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NFL Draft

Best Dallas Cowboys Draft Picks From Each Year of the Jason Garrett Era

John Williams

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Leighton Vander Esch Is A Stud, And Should Be For A Long Time

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.

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.



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NFL Draft

Dallas Cowboys 2019 Draft Needs: Special Teams

Jess Haynie

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Brett Maher, Chris Jones

Some have argued that the words "kicker" and "punter" don't belong in the same sentence as "NFL Draft." But just last year, six special teams players were drafted by NFL teams. Could the Dallas Cowboys consider such a player with one of their 2019 draft picks?

From 2009-2018, various teams have drafted 19 kickers and 18 punters. The highest pick was a second-rounder; Tampa Bay's selection of Roberto Aguayo in 2016. Outside of one pick in the third round and another in the fourth, the other 34 picks have all been in rounds 5-7.

The Dallas Cowboys have only contributed on pick to this total. In 2009 they selected David Buehler in the fifth round, two years after using a sixth-round pick on Nick Folk.

Ten years later, could Dallas finally use another draft pick on special teams?

There are a few of factors that make this possible. For one, the Cowboys are already fairly loaded with talent across the roster. A late-round pick spent at any number of positions would have a hard time surviving final cuts.

Second, in terms of the quality of player versus the round, there's no better value than on special teams. You can possibly get the best kicker in the country in the fifth or sixth round; no other position offers that.

Lastly, and most importantly, the Cowboys have a pretty clear opportunity to upgrade at kicker. They also could use the draft to save some cap space by making a change at punter.

Brett Maher

Dallas Cowboys K Brett Maher

As I've written about beforeBrett Maher was a Jekyll & Hyde kicker in 2018. He was brilliant from long range but a major liability closer in, and his 80.6% total field-goal accuracy was near the bottom of the league.

While Maher's distance is a true asset, does it outweigh the risk of him missing a game-winning FG from 35 yards? And what about extra-point kicks, for that matter?

Dallas should certainly bring Brett back in 2019 to compete for the job. Remember, he was still Dan Bailey's backup until close the start of the regular season. Perhaps a full offseason as the primary kicker would help him stabilize his game.

But given the uncertainty, the Cowboys could easily justify spending a late-round pick at kicker. They could potentially land LSU's Cole Tracy or Utah's Matt Gay, two of the top prospects in this draft class.

The worst-case scenario is that Maher beats one of these guys and you cut them. But there was a high probability that you'd have cut whoever you drafted at another position anyway. Essentially, you'd have spent a late draft pick as an insurance policy against Maher's development.

That's not bad business. In fact, maybe you'd be able to trade that kicker at final cuts to a team who suffers a preseason injury or is otherwise dissatisfied at the position. There's a chance you could even recoup your draft pick.

6 Cowboys Players Primed To Make Their First Pro Bowl

Dallas Cowboys punter Chris Jones (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

Another consideration is at punter. Chris Jones has been a very solid one for a while now, but he turns 30 in July and counts $2.3 million against the salary cap. Could the draft give Dallas a chance to get someone younger and cheaper?

Let's say Dallas drafted one of the nation's top punters like Jack Fox out of Rice or Stanford's Jack Bailey. They'd have that player on a four-year rookie deal costing roughly 20% of what Jones' does.

Dallas could trade or release Chris Jones for $800k in 2019 cap relief, or $1.8 million if he's cut after June 1st. That would push $1 million of dead money onto the 2020 cap.

Those aren't big numbers, so the real gain here is if you think one of the top rookie punters could match or even exceed Jones' play. Then you've got that player on the cheap for the next four seasons.

I would not predict that the Cowboys will spend a draft pick at either kicker or punter, but the point of all this is that you can't entirely dismiss it. 2019 presents the right mix of circumstances for Dallas to consider it more than they have in the past, especially considering how long Dan Bailey was a fixture on the roster.

Brett Maher doesn't enjoy that same status. Dallas could easily look at some of the top kickers available and think that an upgrade is possible.

Will that lead to the Cowboys spending a draft pick on special teams for the first time in a decade?

Draft Likelihood: 10%
Projected Round: *6th-7th

* The Cowboys don't currently have a 6th-round pick, but could acquire one in a potential trade.

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NFL Draft

Potential CB Prospects Dallas Cowboys Could Target in Each Round

Brian Martin

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Potential CB Prospects Cowboys Could Target in Each Round

It has somewhat flown a little bit under the radar, but Dallas Cowboys Passing Game Coordinator and Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard has been touring around the country working out several cornerbacks in this year's draft class. With Byron Jones and Anthony Brown entering into the last year of their contracts, it wouldn't be all that surprising if the Cowboys draft a CB at some point in the 2019 NFL Draft.

With that in mind, I thought it would be a good idea to share with you some of the cornerbacks the Dallas Cowboys could target in each round in which they hold a draft pick. In order to keep it as realistic as possible I tried to narrow it down to the potential CB prospects that fit Richard's parameters. We all know he likes those tall, lengthy defensive backs and that's what I tried to focus on.

Let's take a look…

Second Round

Joejuan Williams

Vanderbilt CB Joejuan Williams

Justin Layne, Michigan State

Justin Layne was a four-star wide receiver recruit coming at a high school, but ended up becoming a three-year starter on the other side of the ball at cornerback during his time at Michigan State. He has tremendous ball skills due to his background at receiver and has the size and length (6'1", 192) Kris Richard covets in his defensive backs. He needs to continue to improve is overall technique, but he has Day 1 starting potential.

Joejuan Williams, Vanderbilt

Joejuan Williams was a two-year starter during his time at Vanderbilt and primarily played press and off-man coverage. At just a smidge under 6'4", Williams typically towers over the wide receivers he faces, which has allowed him to find success at this point because of his mere size and length. He has the skill set and athleticism to become an eventual starter in the NFL, but really needs to develop his mechanics and the mental side of his game a little more.

