On Thursday I posted my first 2016 mock draft, covering Dallas’ first and second-round picks. I thought I would dive deeper into each of my selections for the Cowboys, beginning today with the first-round pick of linebacker Myles Jack.
Before we talk about the future let’s briefly review the past. Two years ago Dallas had the 16th pick and, after taking Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick in two of their three previous drafts, were unanimously expected to got with a defensive player. When the time came, though, the Cowboys stunned everyone and selected Zack Martin at guard.
Dallas wasn’t exactly loaded on the offensive line at this point. Without Martin their starting guards would’ve been Ronald Leary and Mackenzy Bernadeau. Still, they’d both had solid years in 2013 and were going to be playing next to stars.
Still, Dallas stuck to their board and took the best player available once they were on the clock. Martin was an instant upgrade that helped the 2014 offense establish a dominant run game, DeMarco Murray break the team record for yards in a season, and the team go 12-4 and win the division. He is now considered one of the elite guards in the league.
The reason I mention all of this is that I think the logic that went into drafting Martin is very much the same as why I could see Dallas taking Myles Jack in a few weeks.
When I got to the Cowboys pick the three players off the board were tackle Laremy Tunsil, quarterback Carson Wentz, and defensive back Jalen Ramsey. To be clear, I would pick Ramsey to the Cowboys in an instant if he was still available. Sadly, I don’t see him getting past the Chargers at #3 and he may go even higher than that.
So, with Ezekiel Elliott, Joey Bosa, DeForest Buckner, Jared Goff, and plenty of other guys on the board I went with Jack. Here are the key reasons:
1. Best Player Available
The way I see this rookie class there are four elite talents among the non-quarterbacks; Tunsil, Ramsey, Elliott, and Jack. Once you go outside of those four you are dropping to a lower tier of talent and upside.
So why Jack over Elliott? This is more of a philosophical issue than one of player evaluation. The Cowboys are going to be spending a whole lot of money on their offensive line for the next ten years. Frederick, Martin, and La’el Collins will all command league-leading salaries at their positions when rookie deals expire. It’s not likely that the Cowboys can pay all of them while also giving a running back franchise money.
After seeing what Murray did in 2014 and Darren McFadden last year, I’m more convinced than ever that Dallas doesn’t need to have the best running backs to have the best running attack. Solid and modestly-paid rushers should be able to produce more than enough for this team to be successful. I think spend high picks and $5 million or more a year on one ball carrier is a waste given the system they’ve built. The return on investment won’t be as good.
2. Quarterback Question
I’m not going to be completely shocked if Dallas selects Wentz or Goff at the fourth pick. It’s reasonable given Tony Romo’s health concerns and the rare opportunity to acquire a quarterback of their talent and perceived upside.
That said, it’s hard to see Dallas forsaking the present for the future coming off of a 4-12 season. Romo is their guy for at least this year and probably 2017, giving them a little more cushion to worry about his replacement. Unless they are truly head over heels for Goff or Wentz, which we won’t know until they’ve already made the pick, then it’s not happening.
3. Immediate and Future Need
In two years together as Cowboys, Sean Lee and Rolando McClain have only played in the same game nine times. That means there could be plenty of opportunity for Jack to contribute immediately.
In fact, even if Lee and McClain both miraculously play in all 16 games, Jack would be an upgrade in the base defense and could perhaps supplant McClain as coverage player in the nickel. His talents in pass defense make him a perfect fit for this scheme, able to play any position.
Best of all, Jack’s presence would allow Dallas to have all of the power when dealing with McClain in next year’s free agency. They keep giving Rolando one-year deals for a reason; a lack of faith in his long-term production, desire to play football, or ability to stay out of trouble. Remember that McClain was suspended for the first four weeks of 2015 due to a substance issue and would face a yearlong ban for another offense.
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Ultimately this comes down to a few key points of logic. If Dallas was going to draft based on need then they’d be taking a defensive end. They have both stated and proven that that is not how they want to handle the draft anymore. They want to focus on adding the most talent whenever they can and not worry too much about the position they play.
If they’re drafting solely on talent and Tunsil and Ramsey are gone then it comes down to Jack, Elliott, and one or both of the quarterbacks if you love them enough. I’ve already explained why I wouldn’t take Elliott or any running back that high in the draft, especially with McFadden returning and the signing of Alfred Morris. I think this run game will be more than productive enough for the team to be a contender.
As said already, only the Cowboys know if they really think Goff or Wentz is the right kid to tie your future to. I think it’s still a year too soon to pull that trigger but I could easily be wrong about the team’s mindset.
That leaves Myles Jack as not only the best talent on the board but someone who can help you both now and especially a year from now. With McClain’s question marks and Sean Lee turning 30 in July, Rod Marinelli’s defense may need a new captain very quickly. Jack has the skills to fill that void and is a perfect scheme fit.
Dallas reaped the benefits of the Zack Martin pick immediately. I think picking Jack would be similarly profitable this year and for many to come.