The Cowboys had a choice to make this weekend and they made it without hesitation. There is no indication that it had unanimous consent from the decision-makers, but that doesn't matter. The choice came down to continuing to double-down on the Tony Romo era and to take every resource and dedicate it to the "here and now" -- or not.
If you enjoyed those three Super Bowls of the 1990s (and I hope you did), then you understand life with Jerry Jones. He is not going to be interested in safe plays or conservative plans to build an empire that will last for a decade when the more attractive choice gives a lottery ticket to the next Super Bowl. He has spoken recently about "his window," which is profoundly more meaningful than hearing about a career span. He is talking about his own life. I imagine if you have all of the money in the world and everything that can buy, you quickly realize that money cannot buy time. And when time runs out, either you feel like you took advantage of every day you had or you didn't.
That last paragraph is certainly an odd inclusion in a draft summary, but it might explain decision-making for this organization. You see, there comes a point in any person's life when they stop worrying about saving for retirement and start enjoying their money because the clock is ticking.
I would say the Cowboys have been in this phase of life for a while under their famous owner, but the 2016 draft decision makes it crystal clear.
"If this gets you a Super Bowl, isn't it worth it?"
The drafting of Ezekiel Elliott is for the "here and now." The Cowboys wanted the best running back in the draft and they got him -- read my full breakdown of the young man here. People are actually using the term "Triplets" again, even though in this case, the premise of the QB-RB-WR being born at the same time is replaced with the idea that the quarterback is almost old enough to be the running back's dad.
Elliott will give them a superb talent at a position that needed upgrading, and that should be celebrated. He should make an above-average offense a candidate to be one of the best offenses in the sport. There is nothing wrong with adding a potential blue-chipper. Well, except for the following:
-- If you do it, you are ignoring Jalen Ramsey. Ramsey, according to some reports, was the best player on the Cowboys' board and would have been a blue-chip addition as well. But, this guy could have anchored the defense, and if his career actually is similar to Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu, or Charles Woodson's, it is safe to say that it would have been that way for a decade or more. And we could argue that was needed in a much more severe way than fixing a running back situation that wasn't broken.
-- If you do it, you are risking an over-investment at a position that doesn't require it. I have suggested all along that the Cowboys should take a running back with either their second or third round pick, because it has been my claim that there are three to four prospects beyond Elliott who should be able to be dominant behind this Cowboys offensive line and with their offensive personnel. If you take one of those after you have tried to put one or two difference makers on a defense that lacks those studs, then you try to attack your offseason with a more global view of a game that requires "all three phases." Instead, they continue to invest in offense, offense, offense and hope their offense is so great they actually never play defense (I assume). Look at it this way: They paid almost nothing for Darren McFadden last year ... then took away Tony Romo ... then Dez Bryant ... then McFadden was not given the ball 11-plus times in a game until mid-October. Without being able to run zone plays with any effectiveness and only starting 10 games with no quarterback threat, he still finished fourth in the league in rushing. Odds are, if he started all 16, he might have won a rushing title. And they paid nothing for him. Does it make sense to pay a fortune to fix that? What needed fixing that couldn't have been accomplished for far less? In other words, Elliott is great, but you just bought a Maserati while living with your parents. It is a very nice car. But, perhaps we should move out of dad's house. The argument for a second- or third-round running back was always this: Why not get 80 percent of Ezekiel Elliott for 30 percent of the cost. In the third round, according to the point chart, pick No. 67 is about 14 percent of pick No. 4. Sigh. Keep in mind the total cost of Elliott is going to be about five years/$36 million if they pick up his option (which they better) -- in other words, way more than 24-year-old Lamar Miller got from Houston in free agency. So, yeah, he better be Adrian Peterson for this to make sense.
But, they did it. They are going for it. And they got a fine player. I just thought their quest for efficiency was incredibly inefficient. With a 53-man roster in a tight salary capped league, frivolous purchases seldom pay off. Which leads us back to this:
"If this gets you a Super Bowl, isn't it worth it?"
