FRISCO, Texas -- Where has Trader Jerry gone?
“Well, apart from they’ve got my phone cut off and Jason has his foot on my right foot and Stephen has his foot on my left foot, apart from that, not at all,” Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said of coach Jason Garrett and executive vice president Stephen Jones.
Since taking over the Cowboys in 1989, Jerry Jones has made 64 draft-day trades.
His last deal? The Cowboys gave up a sixth-round pick in 2016 to select tight end Geoff Swaim in the seventh round of the 2015 draft.
The last time Jones made a trade involving the first-round pick came in 2013, when he moved down from No. 18 to No. 31 with the San Francisco 49ers. The Cowboys ended up with All-Pro center Travis Frederick. At the time, the pick was panned by many who saw Frederick as a middle- to late-round pick.
In 2012, Jones made a bold move up from No. 14 to No. 6 to select cornerback Morris Claiborne, who carried the highest grade for a corner the Cowboys have had since Deion Sanders. In five seasons, Claiborne recorded four interceptions, and he signed with the New York Jets as a free agent this offseason.
As the Cowboys sit with the 28th pick in the first round this year, Jones isn’t anticipating a grand move up to select a generational defensive player or a big move down to acquire more selections to help a defense that needs pass-rush, cornerback and safety help.
“This is a real good year for staying put,” Jones said. “I don’t know if it’s because we need so many good football players or because there are some good football players there, especially in those early rounds.”
The Cowboys live in a never-say-never world when it comes to listening to other teams about making deals. A year ago, the Cowboys frantically attempted to trade back into the first round to take Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch. They were close to a deal with the Seattle Seahawks, who ultimately made a deal with the Denver Broncos when the Cowboys were reluctant to give up their third-round pick.
“I also believe in a draft like this, our team where we are, if there’s a player there that you like, that you like him a lot, you need to take him,” Stephen Jones said. “Historically, as you trade backwards, inevitably you end up with lesser football players.”
The value in staying put is knowing a good player will be there when you pick. The Cowboys were out of offensive-line options when they moved down in 2014, with Frederick their last first-day starter left to pick. Their good fortune was rewarded by the play of Frederick, who has not missed a game and was named to the Pro Bowl in each of the past three seasons.
“Everybody says, 'Are you really going to stick with the best player on your board,' and it just so happens that in this particular draft, there’s a good chance that some of the best players on our board are going to be at positions we get pointed out to as a team that needs this, needs that,” Stephen Jones said. “I think those positions are going to be there for us and be there in a good way.”
The Cowboys’ needs are almost exclusively on defense. Of their 28 pre-draft visitors, 26 were on the defensive side. Ten were defensive ends, including Charles Harris, Taco Charlton and T.J. Watt, who could be first-round options. Twelve were cornerbacks, including potential first-rounders in Marlon Humphrey, Adoree' Jackson, Kevin King and Tre’Davious White.
For Jerry Jones, the draft is a study in the art of the deal almost as much as the art of evaluating players.
The skill and acumen he used in drilling for oil has played a role in his approach to the draft. For the sure thing, he will make the big gamble. If there is some uncertainty, then trading down and getting more options makes sense.
That’s how the Cowboys operated early in Jones’ tenure. In Jimmy Johnson’s five seasons as coach (1989-93), the Cowboys made 15 draft-day trades. The first trade came on April 23, 1989, with the Los Angeles Raiders, exchanging second-round and sixth-round picks for picks in the second, third and fifth rounds. The second-round pick turned into fullback Daryl Johnston.
In 2008, the Cowboys made six trades during the draft, their highest total in Jones’ tenure.
Three times they have not made a trade, including twice in Garrett’s run as coach (2011 and 2016). Maybe Garrett really is stepping on Jones’ right foot.
“That’s just happenchance,” Jerry Jones said. “We’ve certainly kept our options open and entertained.”
The Dallas Cowboys have seven picks in this week’s draft and more needs than selections. This week we will take a position-by-position look at the roster to determine which spots they needs are more necessary to fill than others.
