Dallas Cowboys Head Coach Jason Garrett is heading into his ninth NFL Draft as head coach of America's Team. Garrett doesn't necessarily get all the credit for the draft as there are scouts and front office personnel who put in lots of time and effort on the prospects that are selected on draft weekend.
With that said, the draft has become the primary vehicle for how the Dallas Cowboys build a roster and it's been mostly successful and they've become one of the better drafting teams in the NFL. Though it started out slow, they've really hit their stride in the last several years, hitting on several picks in the middle to late rounds.
The 2016 draft class was one where they found six players who made significant contributions to the team in 2018. The 2014 draft class produced arguably two of the best players on the team in Zack Martin and DeMarcus Lawrence. The 2011 draft signified a shift in the thinking of the front office, largely thanks to Jason Garrett, who urged the team to invest in protecting its most valuable asset; Quarterback Tony Romo.
As the team prepares to add significant pieces to their 2019 roster, let's take a look back at the last eight drafts and the best selection the Cowboys made each draft. Several of these picks are going to be first round selections, because the Cowboys hit home runs with those picks. With others, they were able to strike gold in later rounds.
Let's take a look.
2011 - Tyron Smith, Offensive Tackle, 1st Round, 9th Overall
This pick, more than any other, signified the changing of the guard and philosophy of the Dallas Cowboys led by first year head coach, Jason Garrett.
When the Dallas Cowboys selected Tyron Smith with the ninth overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, it was the first time in Owner and General Manager Jerry Jones' tenure that the Cowboys had spent a first round pick on an offensive lineman.
After playing right tackle his rookie year, Tyron Smith moved to left tackle and has been one of the best at his position in his eight year career. Smith has been selected as a First Team All-Pro twice and has made the Pro Bowl each of the last six years.
Despite injuries, he's been an anchor on the left side of the offensive line both in the run and the pass game. HIs athleticism, strength, and skill have been a perfect blend as the Dallas Cowboys transitioned to running the ball more than they did early in his career.
2012 - Tyrone Crawford, Defensive Line, 3rd Round, 81st Overall
This was the year that the Dallas Cowboys traded up in the first round to select Morris Claiborne. While Claiborne never reached the level of play expected of a top 10 pick, he was still a solid player when he was available. And his injuries, more than anything, are what kept him from being a long-term answer for the Dallas Cowboys a time cornerback.
Tyrone Crawford, the team’s third round pick from that season has been a solid contributor along the defensive line in his six years with the Dallas Cowboys. He’s been good for five to six sacks a season and has become one of the leaders on the defense.
Crawford’s ability to play both defensive end and defensive tackle has made him an invaluable role player for Rod Marinelli’s defense.
Crawford’s only failure is to live up to the contract the Cowboys front office gave him, but he’s been a good player for the team.
2013 - Travis Frederick, Center, 1st Round - 31st Overall
When the Dallas Cowboys traded back in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft and selected Wisconsin Center Travis Frederick, much of the draft community considered it a reach. After selecting Tyron Smith in 2011, the Cowboys continued their offensive line construction by selecting their second offensive lineman in the first round in three years.
It took more than 20 years for the Cowboys to select an offensive lineman in the first round during Jerry Jones tenure and now they had done it twice.
2014 - Zack Martin, Right Guard, 1st Round, 16th Overall
Honorable Mention - DeMarcus Lawrence, Defensive End, Second Round
Were it not for the 2016 draft class, the 2014 group could be considered the best of the Jason Garrett era. Zack Martin and DeMarcus Lawrence are each top five players at their position.
Zack Martin has been to the Pro Bowl all five seasons he's been in the NFL and has been selected to the First Team All-Pro Team three times. He's played 78 of a possible 80 games in his career, missing time in 2018 because of a hip and knee issues. Prior to that, he'd started every game of his NFL career and been a dominant player while doing it.