Well, yes. This is true. Although, we will always wonder if Derrick Henry or Devontae Booker or Kenneth Dixon, combined with Jalen Ramsey, might have put you as close or closer to that ultimate prize. But, those will now become bar-room discussions and labeled "unresolvable," just like the discussions about whether DeMarco Murray's exit really crashed everything or whether it's an easy conclusion to draw that likely is not the truth. How about the idea that if they took Jay Ajayi in last year's third or fourth round (with his knee concerns) -- instead of Chaz Green or Damien Wilson -- then, like Miami, they have their future running back and aren't thinking running back at all in this draft? Unfortunately, ifs and buts are not candy and nuts. Otherwise, it would be Christmas every day.
The pick has been made and the Cowboys have an elite talent. This fish has a really fancy bicycle. Let's hope it is everything it is dreamed to be.
Now, what about this other development from last night?
The Cowboys tried to trade back into Round 1 with their second- and third-round picks to get Paxton Lynch after taking Elliot. Think about that for a second. As if this really was fantasy football, they were thinking of using all three of their premium picks -- that should have presented their defense the facelift it so badly needs -- on a running back and a quarterback.
Instead, Seattle took Denver's offer for the Memphis quarterback. Denver offered Nos. 31 and 124 to the Seahawks (724 points according to one point-value chart) while the Cowboys offered Nos. 34 and 67 (815 points). The Seahawks took fewer points to stay in Round 1 and enjoy that fifth-year option on their eventual pick -- Texas A&M offensive tackle Germain Ifedi. Interesting decision and even more interesting that the Cowboys were willing to ignore defense completely in the impact portion of this draft. I have been preaching the Quarterback of the Future sermon, but I was only in on that if they went defense at the top.
I heard from many of you who stated the belief that the Cowboys' best bet to help Romo and gang make a run before it's too late was defense, defense and defense in this draft.Well, the Cowboys clearly disagree. I would have been excited to leave with Paxton Lynch, but very similarly to Elliott, at some point we have to consider the cost. The cost to do either would have been a top-shelf commitment. To do both? Off the charts.
But, that one didn't happen. Perhaps Seattle saved the Cowboys from themselves. Or, it just delayed the quarterback play for today. But, I am far less inclined to get aggressive for the remaining quarterbacks in this crop.
Here's who's available for them at No. 34 from a defensive perspective:
Plenty of defensive end help with Kevin Dodd from Clemson at the top of my list and Emmanuel Ogbah from Oklahoma State in that range, too. Noah Spence is a better player than both, but the Cowboys don't love his work against the run and his issues off the field (which are considerable). Ronald Blair is really strong, too.
At linebacker, Myles Jack sits there (as does Jaylon Smith). I didn't like either up top, but there will come a point where both must be considered despite major health issues. They both are amazing football players. And I am told the Cowboys are not considering either for No. 34.
Defensive tackle is so deep the Cowboys may even still find some red meat at No. 67. A'Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed and Andrew Billings all are first-round caliber. But, the group behind is quite impressive, too. Jonathan Bullard is a consideration as well.
Plenty of defensive backs are there, too -- at both picks. You can't rule out Mackensie Alexander or Vonn Bell in Round 2, or Xavien Howard and plenty of others at No. 67.
The point is: This is a pretty strong draft for the next 36 picks, and the Cowboys will select twice in that span. Full analysis and feelings about Round 1 will be very dependent on what Dallas is able to do in Rounds 2-3 today. And because of those decisions from yesterday, they really need to hit one out of the ballpark at about 6:15 p.m. tonight with No. 34.
The blog archives indicate that the first entry written by this author for the 2016 Draft was on September 3rd, 2015. They were sparse until January 10th when that became the sole topic and project here and since then nearly every day has been about preparing for this day. Those 11o days have allowed us to look at all scenarios, all hypotheticals, and all the ridiculous premises. For example, I collect early mock drafts to find how far we have come. In August of 2015, there is one that has Cardale Jones #1, Joey Bosa #2, and Christian Hackenberg #3.
