With every new draft class comes winners and losers on the current roster, players whose job security is either help or hurt by the incoming talent. With the 2019 NFL Draft now over, which Dallas Cowboys were most affected by the next wave of rookies?
It’s generally easy to see who loses; a new player with a four-year rookie deal is a nightmare for any veteran backups or developmental prospects with less desirable contracts. If the talent is anything comparable, that rookie is going to win out when roster spots are being decided.
Winners require a bit more abstract analysis. You can perceive a position receiving no picks as a vote of confidence in current talent, and a lot of times that’s true. But it could also mean the right guy just didn’t fall to one of Dallas’ picks, and they’re still looking for an upgrade.
Remember, free agency is far from over. There are many veteran players out there who are hoping someone didn’t get they wanted in the draft and will come calling. Plus, come June 1st, another pool of available talent may open up with other roster cuts. Same thing at final cuts after preseason.
Circumstances will change, and player’s who seem safe today may have a new reality in the months ahead. For now, though, we’re going to focus specifically on how the 2019 Draft impacted our current roster.
2nd Round – DT Trysten Hill, Central Florida
3rd Round – OL Connor McGovern, Penn St.
WINNERS: TE Blake Jarwin & S Xavier Woods
Most believed that Dallas would spend their early picks at tight end and safety. At the very least, one of each was supposed to come by the end of the mid-round picks. But the Cowboys didn’t use a single pick at TE and didn’t take a safety until the 6th round. They appear ready to let their current young talent develop further as starters.
How Jarwin’s role in 2019 with coincide with the returning Jason Witten is hard to project. Right now both Witten and the front office say he was have a reserve role only, but we’ll only know for sure when we see the actual snap counts.
Had Dallas drafted a TE early, that player would’ve walked right into whatever role Jarwin was going to have. Now Blake, who was starting by the end of last year, should be back to having the majority of the snaps and getting more offseason work with Dak Prescott and the other starters. This will be huge for his development and chemistry with the offense.
At safety, drafting a coverage guy like Juan Thornhill could’ve hurt Xavier Woods’ status. He’s a hard hitter but a bit undersized for the strong safety role, playing closer to the line of scrimmage.
But now, Woods should return as the clear free safety while veterans Jeff Heath and George Iloka battle for the other spot. He has given Dallas plenty of reason for confidence with the potential he’s already shown, and what Xavier could become in this third season is exciting.
LOSERS: OT La’el Collins & DT Maliek Collins
Two guys with expiring contracts in 2019, both Maliek an La’el had to feel the sting when they saw these early picks. The arrivals of Trysten Hill and Connor McGovern at their positions, relatively, are bad signs for the Collins’ long-term future in Dallas.
On the offensive line, McGovern has the versatility to play any spot. Last year’s second-round pick, Connor Williams, was a tackle in college before switching to guard as an NFL rookie last year. Either of those guys could wind up playing right tackle next year if Dallas allows La’el Collins to leave as a free agent.
The Cowboys had already bought a little insurance for that when they gave Cam Fleming a two-year deal to return this offseason. He has plenty of starting experience and would be serviceable at the starting RT in 2020 if needed. Now with the McGovern pick, Dallas appears to be covering their bases as if they have no intention of re-signing Collins.
It makes sense; Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Smith are already some of the most expensive players on the roster. With the bills coming due on Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, and other star players, Dallas has to find ways to save some money. Utilizing affordable rookie deals, and allowing players like La’el Collins to leave, is a salary cap necessity.
As for Maliek Collins, his situation is as much about finance as it is trying to get better at the DT position. He’s been a solid player but never a standout, and Trysten Hill offers more upside at this point on top of being cheaper to keep for the next four years.
Antwaun Woods still has two years as an Exclusive Rights and Restricted Free Agent ahead, which will make him easy to keep. Dallas is probably hoping the duo of Hill and Woods will anchor their defensive line for a while.
That mean Maliek Collins will likely be joining La’el in searching for new teams next year.
4th Round – RB Tony Pollard, Memphis
7th Round – RB Mike Weber, Ohio St.
WINNER: RB Darius Jackson
It might seem odd to call Jackson a winner after two players were added to his spot. But neither guy is clearly the new backup RB, and Darius has three years of experience in the NFL plus familiarity with the Cowboys system.
This is a far more beatable field of players than if Dallas had spent one of their Friday picks on a RB, or had drafted a guy with more traditional skills than Pollard.
Tony Pollard will almost certainly make the roster in a specialist role returning kicks, but his ability to take significant carries is hard to project right now. He is more of a gadget player.
As for Weber, he doesn’t have any of the explosive athleticism of Darius Jackson. He has some decent all-around ability but fell to the seventh round for a reason. Remember, Jackson was a sixth-round pick in 2016 and has been picked up by two other NFL teams at certain points over the last three years.
But again, it’s been three years. Do the Cowboys still see upside in Darius, or has he maxed out? Is it time to move on to younger prospects? We’ll find out soon enough, but at least Jackson should have a good chance to compete.