While Lawrence has been great, injuries and a suspension slowed his development and it wasn’t until the last two years that we saw the elite play we’ve grown accustomed to. Over the last two seasons, only Chandler Jones and Ryan Kerrigan have more sacks than DeMarcus Lawrence's 25. He's been both great as a pass rusher and great against the run. He's as good as it gets in the NFL.
Anytime you can come away with two All-Pro players in one draft, you're doing something right.
2015 - Byron Jones, Corner Back/Safety, 1st Round, 27th Overall
What would we think about Byron Jones had the Dallas Cowboys made him a corner from the get go?Jones was moved around the secondary from tight end cover guy, to safety, and now to corner where he thrived in 2018. Sure, he had a poor second half of the season, but that shouldn’t erase all the good he did in the first half of 2018.
Byron Jones' name has come up in contract discussions this offseason and it sounds like the Cowboys would like to get a deal done at some point. However, they might want to see more from Jones before dishing out $12-15 million per year.
Randy Gregory is the only other player worth mentioning here, but his off the field drug and mental health issues have kept him from being the top 10 player he was projected to be prior to testing positive in for marijuana before the draft.
We saw flashes of greatness in 2018 and he was one of the team's best defenders in the second half of the season. Another suspension is lingering and could effect his ability to play in 2019.
2016 - Dak Prescott, Quarterback, 4th Round
Honorable Mention - Ezekiel Elliott
Anytime that you can find your franchise quarterback, it’s best selection of a draft class. The Cowboys selection of Dak Prescott led to something that rarely happens in the NFL: a seamless transition from franchise quarterback to franchise quarterback.
When Tony Romo went down in the preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks, I don’t think any of us knew what to expect from the fourth round draft pick. Though Prescott hasn’t been perfect (no quarterback is), he’s helped the Dallas Cowboys make the playoffs in two of his first three seasons, while having a winning record in each of his three years in the NFL.
For his career, Prescott is flirting with a passer rating around 100 and has become one of the better dual-threat quarterbacks in the league, scoring six touchdowns a season on the ground. Prescott’s become one of the more important leaders on this team. His inability to be phased by game situation or importance is one of his greatest attributes.
Dak Prescott’s never out of a game. Even when he’s not playing well, he always seems to find a way to make plays at the end to get his team back in the game or take it over for the win.
Ezekiel Elliott has been an important player, there’s no doubt about it, but he’s been exactly what he should have been after being selected as the fourth overall pick. When you take a running back that high in the draft, he better lead the league in rushing and be a part of your identity.
The issue isn’t so much in Elliott, the player, it’s in the way the NFL values the running back position these days.
2017 - Xavier Woods, Safety, 6th Round Pick
The 2017 draft is most remembered for the selection of Defensive End Taco Charlton over now-Pittsburgh Steelers Outside Linebacker T.J. Watt, but it was what the Cowboys did after the first round that was remarkable.
Remember that prior to the draft, the Cowboys allowed Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox, Brandon Carr, and Morris Claiborne to walk in free agency. Two of their top three corners and two of their top three safeties were gone.
In the draft, the Cowboys selected four defensive backs in Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Xavier Woods, and Marquez White. The most impressive in their first two years has been Xavier Woods.
Initially Woods had to works some as a slot cornerback because of injuries in the secondary and ineffectiveness of free agent signing Nolan Carroll.
In 2018, Woods made the full-time transition to free safety and was a bright spot for a Cowboys defense that was in the top 10 in many defensive statistics in the NFL.
2018 - Leighton Vander Esch, Linebacker, 1st Round
It's still very early in his career, but 2018 first round pick Leighton Vander Esch looks to be an excellent selection thus far.
In his first year, he supplanted Sean Lee in the lineup after Lee returned from injury. Combining with Jaylon Smith, they were one of the best linebacker duos in the NFL in 2018. Vander Esch had a case for defensive rookie of the year. He was tied for the team lead in interceptions and was a tackling machine.
