the #1 player at their position. In 2010, Dallas traded up to select Dez Bryant after character concerns caused him to drop to 24th overall. The 2011 draft saw them take Tyron Smith, the drafts highest rated OT, with the 9th overall pick. While it hasn’t turned out like everyone envisioned, Morris Claiborne was widely seen as the best CB in the draft in 2012. The Cowboys paid a substantial price for the right to draft him 6th overall. Had the Cowboys stayed put at the 14th pick, they would have chosen DT Michael Brockers whom they had rated as the third best DT.  History may show that their system did not work in this instance, but there is no doubt they stayed true to their philosophy of taking the highest ranked player at a position of value. And it has worked out more often than not.

The key to drafting well, is to maximize the talent available at the top of the draft. In other words, they have to win in the first round. For five consecutive drafts, the Cowboys have walked away with what they believed to be the best player at a position of value. This has been the Cowboys plan in the Jason Garrett/Stephen Jones era. They have discovered a method that effectively ensures that they will select a player with considerable value in the 1st round. This plan will be tested this year as Dallas picks 27th overall. Finding the #1 player at any position that late in the draft is difficult. It is even more difficult to find one that plays a position of value. But in this draft, it very well could fall the Cowboys way as a top player may fall again. Maybe they trade up again to secure a player and follow their trend. Or maybe, they alter their plan and create a new, more intricate one.

Next up: Round One Possibilities

Ben Hammons



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