Through the years of covering the Cowboys’ drafts, there have always been players who were either helped or hurt by the next crop of talent. Today, I thought we’d take a look at some of the immediate winners and losers from the 2018 draft class.
I remember cornerback Mike Jenkins throwing a fit in 2012 after Dallas traded up to take Morris Claiborne. He wasn’t wrong; Jenkins got buried on the depth chart that year before going into free agency.
On the other hand, new talent at some position can lift everyone around them. The Cowboys offensive line was good, but not considered truly elite, until Zach Martin arrived in 2014. Or how about the impact that Ezekiel Elliott had on the entire offense in 2016?
2018 will be no different as some players were positively and negatively impacted by what happened over the weekend. Here’s a look at those winners and losers.
S Xavier Woods & Kavon Frazier
The Cowboys could have traded up in the first round to select Florida State’s Derwin James. They could have traded a pick to get veteran Earl Thomas. They might have taken another safety in any of the later rounds.
But no, Dallas did none of those things. Instead, they appear ready to ride with young studs Xavier Woods and Kavon Frazier as starters and key pieces in the defensive backfield.
Jeff Heath is still in the mix and may remain a starter. But Frazier and Woods have flashed potential and upside that new defensive backs coach (and DC in waiting) Kris Richard has already expressed excitement with.
Dallas’ declined opportunity to go get a prospect like Derwin James says a lot on how they feel about their current talent. Despite being sixth-round picks entering just their second and third seasons, Woods and Frazier have quickly earned a lot of respect from their coaches.
There’s still a lot of offseason left and Dallas may still make a move for Earl Thomas. But it’s guys like Kavon and Xavier who’ve given them leverage, allowing the Cowboys to not feel desperate enough to meet Seattle’s asking price.
No matter what happens there, Frazier and Woods will be competing with Heath for a starting role next year.
TE Geoff Swaim
The news of Jason Witten’s potential retirement, which came between the first and second rounds on Friday, sent a shockwave through Cowboys Nation. Many thought it would lead to Dallas taking a tight end as soon as their very next pick.
But the Cowboys waited until the late in the fourth round, using one of their compensatory picks on Standford’s Dalton Schultz. While the rookie will certainly compete for a big role in 2018, he may have a hard time against a fourth-year veteran like Geoff Swaim.
If Witten’s truly gone, Swaim becomes the most tenured tight end on the roster. James Hanna’s surprising retirement just two weeks ago leaves just Rico Gathers and Blake Jarwin, neither with any real NFL experience, as the remaining options.
Swaim’s game fits what this Cowboys offense needs from its starting tight end. He’s a proficient blocker with some solid receiving skills. Being stuck behind Witten, like any other Cowboys TE has experienced for the last 15 years, has limited his chances to shine.
Maybe Jason returns for one last season, but right now the door is wide open for Geoff Swaim to get a shot as the team’s starter in the final year of his rookie contract.
DT Richard Ash & Brian Price
Before the draft, it appeared likely that Dallas would be targeting a run-stuffing defensive tackle for their base defensive scheme. Some that it could happen as early as the first round. But the Cowboys didn’t draft a single DT, meaning returning players like Richard Ash and Brian Price may have a shot at competing for a starting role.
After Terrell McClain left a vacancy last year, the spot was filled by switching Maliek Collins over into the “1-technique” role and also utilizing young prospects. Brian Price was getting early work, and performing well, before a knee injury ended his season early. Richard Ash came on later in the year and was starting get noticed for his solid work by the final games.
While Dallas did pick up third-year DT Jihad Ward in a trade, he projects as more of a DT/DE hybrid like we have in David Irving or Tyrone Crawford. The Cowboys would likely also prefer to get Maliek Collins back in the 3-tech spot, where he was so much more effective as a rookie.
That opens the door for Ash, Price, or maybe some other dark horse to make a big climb up the depth chart.
WR Deonte Thompson
A free agent signing in March, the veteran Thompson may have already lost his roster spot after last weekend’s activity. Dallas drafted Michael Gallup in the third round and then picked up the Rams’ Tavon Austin via trade.
Yes, Ryan Switzer left town in a separate trade. But that still leaves a crowded receiver room with Allen Hurns, Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams all expected to be on the roster next season.
The Cowboys could go with six guys, but even still you’re potentially losing a younger talent like sophomore Noah Brown or rookie sixth-round pick Cedrick Wilson. With plenty of experience in Hurns, Beasley, Williams, and Austin, Dallas might decide they don’t need Thompson after all.
Despite being a newly signed player, Deonte’s contract doesn’t offer much protection. It’s a one-year deal counting $1.8 million against the salary cap with $1 million guaranteed.
While he’s only recently become a known entity in the NFL, Thompson is a 29-year-old late bloomer. He was brought in as cheap veteran insurance, and Dallas may now have enough now to cancel the policy.
QB Cooper Rush
Dallas drafted Mike White out of Western Kentucky in the fifth round, which brings some real competition to the backup position held by Cooper Rush most of last year. Can Rush, in just his second season, fight White off for the job?
Cooper already surprised us when he ousted Kellen Moore from the number-two spot and the roster itself last season. He had an outstanding preseason and, if he builds on the rookie success, has a great shot at keeping his place on the team.
But last season speaks to the danger for Rush; Dallas likes to keep just two quarterbacks if they can. With Dak Prescott’s durability, the Cowboys can save a roster spot by just keeping one backup and then someone else on the practice squad.
Mike White has been considered a steal by many as a fifth-round pick, with some thinking he could’ve been drafted on Friday. He may be harder to get to the practice squad than Rush, who went undrafted in 2017.
Ideally for Cooper, he’ll beat White for the backup job and force Dallas to keep three QBs this season. But his job security definitely took a hit with this new addition to the roster.
OL Cam Fleming, Joe Looney, Marcus Martin
The opening at left guard before the draft was a major topic. Dallas used their second-round pick to address it, taking Connor Williams out of Texas. That put a major kibosh on the idea of one of the team’s veteran journeymen getting a chance at joining the starting five next season.
Dallas signed free agents Cam Fleming and Marcus Martin as backups at tackle and guard, respectively, last March. They also re-signed Joe Looney, whose been a reserve center and guard the last two seasons.
If a new talent hadn’t been added in the draft, one of these players was likely going to start next year. Looney or Martin obviously had the inside track as experienced guards. But if Dallas could have also elected to move La’el Collins back to LG and start Fleming at right tackle, if that was the way to get the five best players on the field.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that Connor Williams will be able to start as a rookie. He was considered a first-round talent by some, though, and a high value pick for where he was taken. One of the veterans may be used to at least start the season.
Still, the Cowboys have been all about the youth movement the last few years. Connor will get every opportunity to become the fifth starter, giving the veterans way more competition than they had before.