Like I said, it's still early in his career, but if 2018 is any indication, there's a lot to be excited about in the future.
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The Cowboys have done really good work at retooling their team as they've stayed competitive during the Jason Garrett era. Though they went 8-8 in the first three years, over the last five, they've gone 48-32, won the NFC East three times, and been to the divisional round of the playoffs each of those three years.
A lot of that success is because of the success they've had in the draft. Few teams can boast as much drafted talent as this young Dallas Cowboys squad can. From their quarterback to their pass rush, the Dallas Cowboys have been able to find the elite pieces at the money positions through the draft. When it comes to the draft, the Cowboys brass is like a kid on Christmas, ready to unwrap their shiny new toys.
Cowboys Draft: Reviewing Kansas DT Daniel Wise
Throughout the post draft media process, the Cowboys' decision makers have been adamant that they found multiple draft-able players in undrafted free agency this year. Each of which, of course, will have an opportunity to compete for a roster or practice squad spot this summer.
One of those players who almost certainly had a draft-able grade despite fall through all seven rounds, is Kansas defensive tackle Daniel Wise.
At 6'3" and 290 pounds, Wise projects as a 3-technique in the NFL, and should compete for that very role on the Cowboys defense. Wise is not an overly bendy or athletic player, but he has a good initial quickness which allows him to penetrate gaps well. Wise plays with excellent effort, having the type of motor that I'm sure Rod Marinelli valued highly during the pre-draft evaluations.
A strong and powerful interior presence, Wise can offer some upside as a pass rusher as well. He has quick, active, and heavy hands. When combining his hands with his get-off, Wise is a real threat as a pass rusher. Maybe his most impressive pass rushing quality, however, is the effort which he plays with. Never giving up on a play, you'll have to block Wise until the final whistle or he will threaten for effort sacks.
In college, Wise was often asked to be a two-gap defender from the 5-technique, but that's just not where he'll be at his best. Rather, he should be used in the role the Cowboys likely envision for him, allowing him to play with power at the point of attack and disrupt the running game.
But what are Daniel Wise's chances of even making the team?
The Cowboys made a concerted effort to improve their defensive line this offseason, specifically on the interior. By adding free agents like Kerry Hyder and drafting Trysten Hill 58th overall, Dallas has improved what was considered a weakness during the postseason a year ago.
Not all of these talented defensive tackles will make the team, though, it's simply a numbers a game. And cutting an undrafted free agent will certainly be easier to do than cutting someone who will be owed real money, or was acquired through premium draft capital.
Regardless, Daniel Wise will have the chance to prove his worth during training camp and the preseason. And based on how he projects through his college tape and physical attributes, he'll likely make those final decisions very difficult on the Cowboys' staff.
Pre-Draft Visitors Highlight Dallas Cowboys 2019 Rookie Class
The Dallas Cowboys are "officially" adding 21 rookies to their roster, eight of which they drafted and the remaining 13 are undrafted free agents. The number of rookies the Cowboys are bringing in isn't all that surprising, but what did surprise me was how many of them were pre-draft visitors.
You may or may not know, but the NFL allows 30 allotted pre-draft visits for each team around the league. Teams don't have to use all 30 visits of course, but the majority of them take advantage of the opportunity and generally use up all 30 visits. It's a chance to introduce these rookies into the atmosphere they could be playing in and work them out in more of a one-on-one basis.
The Dallas Cowboys of course are known as a team who take their 30 pre-draft visits very seriously. Over the past several years they've drafted several players who were brought in for pre-draft visits, and 2019 was no exception.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, paying attention to the Dallas Cowboys 30 pre-draft visits is a good idea because the odds of them drafting one or more of them is pretty high. That's why I decided to run a pre-draft tracker this year, and because of it I was able to confirm 27 of the possible 30 pre-draft visitors for the Cowboys.