What they have: Tyron Smith, La'el Collins, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Chaz Green, Jonathan Cooper, Byron Bell, Joe Looney, Emmett Cleary, Clay DeBord, Kadeem Edwards
What they need: With three All-Pros in Smith, Frederick and Martin, plus Collins, who has yet to reach his potential, the Cowboys should still be among the best offensive lines in football, even with Ronald Leary leaving via free agency and Doug Free retiring.
Free’s departure will hurt. He was the leader of the offensive line room, so there will be a transition of power, so to speak, because he was the most veteran voice. Green will have the first chance to win the right tackle job, but he has not been able to stay healthy in his first two years. Bell was added as a free agent after missing last season with a dislocated left ankle. His experience could give him an edge if he can show he is healthy.
In a worst-case scenario, the Cowboys would move Collins to right tackle and play Cooper at left guard. Cooper can play some center as well, which could put Looney’s spot in jeopardy.
The Cowboys have to be careful about having this line grow old together, although it is not near that point now. They can add tackle help with Free’s departure and the injury histories of Green and Bell. They can look for interior help with Looney and Cooper set to become free agents in 2018.
Best fit: Ryan Ramczyk, Wisconsin. He was only a one-year starter at Wisconsin after starting for two years at Wisconsin-Stevens Point, a Division III school, but he showed he could handle the big-time defensive ends in his one year with the Badgers. He plays with good balance and can lower his base to withstand power. He is coming off hip surgery, but for the Cowboys he would be their right tackle of the present and future.
Late-round possibilities: Julie'n Davenport, Bucknell; Kyle Fuller, Baylor. Davenport started every game he played over four years. He has miles to go to be ready for action, but with the state of Dallas' offensive line, the Cowboys can be patient with him. The Cowboys met with Fuller at the combine and he was part of the Dallas Day workouts. He started every game in his final three years. He is a strong player but does not move well, but there could be some position flexibility as a down-the-road backup.
Feeling a draft: The Cowboys believe they can never go wrong with drafting offensive linemen. It went well for them with Smith, Frederick and Martin. The chances of them taking an offensive lineman in the first round are slim. The only scenario, it would seem, would be if every defensive player with a first-round grade was gone and a tackle like Ramczyk was there. They could find a linemen in Day 3 but could look at few of them in undrafted free agency.
With the Dallas Cowboys picking No. 28 in the first round of the NFL draft, the odds are against anybody predicting the selection, so don’t hold any pick against anybody if they turn out to be wrong.
That’s a nice way of saying if the Cowboys don’t select Taco Charlton, be kind to me.
On our NFL Nation mock draft Tuesday night, I selected Charlton for the Cowboys, and here’s why:
As the defensive ends and cornerbacks kept coming off the board, panic started to set in. Six defensive ends were gone, from Myles Garrett at No. 1 to Malik McDowell at No. 22. Three cornerbacks were off the board, from Marshon Lattimore at No. 6 to Kevin King at No. 26.
All four players visited The Star before the draft, which seems to be a prerequisite for the Cowboys’ top picks. Since 2004, the only top picks not to visit the Cowboys leading up to the draft are DeMarcus Ware (2005) and Morris Claiborne (2012).
Then I went through the position needs.
There's an argument for a cornerback over defensive end. The Cowboys can get through a game with the defensive ends currently on the roster: Tyrone Crawford, DeMarcus Lawrence, David Irving, Benson Mayowa and Charles Tapper. They are a little more hard-pressed at cornerback with Orlando Scandrick, Nolan Carroll and Anthony Brown the only players with game experience.
If I took a cornerback at No. 28, then it would have been Jackson.
But I went back to the depth of the draft. There will be cornerbacks available with the Cowboys’ second-round pick (No. 60 overall).
In 2014, the Cowboys traded up to No. 34 overall to take Lawrence because they felt like he was the last true right defensive end ready to play. They gave up their second- and third-round picks to do so. That’s a lot of draft capital. They shouldn’t want to give that up again.