LOSER: WR Tavon Austin
What we just said about Tony Pollard being a gadget player and return specialist; that was Austin’s projected role with the Cowboys in 2019. With Randall Cobb already coming in to take the slot receiver job, Pollard’s arrival only further cuts into Tavon’s value to the team.
Austin got a small contract for around just $1 million to return to Dallas this year. That makes him expendable at final cuts, and the Cowboys may have just drafted the guy who prevents Tavon from sticking around.
5th Round – CB Michael Jackson
WINNER: CB Jourdan Lewis
After a strong rookie season in 2017, Lewis slid down the depth chart last year following the arrival of Kris Richard as the new DB Coach. His lack of size doesn’t fit the general mold of what Richard wants in corners, and discouragement also seemed to set in as Jourdan saw his playing time drop.
Dallas could’ve put perhaps the final nail in Lewis’ coffin by drafting a CB earlier, but they waited until the fifth round. Michael Jackson has the big-bodied, strong playing style that Richard wants but he’s also pretty raw. He will have a hard time pushing Lewis or anyone for playing time this year.
Dallas may still try to find a trade partner for Jourdan Lewis if they don’t see him as a long-term fit. They still have Byron Lewis, Chidobe Awuzie, and Anthony Brown for a solid top three. But at least for now, with this draft, Lewis’ job doesn’t appear to be threatened by any newly-added talent.
LOSER: CB Donovan Olumba
For a prospect like Olumba, who spent last year on the practice squad, seeing Jackson get drafted wasn’t a happy money. Fifth-round picks don’t always make the team but it’s rare for teams to bail on those picks in one year. That will make it extremely difficult for an undrafted guy like Donovan to make it.
Olumba was a standout from the 2018 preseason and fits the Kris Richard physical blueprint. He was a guy that many thought could make his way onto the roster this year, but now Michael Jackson’s arrival puts a big obstacle in his path. It is highly unlikely that Dallas will keep six cornerbacks in 2019, if they even keep five.
5th Round – DE Joe Jackson, Miami
7th Round – DE Jaren Jelks, Oregon
WINNER: DE Dorance Armstrong
Dallas didn’t add any talent to trump last year’s fourth-round pick Dorance Armstrong, helping him feel more secure as the current top developmental prospect among the defensive ends. He shouldn’t have a hard time making the team this season.
Armstrong flashed pass-rushing prowess as a rookie last year, though he got little time in the regular season. With a year of development, he could step into the weak-side role left open by Randy Gregory‘s suspension. He is a more ideal speed rusher than any other current option.
Where you’re drafted doesn’t mean everything, but it’s most relevant early in careers. Unless Jackson or Jelks do something surprising, they won’t be pushing Armstrong for a roster spot in 2019.
LOSER: DE Taco Charlton
On paper, the Cowboys should be loaded with DE talent right now. With DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn already in place, having a former first-round pick like Taco Charlton in house should have them feeling highly secure about the position. They should be content with Dorance Armstrong, Kerry Hyder, and whatever they may get from Randy Gregory for 2019.
But Dallas kept adding more options, using two of their Day 3 picks at defensive end. And while Jelks looks more like a developmental guy for the practice squad, Joe Jackson has enough ability to contend for a roster spot.
At some point, the music will stop and somebody won’t have a chair. That guy is starting to feel like Taco Charlton.
Dallas signed Hyder based on his strong play a few years ago, before an injury cost him 2017 and Detroit’s switch to the 3-4 last year had him playing in the wrong scheme. They are hoping to get the Kerry Hyder that put up eight sacks for the Lions when he was used as a 4-3 end in 2016.
We already talked about what makes Dorance Armstrong valuable. That leaves Taco, who fell out of favor with coaches last year, in precarious spot. He is not being treated like a first-round pick entering his third season, and more like a guy that the team has already lost faith in.
The fact that Dallas added even more DE options in the draft only exacerbates the situation.
6th Round – Donovan Wilson, Texas A&M
WINNER: S Jeff Heath
If Dallas had added a big name safety then it could’ve meant the end for Jeff Heath. The Cowboys already signed veteran George Iloka, who can play either safety position, and might’ve decided to part ways with Heath and save a little cap space.
But now it appears that Heath and Iloka will compete for a starting job, with the loser remaining as a versatile backup. Donovan Wilson doesn’t have the range or experience to play free safety, and neither does Kavon Frazier. That protects Heath and Iloka.
LOSER: S Kavon Frazier
On the other hand, Donovan Wilson’s arrival could be bad news for Frazier. They are both strong safeties and now Wilson comes in with a fresh rookie contract, while Frazier is entering the final year of his deal.
Wilson was once seen as having higher talent than a late-round pick but has been bothered by injuries in college. If he has a strong camp and preseason, Dallas could drop Kavon and go with the younger guy if they see some upside.
Frazier has been a quality reserve and an outstanding human being off the field, but there are only so many roster spots to go around. He may get squeezed out by the numbers game.