5 Biggest Mistakes Cowboys Could Make on Draft Day
It seems like owner Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys have frequently tried to make big splashes on draft day, but their first concern should be limiting potentially devastating mistakes. Find possible weaknesses in your draft strategy, patch them up, then worry about hitting it big.
Sometimes the draft just unfolds in a way that isn’t advantageous to certain teams, but many of the Cowboys’ past draft mistakes are surely correctable. A simple emphasis on analytics would result in bypassing players destined to underachieve, such as running back Joseph Randle, for example.
So where might the Cowboys go wrong in this draft? Let’s take a look at the five biggest mistakes they could make in 2014.
1. Going out of Their Way to Draft the Top Player on Their Board
One of the mistakes Jones has made in the past is, well, patching up mistakes. The Cowboys have been notoriously poor at recognizing potential issues before they become big problems and fixing situations before they cause a huge amount of harm.
Last year, Dallas bypassed Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd in the first round, despite the fact that he was a top-five pick on their board. That caused some chaos in Valley Ranch. Don’t you get the sense that Jones could try to “correct” his past mistake this year?
I explained earlier this week why a true best-player-available draft strategy is flawed. Namely, it’s shortsighted, failing to account for both position scarcity and a team’s own fallibility in creating their board. The Cowboys shouldn’t draft purely based on need, either, but if they go out of their way to make sure they draft the top player on their board, they’ll come away disappointed.
2. Not Drafting a Wide Receiver and Running Back
With DeMarco Murray set to become a free agent in 2015, the running back position is considered a semi-need for Dallas. That’s not necessarily also true of wide receiver, but it should be.
The third wide receiver in Dallas is basically a starter, and that position should be treated as such. Are we really comfortable with Cole Beasley—a player who can’t stretch the field and is ineffective in the red zone—being that guy? For my money, there are few upgrades greater than selecting a player such as Penn State’s Allen Robinson to work as the No. 2 wide receiver and moving Terrance Williams into the slot.
Further, regardless of whether or not wide receiver is as big of a need as running back, the team should address the receiver position earlier in the draft. You can find running back talent in the late rounds. You can’t easily replace the type of second-round talent that’s going to be available in 2014.
3. Selecting Safeties Calvin Pryor or Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the First Round
Are Calvin Pryor and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix being artificially vaulted up boards because they’re the best players at their particular position? It sure seems like it.
When you look at the two safeties from a purely athletic standpoint, you don’t see anything special. They’re basically the same type of player—high-4.5 speed, a low-30-inch vertical jump and a sub-10’0” broad jump.
Now compare those numbers to, say, Matt Johnson. He’s at least six pounds heavier than both Pryor and Clinton-Dix, runs faster (4.52) and jumps both higher (37 inches) and farther (10’1”).
Do safeties need to perform a broad jump during games? Of course not, but that’s irrelevant. We shouldn’t be concerned with whether or not prospects perform in-game movements similar to those in combine drills but if the drills predict NFL success. And they do.
Johnson has a serious injury history the team needs to worry about, but in J.J. Wilcox and Jeff Heath, the Cowboys have two more safeties who are more athletic than Pryor and Clinton-Dix. The risk that accompanies each of them individually is mitigated by the fact that there are three such players on the roster.
There’s absolutely no reason to reach on a first-round safety.
4. Not Trading Up in the Middle Rounds
The Cowboys have 11 picks in this draft, but they don’t have room for 11 new players on the roster. With six picks in the seventh round alone, there are likely going to be a number of rookie cuts this fall.
When Dallas locates a player they like in the middle rounds (whether he’s the “best player available” or just plays a need position), they should move up to get him, using their late-round picks as ammunition. There’s really no reason to hang onto all of them; these aren’t third-round picks we’re talking about.
5. Failing to Get Aaron Donald or Anthony Barr If They Get Outside the Top 10
Let me start by saying that trading up in the first round is frequently a losing proposition. The cost in moving up is so prohibitive that it makes sense to do so only in a few circumstances.
This year could be one for Dallas if either Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald or UCLA defensive end Anthony Barr fall out of the top 10. Here’s what Dallas could obtain if that happened:
Both Donald and Barr are scarce players. There’s a huge drop after each at their respective positions.
2. Elite Talent
Donald had 11 sacks and 28.5 tackles for loss in 2013 alone. Barr totaled 23.5 sacks and 41.5 tackles for loss over the past two seasons from the outside linebacker position. Both are top-tier athletes who shouldn’t fall outside of the top 10.
3. A Reduced Price Tag
If either Donald or Barr fall out of the top 10, you’re looking at a situation in which the Cowboys wouldn’t need to give up their second-round pick in a trade.
Actually, depending how far past the 10th pick they fall, the Cowboys might be able to give, say, a fourth-rounder and another late pick. If either Donald or Barr fell to No. 13 overall, there’s no way the Cowboys can afford to not pay the small price required to go get them.