Here are 2019 pre-draft visitors currently on the Cowboys roster:
- DT, Trysten Hill
- RB, Tony Pollard
- RB, Mike Weber
- WR, Jon'Vea Johnson
- CB, Chris Westry
If you're doing the math, 5 out of 30 equates to 17% of the players the Dallas Cowboys brought in as pre-draft visitors. But, if Dallas only brought in 27 that percentage rises to 19%. To say that the Cowboys value these pre-draft visits would be an understatement, at least as far as 2019 is concerned.
The first three of Trysten Hill, Tony Pollard, and Mike Weber were of course all draft picks and have the best chance to stick around on the final 53-man roster, but I wouldn't rule out Jon'Vea Johnson and Chris Westry. Both were draftable players, but somehow fell through the cracks right into the lap of the Cowboys as UFAs.
I don't really know if it's a good idea the Dallas Cowboys are so transparent with how valuable the treat these 30 pre-draft visits. We've seen teams time and time again trade up right in front of them to draft a player the Cowboys could've possibly been eyeing, and this year was no exception.
After drafting Running Back/Wide Receiver Tony Pollard with the first of their fourth-round draft picks, it looked like the Dallas Cowboys had their sights set on small school Defensive End/Defensive Tackle John Cominsky out of Charleston with their second pick in the fourth. Unfortunately, the Atlanta Falcons traded up a spot ahead of them to draft Cominsky.
This of course isn't the first time the Falcons have done this, which begs the question as to how they knew the Cowboys could have possibly been targeting Cominsky. We can throw a conspiracy theory out there that Atlanta might have been inside source, but that's highly unlikely. More plausible theory is they were paying attention to Dallas' 30 pre-draft visitors as well.
It may be time for the Dallas Cowboys to deploy a little more smoke and mirrors when it comes to who they bring in for pre-draft visits in the future. But regardless, there's no denying the Cowboys pre-draft visitors highlight their 2019 rookie class.
Are you surprised the Dallas Cowboys added so many pre-draft visitors to the roster?
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Draft Grades
Another year, another draft come and gone. The difference was that this year the Dallas Cowboys were without a first-round pick thanks to their trade for Amari Cooper with Oakland. Their de facto first-round pick would obviously earn an A+ from how well he meshed with Dak Prescott and gave this Cowboys offense another dimension.
Given how well the Cowboys have done in the first round in recent history -- all but two of their first round picks since 2011 have been in the Pro Bowl, a trend that continued with last year’s pick, Leighton Vander Esch. This season, the Cowboys only had picks from round two and on. So this year was all about finding value and hoping it would fall into their laps.
Obviously time will tell if any of these players work out or not. For the time being, we can grade the picks based on what we do know. Some picks were worth it, while others raised questions, as well as eyebrows.
58 Overall: DT, Trysten Hill
In what has been considered the best defensive line draft in decades, the Cowboys took a bit of a risk with their first “official” pick. Trysten Hill is a first round talent out of UCF, but reports questioning his love for the game had some give him a third round grade.
Dallas has already had an off-season dealing with talented defensive linemen with questions around their passion for the game (i.e. David Irving) and so obviously people didn’t love this pick.
It’s a high risk, high reward move that we’ll have to wait and see how it turns out.
90 Overall: G, Connor McGovern
As far as value goes, McGovern was probably the team’s best pick. In my pre-draft rankings, Connor McGovern was my fourth overall interior lineman; a player who you can play anywhere in the interior and start immediately.
However, guard didn’t really seem like a need. This was obviously a “best player available” pick. What this pick has done instead is raise a bunch of questions.
Who’s job could be on the line?
Does this imply the team won’t re-sign La’el Collins?
Is Connor Williams going to play tackle like he did in college?
Is one of them going to get traded?
Is Travis Frederick really ready to go?
So many questions surround this pick, but there’s no questioning the player. Connor McGovern is likely a future starter on the line and Cowboys fans should be excited about that.