There have been strong statements made and harsh arguments had. There have been hundreds of games watched and notebooks filled. Opinions have been carefully fashioned.
And now, after 110 days of all of those opinions, I am going to spend the following paragraphs trying to ignore all of that.
Only their opinions matter. For better of for worse, if you love this football team then you now have made your opinions heard and we sit back and see if they totally ignored them or followed your path to success.
Problem is, they forgot to publicly post their big board this year on their own website (This is a joke based on 2 of the last 5 years, they have accidentally leaked out their own confidential information). So, with hours left on the clock and a chance at a franchise-altering move, and after collecting information for months, here is what it looks like they are thinking.
MOST LIKELY SCENARIO:
I believe the most likely and most preferred scenario that has come in to focus because of those two massive trades to push the QBs to #1 and #2 is that Jalen Ramsey is a Cowboy by nightfall. I think he is the best player in this draft, and it appears that the Cowboys do, too. The fortune of having pick #4 and getting the best player is pretty exciting and all they need is the cooperation of the San Diego Chargers at #3 to make this happen. If the Chargers go offensive line - which it seems they will - or address their 3-4 defense with DeForest Buckner, then the road is clear for the Cowboys to have their choice of what I believe is their four highest non-QB players on their board: Jalen Ramsey, Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott, and Myles Jack. Maybe even five if Laremy Tunsil is really still there (and Ronnie Stanley is taken at #3 as some are reporting).
If that happens, then I assume Ramsey is the no-brainer choice. This is always dangerous to assume what the Cowboys are thinking, but all the reports I get are rave from inside Valley Ranch. And, let's be honest, they certainly weren't down-playing their affection during the Monday press conference.
If the idea of having a horrible season is made somewhat better by selecting a player you expect to be one of your cornerstones to open the 2023 season, then I am pretty sure Jalen Ramsey will help heal those wounds. And, if you desired a playmaker to help improve this defense with the insertion of special players, again, Jalen Ramsey is your guy.
RAMSEY IS GONE, THEN ELLIOTT?
Here is where things get complicated. And again, I would like to once again express the idea that this is not my recommendation or opinion. But, based on who I speak to and what they are saying, it sure looks like Ezekiel Elliott is the choice after Ramsey.
I say "after Ramsey" because I am not positive; this is a series of educated guesses. For all I know, the love and affection for Zeke has grown out of control since the QB trades and now if the Cowboys have lost their minds (sorry, I promised no personal bias) and decided to go RB as the top player on their board, I can no longer act surprised.
They love this RB. I don't know how much of it is DeMarco Murray regrets and how much of it is an honest belief that this RB is the best thing they have ever seen, but the Zeke stuff doesn't appear to be a smoke screen. Again, trying to piece together the thought process of an organization that shifts the decision making from person to person is next to impossible. Especially if that organization changes philosophies from year to year. But, as I sit here this morning, and after months of claiming it would be insane, I am willing to admit that I think they want to do it.
SO WHAT ABOUT EVERYONE ELSE?
With the possible exception of a trade back if someone gets a wild plan to try to get Laremy Tunsil, I don't think they are going to take Joey Bosa tonight. I think that is a safe and smart pick, but it doesn't look like their plan. Myles Jack is not on their radar anymore with the health situation, either. So there is no "everyone else". I think it is Ramsey #1, Elliott #2.
How sure am I? Not sure at all, anymore. But that is what the bread crumbs say. And we have learned that bread crumbs matter.
Why do the bread crumbs matter? In 2010, Dez Bryant was destined to be here. In 2011, I knew it was clear they were taking Tyron Smith. 2012, the trade up caught everyone by surprise (Mo Claiborne) and the 2013 trade down did, too (Travis Frederick). In 2014, they practically told everyone they wanted Zack Martin and in 2015 Byron Jones was at worst in their top 3 on the lead-up to the draft despite picking #27.
They don't exactly hide their cards very well. Some franchises hide their intentions with amazing security. This one almost seems to float stuff out there to see what everyone thinks before they do it. Crowdsourcing their way to the top.