That left the decision down to Charlton or Watt.
Both succeeded in the Big 10 but were one-year starters. Charlton’s sack totals increased every year, including 9.5 in 2015. Watt had 11.5 sacks last season. Charlton is bigger at 6-foot-5, 277 pounds. Watt, at 6-foot-4, 252 pounds, is more of a tweener, perhaps a better fit as an outside linebacker in a 3-4.
To me, Charlton is just the better fit for the Cowboys. Lawrence is entering the final year of his deal. Crawford is entering a critical contract year, and if he does not perform well, the Cowboys could look to move on in 2018. Irving is scheduled to be a restricted free agent.
A draft is not only about the current year. It’s also about the future.
In Charlton, the Cowboys would get a pass-rusher who can help know and grow in the future.
The Dallas Cowboys have seven picks in this week’s draft and more needs than selections. This week we will take a position-by-position look at the roster to determine which needs are more necessary to fill than others.
What they need: Witten signed a four-year extension this offseason and while he turns 35 in May, he is not slowing down. He finished second on the team in receptions and played in 96 percent of the snaps last season, which includes just 22 snaps in the season finale when he was pulled after a few series.
Hanna didn’t play last year because of a knee injury but the expectation is that he will be back this summer. When he is healthy, he's a quality No. 2 tight end because of his improved blocking. Swaim filled that role last year before suffering a pectoral injury and showed the same ability to be an in-line tight end.
Gathers is the wild card. A former basketball player at Baylor, he spent the season on the practice squad, which gave him time to develop. Jerry Jones is high on Gathers’ athleticism and growth.
Besides quarterback, the tight end needs to know more about the offense than any player. He has to be a run-blocker and a pass-blocker. He has to line up on the line, in the slot and out wide. The Cowboys rely on the tight ends to do a little of everything.
If they are to take a tight end, then it has to be an all-around type, not just a pass-catcher or not just a blocker.
Best fit: Jake Butt, Michigan. He suffered a torn ACL in the Wolverines’ bowl game but the Cowboys have a history of selecting players needing time to recover. You would like him to weigh more than 246 pounds but he has the chance to add bulk as he rehabs. The Cowboys want their tight ends to do everything and Butt is a willing blocker. He is a dependable pass-catcher, good route runner and what Jason Garrett calls the “right kind of guy.”
Late-round possibility: Michael Roberts Toledo. He is something of a project but there is a lot to work with. He is big (6-foot-4, 270 pounds) and he had his best season last year with 45 catches for 533 yards and 16 touchdowns. The Cowboys want in-line blockers and Roberts has that ability. He won’t run away from defenders but he can make difficult catches.
Feeling a draft: It’s easy to say because of Witten’s age that the Cowboys have to look for a successor. But the Cowboys don’t want to stop the progress of the younger tight ends, like Gathers, who was a sixth-round pick a year ago. Hanna (knee) and Swaim (pectoral, foot) are coming off surgeries so there is a possibility the Cowboys could select a tight end but not necessarily in the early rounds.
Coming off a breakthrough 13-3 season, the Dallas Cowboys own the No. 28 overall pick in the first round of this week's NFL draft. The Nos. 60 and 92 selections also belong to Dallas, which lost a pair of starting cornerbacks to free agency this offseason.
Last week, ESPN's Todd McShay listed the Cowboys' top-five needs heading into the draft. Which one do you think they should prioritize?
The first round of the NFL draft is scheduled to begin Thursday, April 27 at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.
The Dallas Cowboys have seven picks in this week’s draft and more needs than selections. This week we will take a position-by-position look at the roster to determine in which spots their needs are more necessary to fill than others.
What they need: In 2014, the Cowboys gave up their second- and third-round picks to take Lawrence at the top of the second round. At the time, they felt like Lawrence was the last remaining true right defensive end. A foot injury slowed him as a rookie, and he did not have a regular-season sack. He led the Cowboys with eight sacks in 2015, but a suspension and back injury limited him to one sack last season.