128 Overall: RB, Tony Pollard
If you follow me on Twitter, you know my feelings about Tony Pollard already.
Tony Pollard might be my favorite #Cowboys pick. Has experience at both the RB and WR position, plus had 7 career kick return TDs in college. He addresses all 3 needs in 1. #NFLDraft
Returner has been a need for a year now. I never liked the team trading away Ryan Switzer because it created a huge hole on special teams, as well as the receiving core.
The team also needed a backup running back to take the load off Ezekiel Elliott a bit. With Tony Pollard, they get all three positions filled in the form of a player who's 6'0" 210 pounds, ran a 4.52 40 and compiled 25 total touchdowns. Terrific value in the fourth round.
158 Overall: CB, Michael Jackson
This is the type of corner Kris Richard loves; big and tall. At 6'1" 200 pounds, Michael Jackson fits the profile.
His 2017 tape was actually better than his 2018 tape, and all four of his career interceptions came in '17. However, the team is obviously betting on his potential, especially with corner being a serious need.
With the Cowboys' four primary corners coming into contract years the next three seasons, odds are that at least one will be gone. MJ doesn’t fill in day one as a difference maker but, given some time under Kris Richard, he could be a nice player.
165 Overall: DE, Joe Jackson
Take Joe Jackson, new Cowboy, as well as Michael and Darius Jackson, and the team is just two short of a Jackson 5 reunion.
The team has been very busy trying to rebuild the depth at edge and Joe Jackson is icing on an already stacked cake. In an off-season that saw the retirement of David Irving and another suspension for Randy Gregory, the team was able to extend DeMarcus Lawrence and trade for Robert Quinn.
The edge room was already full but you can never have too many.
Joe Jackson is a fun, productive player from The U, who was teammates with the previous pick, Michael Jackson. In his career, he totaled 24 sacks and 37.5 tackles for loss all in three seasons. He’s not the fastest edge rusher in the world but has plenty of power to make up for it. With the team only for sure having DeMarcus Lawrence guaranteed beyond 2019, it’s good to have as much talent as possible.
213 Overall: S, Donovan Wilson
The team really needed a safety and it enraged most people that they didn’t pick one earlier. Especially with Taylor Rapp, Juan Thornhill and Amani Hooker all available at different times.
Donovan Wilson is an interesting pick. His career has been a rollercoaster while at Texas A&M, with a highly productive 2015 season, a dip in 2016, a fractured foot in the 2017 opener, and a rebound 2018 season.
Had his career not been derailed by his injury, he’s likely gone way before the sixth round and the Cowboys are obviously betting on his potential. Meets a need, but not a plug-in right away type of pick.
218 Overall: RB, Mike Weber
Tony Pollard is going to get first crack at the backup running back spot. However, given that he’s also the team’s likely return man as well, it makes sense that they’d want to deepen the running back room to give the team a true RB2.
Mike Weber was Ezekiel Elliott’s teammate at Ohio State, but didn’t come close to the impact Elliott had. Only topping 1,000 yards once in college, Weber is likely in competition with Darius Jackson for the backup spot.
He’s not as flashy as Zeke but can pick up the slack when asked to and is a solid receiver out of the backfield. If Weber can’t beat Jackson for the backup spot, then Weber is a likely candidate for the practice squad.
241 Overall: DE, Jalen Jelks
Jalen Jelks falls into a similar boat that both Hurricanes players are in. Like Joe Jackson, he’s a good solid edge piece (fifth round draft grade), but like Michael Jackson, his prior season's tape was better than his final season.
It's interesting that the Cowboys would pick a player who seems to be better suited to play in a 3-4 as a OLB, but has plenty of starter potential. Otherwise he’s a player that’s likely headed to the practice squad that the Cowboys wanted to make sure they get first crack at. Still, a good value in terms of where he was picked.
Dallas Cowboys Overall 2019 Draft Grade: B
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