So, tomorrow morning, when I sit down to write a "Draft Day Morning After", am I writing about Jalen Ramsey or Ezekiel Elliott? I assume so. Which one? I sure hope it is Ramsey, but like I said, there is no longer room for surprised faces if they take a RB at the #4 pick. Despite all the indications that they need a RB at #4 like a fish needs a bicycle (sorry, another personal opinion), it seems they cannot resist it.
And what does that tell me?
It tells me they are not worried about 2023 or even 2020. They are intent to push all the chips in for the next 12-36 months of Tony Romo's career. They are going all-in. Conservative thinkers are not admitted. The Jerry Jones clock is ticking and he isn't worried about post-Romo.
Is it what the smart franchises would do? Who knows and more importantly, since when has that ever mattered? This is the franchise we cover and this is what they do.
The good news is that they think how most fans think so this should be a popular news item. Immediate payoff and instant results over long-term security and planning.
I say it is Ramsey. But, not with great conviction.
Today, my Top 50 prospect rankings dropped, and there we can cuss and discuss my feelings versus so many others out there who are doing the same thing in the buildup to the 2016 NFL draft.
This is something I really enjoy doing. Evaluating 20- and 21-year-olds -- without knowing anything beyond their college football body of work and predicting the future. It is next to impossible, if you think about it. But, it is what we do. I don't know about you, but seeing 20-year-old me and then predicting what I would have going for me in a decade's time would have been hilarious if anyone wanted to waste their time on the venture. But, we make this draft fortune-telling a cottage industry.
You can't do it (predict his future path) without knowing many important components. Yet, we still do. We must know: Is this a destination or a stop on the journey? How many players have listed their lifelong dream to get to the NFL. You see players all the time get here by hard work, but then coast when they arrive because all they wanted was a big stack of money. Now, they have it. It allows them women, possessions, and good times. This is the destination. Others feel like the trip is just beginning. They aspire to being great in the greatest league in the world. But, how do we know one group from the other? If teams could figure this out, it would break the code.
Then, we don't know about the franchises. Are they competent? Are they determined to stay focused on helping these young men find their goals? Or, will the guy who signed off on this pick be fired in 12 months and the new guy will not be interested in the old guy's projects.
Then, we don't know how money changes a person. Or living away from home. Or how his body will develop and hold up.
In other words, we know nothing (Jon Snow). Or almost nothing. And yet, in my case, from watching between 3-6 games of their final year in college, we try to stack up these guys from most exciting and interesting to least so. But, given that it is a fun project that will be amusing to read in 5-10 years to see how awful these predictions are, let's double down here. I want to list 5 players that this process has shown me that I like more than most and 5 players who are the opposite. Keep in mind, I only studied the top 75 prospects or so. So, there are likely others below (is there a Tom Brady in this draft?), but I only studied the bigger names. Then, you will really have something to shove in my face in 2021 when it has all gone wrong.
Here we go:
5 Players I Like More Than Most Draft People
1. Jared Goff, QB, California
This one is more of a month-old argument when many draft people were saying "there are no top 10 prospects at QB and no franchise QBs in this draft". I was watching Goff and loved him. I think he will need some time, but when it is all said and done, I think we are looking at someone really special there. But, now that the Rams seem to agree with me, I am clearly not out on some island anymore.
I am absolutely amazed at how Bosa has been discounted by so many Cowboys people. I actually had a fan tell me he is an average DE. I have seen people drop him out of their top 10 (not a fan). I have seen so many people label him as “not that great”. Again, he is 20 and has dominated at Ohio State. I am convinced that when he is 24, he will be a major force and the team that gets him will have no regrets. We shall see.
One of these awesome Defensive Tackles is going to be a star and I am willing to load up my hype train for Butler. I cannot believe how well a 6'3, 323 man moves and dances around guys. He is in the backfield and he is a penetrator. I love all of these traits. I think he might be unblockable once he figures out the next level. Love this player.