Third Round

Jamel Dean

Auburn CB Jamel Dean

Jamel Dean, Auburn

After overcoming three major knee injuries earlier in his career, Jamel Dean eventually became a two-year starter to finish his career at Auburn. He has elite size (6'1", 202), length (31 3/4" arms), and speed (4.3 40-yard dash), but his durability is a red flag moving forward. He also needs to play with a little better mean streak, especially in press man coverage. The talent is there though and he has a chance to develop into a really good starting CB if he can stay healthy.

Isaiah Johnson, Houston

Isaiah Johnson is another player with elite size (6'2", 208), length (33" arms), and speed (4.4 40-yard dash) at the cornerback position and is someone Kris Richard has met with and worked out on a number of occasions. Johnson was a former three-star wide receiver recruit coming out high school before making the switch to CB his final year in Houston. He played mostly bail technique for the Cougars and is still really raw as a CB prospect, but he has immense upside. He will likely need a year or two to further develop his craft before he can be relied upon.

Fourth Round

Lonnie Johnson Jr.

Kentucky CB Lonnie Johnson Jr.

Lonnie Johnson Jr., Kentucky

There are actually three Kentucky defensive backs the Dallas Cowboys could target, but Lonnie Johnson Jr. is the top-ranked prospect so far. He has the size, length the Cowboys are looking for, but he really needs to refine just about every aspect of his game before he's ready to compete at the next level. He has tremendous instincts which has gotten him to this point, but he's going to have to develop both technically and mentally if he wants to find any kind of success in the NFL. All of the tools are there though.

Jordan Brown, South Dakota State

Jordan Brown was a three-year starter at South Dakota State, playing primarily press and off-man coverage. He has the size, length to play as a boundary corner in the NFL, but only has average top end speed. He is a competitor with a scrappy mentality that unfortunately runs a little hot and cold at times. He plays with good balance when making his transitions, which allows him to stick with receivers. Overall, he is a solid developmental mid-round pick with starting upside.

Fifth Round

Michael Jackson

Miami CB Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson, Miami

Michael Jackson was a two-year starter at Miami on the right side, playing mostly press man. He is a good-sized athlete with the kind of length and athleticism Kris Richard is looking for in his cornerbacks, but he has shown a tendency to struggle against savvy route runners. He's not the most fluid of athletes and will struggle in his transitions, so he might fit best in a defensive scheme that plays a lot of zone or cover 2.

Kris Boyd, Texas

Kris Boyd was a three-your starter during his time in Texas and played on both the right and left side, often times shadowing the opposing team's best wide receiver. He plays with the desired competitive nature and checks all the boxes as far as size, speed, and athleticism are concerned for a starting caliber cornerback. But, he plays undisciplined and doesn't trust his eyes, often times causing him to arrive late with his reads. If he can become more disciplined he could be a steal this late in the draft.

Seventh Round

Chris Westry

Kentucky CB Chris Westry (Photo By Donald Page)

Chris Westry, Kentucky

Chris Westry was a three-year starter at Kentucky, but gradually started to see his playing time decrease with the emergence of Lonnie Johnson Jr. and Derrick Baity Jr.. At 6'4", 199 pounds and legitimate 4.35 speed, Westry has extremely rare size and speed for the cornerback position. Unfortunately, he is a better athlete than he is a football player right now and might be nothing more than a developmental project.

Derrick Baity Jr., Kentucky

Derrick Baity Jr. worked his way into the starting lineup at Kentucky as a freshman and ended up becoming a four-year starter. He has excellent size for the position (6'2", 197) and is light footed with good ball skills, but he doesn't play with the kind of physicality you'd think from my player his size. He is an untrustworthy tackler and undisciplined with his fundamentals. His size and ball skills should get him drafted, but he might be nothing more than a developmental project.



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NFL Draft

Cowboys Draft: Will A Quarterback Be Considered?

Kevin Brady

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Cowboys Draft: Will A Quarterback Be Considered?

Dak Prescott is the current and future starting quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys. Let's make that clear.

Prescott has done more than enough over the first three years of his career to earn this "franchise quarterback" title, and the contract he will eventually receive from the Cowboys' front office.

But that doesn't mean the Cowboys shouldn't consider drafting a quarterback this year. Or next year. Or the year after that.

Quarterback is the game's most important, and highest paid, position. It's the position where a player can most greatly effect a game individually, both positively and negatively.

And it's the position you must make sure is accounted for heading into any new season. Yes, the Cowboys clearly trust now fourth-year quarterback Dak Prescott, but adding talent to your QB room is never a bad thing. In fact, it's typically a great thing.

Behind Prescott are Cooper Rush and Mike White. Rush beat out now-offensive coordinator Kellen Moore for the backup job during the 2017 preseason, and then held off rookie Mike White in 2018 to maintain the job.

When the Cowboys drafted White, however, they had dreams of a new backup quarterback in mind. White didn't perform as well, or progress as quickly, as some had hoped leaving Cooper Rush as the unquestioned QB2, however.

Is Cooper Rush good enough, though?

This is a question which really is yet to be answered. And if the Cowboys have it their way, it will never be truly answered. He was excellent during the 2017 preseason, no doubt about it. But he was, well, bad last year. Rush and the offense struggled mightily during the preseason, and while lack of offensive line depth didn't help him, Rush's play didn't spark much optimism or excitement either.

The Cowboys would be wise to consider drafting a quarterback later in the 2019 NFL Draft, but they shouldn't spend too much time worrying about it either way. The backup quarterback, especially behind Dak Prescott, will bring his value in terms of game-planning and aiding Prescott, rather than with his actual arm talent.



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