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Cowboys Gambling the Right Way With LB Damone Clark

isn't the first rookie to join the Cowboys and have to spend most of his rookie year worrying about an . But with only a 5th-round pick on the line, Clark's recovery and future create a low-risk, high-reward scenario that shows Dallas may be getting smarter with its draft .

Earlier this year, Clark was diagnosed with a herniated disc in his neck which required fusion surgery. The procedure took place about a month before the 2022 and naturally affected Damone's draft stock.

How much did it hurt? Clark fell to Dallas at the 176th pick despite being one of the better LB prospects in the class. had Damone ranked as their fifth-best LB overall and 63rd overall at any position. The injury likely knocked Clark out of being a Day 2 pick, perhaps even a late 2nd-rounder based on pure potential.

In times past the Cowboys might have been so enticed by Clark's talent that they'd have used their 4th or even a 3rd-round pick to secure his rights. But perhaps their last experience with that kind of gamble taught them a lesson.

Of course, I'm talking about . Back in 2016 Smith was one of the elite prospects of his class but suffered a devastating knee injury in his final college game. That dropped Jaylon from a potential top-five overall pick to where the Cowboys eventually scooped him up early in the 2nd Round.

To be clear, Smith's perceived talent and upside coming out of college were on another level from Clark's. The same analyst who projected Clark would be an “average starter” believed that Jaylon would eventually become a “perennial All-Pro.”

BREAKING: Dallas Cowboys Release LB Jaylon Smith
Former Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith

Unfortunately, Smith never validated that hype. He was never selected once to an All-Pro team and only went to a single . After a brief period of high-level play from 2018-2019, Jaylon quickly fell apart and was released by the team during the .

Six years earlier, Dallas took in the 2nd Round despite recovery from a torn ACL. While Lee did prove himself as one of the top linebackers in football when healthy, he could rarely stay on the field consistently enough to help the Cowboys prosper.

There are plenty of other modern examples of 2nd-round gambles that Dallas has taken on players with red flags for physical or other reasons; , , , and recently . But the lost opportunities when these guys don't work out, failing to add long-term starters and reliable contributors with your 2nd-round pick, has had a demonstrable effect on Dallas' roster through the years.

Unlike when whiffing on a 2nd-rounder, nobody is going to bat an eye if Damone Clark doesn't work out. Some years 5th-round picks don't even make the team without an injury issue; the perceived loss in this scenario is dramatically different.

This is a much safer move for the Cowboys. If Clark does eventually become a starter or even just a consistent rotation player, they've had a big win with the pick. Rather than eating the risk by taking Damone where his talent might've dictated, Dallas mitigated it by waiting and letting him fall.

The team has stated that they think Clark return in 2022 and contribute. Hopefully they won't need him to do much with , , and as their primary LB core for this season.

That's the beauty of this situation. Damone Clark is a 5th-round flyer with no heavy expectations. Anything he provides the team now or in the future is gravy; almost all profit with minimal investment.

Hopefully it's a sign of a new and safer draft philosophy for the Cowboys.

Jess Haynie
Jess Haynie
Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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Stephen Gregory Abel

Thanks for the article and discussion, Jess. So, I was a very good athlete, not professional or in organized activities. I suffered the most common of the herniated discs, the lumbar L4-L5. I was fused and then in a back brace, something akin to what you see on player’s knees, for a year. I recovered but was never able to do anything close to what I was athletically before. In time, the pressure it put on the disc above herniated it. The L3-L4 had to be fused. Then, the L2-L3. Same thing, spinal fusion. The last one that occupied at work was the L5-S1. Same thing, spinal fusion but, this time, I did not recover and was diagnosed with Failed Back Syndrome. It has disabled me and ruined my life. The thing is, I could have developed Failed Back after any of those surgeries.

I wish this player well but there is no way I would have drafted him. Even if “fully recovered,’ he’s one move, or even a sneeze, from blowing the next disc above or below where his injury is.

Never trade or draft players that are injured and not able to contribute immediately. Never draft or acquire players with questionable behavior issues. It is not a winning strategy unless we’re talking about an All Pro player that has HOF talent (for those who want to bring up Charles Haley).

I wish him all the success a person can have. Still, no way I would draft him and he would not be taking up a roster or practice squad spot.

Good article, though. Jess, you are an excellent contributor and I think your articles are about the most informative and balanced that I read. Not a lot of wishful thinking in your writing. Good job.

Ryan Sigo

Though i agree with your analysis in general, i don’t agree that they’ve learned anything. It’s just that the talent level was widely considered lower on Clarke than Jaylon Smith. Therefore they waited longer. They did the exact same thing this year in this very draft that they continue to do every year by taking Sam Williams in the second round despite his red flags. Another 2nd rd high upside pick with red flags. Regardless if they are medical, mental, physical, or whatever.

Stephen Gregory Abel

Those red flags cause severe burns. Best not to put yourself in the position of having to deal with the eventual fall out when their behavioral issues catch up with them. Athletes, and celebrities in general, routinely are given passes for bad behavior that the every day citizen does not get. At some point, they do something so egregious that there is no choice but to deal with it. Why would a FO want any unproven rookie with red flags on their roster? Just a cluster looking for an opportunity to erupt.

Cowboys fan

You can’t really say Sam Williams has red flags…. The trouble he got into happened over a year before, and he wasn’t even found guilty for it!! The other person involved actually dropped the charges if I’m not mistaken!! So I don’t see where the red flags come in!! Now if he was actually found guilty or even went to court and found not guilty, in his last college year, I could understand why he would fall under the red flag category, but the charges were dropped, and now that I think about it, I think that happened almost 2 years before he was drafted, cause he was suspended for most of that year, if not the whole year, then he played all of his last year in college!! That’s quite a bit of time to go by to consider him a red flag player!! That’s what I don’t understand about these those analysts that put him in the red flag category…. It was close to 2 years prior when his problems happened, and technically he wasn’t even charged with anything cause the charges were dropped, so how is he a red flag!? I don’t think he is!!

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