There are two types of analysts. Either you like safe safeties or you like destroyers. I like Karl Joseph a ton and can't wait to see him be a star at the NFL level. His knee gives me concern, but I really, really believe he is going to be special. I also know he is going to be fined several times, but I can live with that. I think he is a 1st rounder. But, time will tell.
This is the one that I think will make or break this column. I don't know if he will be a star in the NFL, but this ridiculous and absurd action of throwing him in the bin with all of the other big RBs and all of the other Alabama RBs is ridiculous. If he plays in Dallas, I can't wait to see how games are killed in the 4th Quarter. He would be perfect here. No, he is not Darren Sproles. And no, Sproles is not Henry. But, Henry is going to be something great. Get out of here with those 3rd-4th round grades.
Sometimes, you trust your eyes. I am willing to do that with one of the great competitors in college football. Shepard is the type of guy I would grab in Round 2 and then enjoy him competing his tail off every Sunday for years. I would take him higher than most and am happy to do so.
This doesn't mean I don't like him. He is a 1st round pick. I even have him 8th on my list. But, many trusted colleagues are calling him the best player in this draft, despite not playing a premium 4 position and despite having health issues and despite playing a spot that retires players early for all the wrong reasons. I like him. You like him more. If he turns into Ray Lewis or Luke Kuechly, you win.
Here is another one. I think Elliott is easily the best RB in this draft. But, I also study the draft from a historical perspective and in the last 10 years, RBs taken high are a big mistake. Unless it is Adrian Peterson. So, we are left with the idea that either Elliott is Adrian Peterson - which seems incredibly unlikely because there are almost never Peterson’s in drafts and the idea that he is the best 2016 RB and should not be over-valued. We have learned that RBs have short career spans, are subject to the quality of their offense, and can be found later in the draft. But, then everyone sees Zeke and loses their minds. I refuse to do so. I wouldn’t take him in the Top 10. Save this clip, too.
Once upon a time, there was a finesse linebacker from Ohio State named Bobby Carpenter. I doubt Darron Lee will bust like that, but if he plans on being a NFL linebacker, I would like to think he plans on hitting somebody at some point. Unfortunately, I haven't seen much of that in his games played in 2015. He runs like Shazier but hits nothing like him. Pass.
This one makes me a little nervous to put on paper, because I do see the talent and I do think he has a chance to develop. But, I also think he looks like a WR trying to play RB right now and has no use for the tough paths between the tackles. So, while this one makes me pause, I am going to say that anything before Round 4 seems like a stretch for me.
Bob, this appears you don’t like the Buckeyes. 3 guys on this list? Well, keep in mind that I love Bosa, Taylor Decker, Michael Thomas, Eli Apple, and Vonn Bell is pretty strong, too. There are just a lot of Buckeyes being debated. But, Miller is another raw, toolsy prospect that I think will be over-drafted and over-rated without a real home at the next level. I am sure in the right situation he might be able to figure something out, but the clock ticks fast at the NFL level and I don’t value him near as much as most as he did not crack my Top 10 Wide Receivers in this draft. I have heard some place him much, much higher.
For me to buy in to a player, I have to see a natural fit to how he will be used. This player is exciting and makes some wonderful plays, but I just don't see more than a part-time player who comes in on pass rush downs. It was evident that Georgia wasn't sure what to do with him, so this will be interesting. If he does go in Round 1, I will assume some team knows exactly how he fits, but it seems it must be in a 3-4. I don't see it any other way.
After spending the last 100 days preparing for the NFL draft, here is my final big board . Reminder: I am not one of the 32 NFL general managers nor one of the hundreds of NFL scouts. I am a football nerd with the time and inclination to learn as many of these players as possible (about 75) by watching them play college football extensively and talking to people in the sport who know more than me.
Through that, I have attempted to stack these players in a hypothetical order of where I would draft them if I was general manager of the Dallas Cowboys. That means scheme and fit has been considered from that franchise’s perspective, but it also means that I am thinking as if I was in charge (which, of course, differs from Jerry Jones). So, this is not a mock draft or a prediction of order of picks. Rather, it is a ranking that I hope stands up in five years -- which is invariably ridiculous.
