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Can Dallas Cowboys Find a “Plug In Starter” in Round 2 of the NFL Draft?

The Dallas Cowboys second round draft exploits have been well documented. From Gavin Escobar to Jaylon Smith, the Dallas Cowboys took calculated risks on players that might not play right away, but could be impact players when given the opportunity. Some have worked out, like Jaylon Smith, though it took two years for Smith to make a significant impact. DeMarcus Lawrence was slowed by injuries early in his career, but caught on in 2017 and 2018, which led to a big contract extension. Like Lawrence, injuries early on kept Sean Lee from breaking out or having the career he could have. Randy Gregory was the risk that has only paid out in small dividends.

Prior to 2018, most of those second round risks really didn’t pay off. Jaylon was good as a blitzer in 2017, but was a liability in coverage, Randy Gregory couldn’t see the field, Gavin Escobar flamed out in the NFL, leaving DeMarcus Lawrence as the only second round player that had paid off prior to 2018 and he wasn’t really a risk. When they moved up in the second round to draft him, he was viewed by the front office as the last potentially elite pass rusher available in the 2014 NFL Draft.

Since the high risk-high reward second round drafts of 2011-2016, things have taken a turn, arguably for the better.

Over the last two NFL Drafts, the Dallas Cowboys front office has taken a more conservative approach to the draft, looking for players who were going to have impacts right away in Chidobe Awuzie and Connor Williams. Unlike those two players, Jaylon Smith and Randy Gregory had top 10 film but slid to the second round because of Smith’s injury and Gregory’s substance abuse issue.

At the Dallas Cowboys pre-NFL Draft press conference, Vice President Stephen Jones spoke of the team’s desire to find a day-one impact player in the second round when they draft in the second round in nine days.

Kate Hairopoulos on Twitter

Stephen Jones said the Cowboys hope to find a plug-in starter at No. 58 pick. Recent 2nd rounders: Connor Williams, Chidobe Awuzie, Jaylon Smith, Randy Gregory, DeMarcus Lawrence, Gavin Escobar.

As we’ve seen with Williams and Awuzie, it’s possible to find a player who can have  week one impact, but the question becomes, at what position is there a potential opportunity for a rookie to make an impact early? If you look at the roster as it stands now, there aren’t many holes on this squad. Obviously injuries can change things, but given what the roster looks like there are only two spots where a rookie could come in and be a “plug-in starter.”

Safety

At safety, the Cowboys are sporting Xavier Woods, Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier, and the newly signed George Iloka. Aside from Woods, who had a really good 2018, the rest should be considered role players and good depth behind your starters. There’s obvious opportunity to upgrade that position in this year’s NFL Draft.

It’s a position with a lot of depth in the second round. Taylor Rapp, Johnathan Abram, Juan Thornhill, Darnell Savage, and Deionte Thompson all have been projected in the second round. Where the Dallas Cowboys are picking at 58 is a perfect spot for them to grab one of those safeties.

Though Jeff Heath has been a mainstay in the Cowboys secondary, his play is better suited in a reserve role. If the Cowboys pull the trigger on a safety in the second round, it’s not a stretch to think they could beat out Heath for snaps alongside Xavier Woods.

This year’s secondary class is a really good group with diverse skill sets. From rangy athlete, to physical thumper, the Cowboys can select the guy they think pairs best with Woods. And Woods flexibility means it doesn’t have to be primarily a strong safety type.

Now some, might say that defensive tackle is a place where a second round rookie could come in and play significant snaps right away. It’s possible, but based on this team’s history, it doesn’t seem as likely for two reasons.

First, in the Jason Garrett era, the Cowboys haven’t drafted a defensive tackle higher than the third round. Tyrone Crawford and Maliek Collins. They’ve opted to bargain hunt on other team’s practice squads in attempt to find diamonds in the rough like David Irving and Antwaun Woods. They simply don’t want to spend premium capital at the position.

Secondly, the Dallas Cowboys look loaded on the interior with Antwaun Woods and Christian Covington slated to be the primary 1-tech defensive tackles along with Maliek Collins, Tyrone Crawford, Kerry Hyder, and possibly Taco Charlton at 3-tech.

That’s a lot of bodies on the inside of your defensive line. Given Jason Garrett’s reluctance to play rookies, offensive line and Ezekiel Elliott aside, I don’t see a rookie defensive tackle pushing Maliek Collins or Tyrone Crawford aside.

If the Cowboys have their sights set on a player who can contribute a starter’s snap distribution, then safety is the position they need to look in the second round. There aren’t any players that could be available that would come in and start for them week one at any other position. They can certainly find impactful role players that would likely start at some point in 2019 or beyond, but a wide receiver, tight end, defensive tackle or defensive end isn’t walking in day one and starting for the Dallas Cowboys.

The safety position, however, has room for some young talent and in this draft, there’s a lot of talent that can make plays from the safety position.

What do you think?

John Williams

Written by John Williams

Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could.

Make sure you check out the Inside The Cowboys Podcast featuring John Williams and other analysts following America's Team.

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