A difference-maker in the secondary who could be your best option at all five defensive back spots.
Non-issue for Cowboys, but he is my bet for best to become a legitimate franchise QB in 2020.
Somewhere along the way, the masses started suggesting Bosa is not a difference-maker I disagree.
The player who appears to have the least questions to answer, but ideally plays left tackle.
In terms of pure cover skills, he appears to be as good or better as Ramsey on an island.
North Dakota State
Possibly pushed up because of position scarcity, but he has impressive traits to consider.
From the standpoint of ceiling, age and ability, this player looks like a real star.
Another defensive player with a high ceiling, but with his knee injury he could drop further.
Get by the various issues off and the field and against the run, he is superb rushing the passer.
No question he is the best RB in draft. The issue is whether he is good or generational. I believe the former.
Of all the inside defensive players, he could best fit Dallas’ needs at 3-technique.
A talented player who can really step right in and be a starter with versatile skills.
A distant second place behind Tunsil on the OL, but still has tools to be very solid.
For me, he is best as a 5-tech in a 3-4 defense. Cowboys may disagree and like him for their 4-3.
Difficult to fully analyze and project, but his top performances are impossible to ignore.
This guy is just a sliver behind Stanley for me and may actually develop beyond him. He looks great.
All things equal - which they are not - you might prefer him to Lawson. But age and body of work go to Shaq.
A man this size should certainly not be this disruptive. But, he might give Rankins a run for best DT.
Will likely miss 2016 and his medical evaluations mean everything. But, the tape is incredible before injury.
Local defensive tackle who certainly has plenty of traits to be an incredible 1-technique run-stopper.
There is little in this fine combination of speed and size that gives one pause. He looks the part.
You could make the case that he should be higher. I see a young Vince Wilfork.
There is no reason this player with this much talent should be below the top 10\. He could be great.
Another capable tackle who went toe-to-toe with several draftable DL and held his own.
So athletic, with plenty competitive edge and productive. Should destroy Baylor stereotypes at position.
Honestly, A’Shawn and Jarran are very close to each other. I would consider A’Shawn slightly more freakish.
Big corner who has a chance to develop a bit more into a strong corner on the edge.
He is aggressive and confident, but you would like to see more than zero interceptions in college.
There is no doubt in my mind that Henry, behind Dallas’ zone OL, would fit like a hand in glove.
There is little not to like, although Spriggs is a bit of a projection here. Underrated but interesting.
Seems like an absolute third-down machine who can do many things well.
Doctson has a chance to be special, but will his build cause issues getting off the line vs. press?
Yet another disruptive DT behind the line of scrimmage. Seems to have some versatility.
I admit that his knee evaluation is key, but if he checks out he is the second-best safety in 2016.
I believe he can really develop into something \impressive. But, there are many doubters.
A modern-day linebacker in that runs like a DB, but he is no Ryan Shazier as he doesn’t hit much.
No question he brings plenty of thump. I wonder about his range in a league that requires it.
A much safer, more conservative, and less physical version of a safety upgrade. Center field candidate.
I believe he is the fourth-best QB and has a chance to really prove his critics wrong if fit is right.
After Ogbah, this is the next pass-rusher who can move inside or win on the edge.
There is a chance here to land a big and fast corner. But, he really lost deep too much at Baylor.
He certainly looks like he could be a factor inside, although pass rush skills are limited.
Those wanting Elliott in first round should hope to grab Booker later. Will his knee help him fall to early third?
Ball security is a concern, but competitiveness, ability and versatility are certainly not.
I’m willing to ignore the criticisms and believe my gut that he will be a playmaking force for a decade.
Is undersized for sure, but can be a game-wrecker around the edge at times. Sacks are premium for sure.
The only top tight end up top who will struggle with blocking inline, but should find seam routes delightful.
A dangerous deep threat who has proven himself, but with small hands and drops has limitations.
A difficult player to figure out, but he has no natural position besides nickel pass-rusher.
Not the best scheme fit, but at No. 50 I think Correa is going to impact the league.