Lawrence is entering a contract year and needs to show he is more the 2015 player than the one from last year. The Cowboys will gladly take it after their second-round gamble in 2015, Randy Gregory, has yet to pay off. He is suspended for the entire season but could return to the team if they make the playoffs provided he follows all of the stipulations of his suspension.
Mayowa led the Cowboys in sacks last year with six. Crawford, who was signed to an extension because of his defensive tackle skills in 2015, is coming off a second shoulder surgery in as many offseasons. Tapper did not play as a rookie because of a back injury. Irving had 4.5 sacks and was the team's best pass-rusher late in the 2016 season.
Are any of them lead dogs, so to speak, when it comes to pass-rushers? Not really. At No. 28, the Cowboys will have a chance to add to the pass rush. They have rebuilt their offensive line through first-round picks. They need to start to do the same for the defensive line.
Best fit: Derek Barnett, Tennessee. He broke Reggie White’s school record for sacks, finishing with 33 in his career. He was able to produce big-time numbers in the best conference in college football against top competition. He does not possess all of the quick-twitch athleticism you would want from a right defensive end, but he gets the job done with powerful hands, solid leverage and smarts.
Late-round possibilities: Trey Hendrickson, Florida Atlantic, Daeshon Hall, Texas A&M. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli yells at his pass-rushers about their “get off” constantly. He wants them fast off the ball. Hendrickson has that, and he was productive in his final three years. He needs some polish but he has NFL skill. The Cowboys worked out Hall prior to the draft. He was overshadowed by Myles Garrett, but he has the skills Marinelli likes in pass rushers. He is fast. He has long arms. He can close off the edge. He’s not as consistent as he needs to be, but he could be a find in the middle rounds.
Feeling a draft: The Cowboys like their defensive line more than others, but they need to add a bonafide pass rusher. They don’t have a player who commands attention coming out of the huddle. They have solid players, and Irving still has room to grow, but they could take more than one pass-rusher in the draft.
On the Tuesday before the 2016 NFL Draft, I stood at a podium inside ESPN’s newest building and pronounced to the world that the Dallas Cowboys would take Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey with the fourth overall pick.
Bill Polian immediately mocked my mock selection of Ramsey and said I should have selected Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott.
Polian turned out to be correct, although in fairness the "pick" was made before our appearance and I had subsequently had to fall on the sword and stick with Ramsey.
Elliott was a terrific pick for the Cowboys, leading the NFL in rushing with 1,631 yards. He became the heartbeat of the Cowboys' offense the way DeMarco Murray was the heartbeat in 2014 when he led the NFL in rushing with 1,845 yards.
But as the Cowboys get ready for this year's draft, the question of what they did and did not do in the first round of last year's draft needs to be asked again: Elliott or Ramsey?
A strong case can be made, again, for Ramsey, the Florida State cornerback who went to the Jacksonville Jaguars with the fifth overall pick.
Part of my reasoning last year for taking Ramsey in the NFL Nation mock draft was not just what was best for 2016 but what was best for 2017, 2018 and beyond.
The Cowboys went into last year knowing Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox were going into the final years of their contracts. They knew there was a very real possibility they would not re-sign any of them before, during or after the 2016 season, leaving them with a hole on their roster in 2017.
Ramsey was the best defensive back in the draft. Some saw him as a future safety because of his range. Others saw him as a lock-down cornerback.
He was consistently tested by other teams and answered the questions more often than not. He started every game and had 65 tackles, two interceptions and one forced fumble. He played 445 snaps at left cornerback and 359 snaps at right cornerback. He played some in the slot.
He has the look of a future Pro Bowl cornerback for years to come.
They enter this week's draft needing defensive back help, even with the signing of veteran cornerback Nolan Carroll II. At safety they believe Jeff Heath is ready to step into a starting role next to Byron Jones.
The Cowboys had 12 cornerbacks and four safeties among their non-local visitors to The Star leading up to this year's draft. Marlon Humphrey, Gareon Conley, Kevin King, Adoree' Jackson and Tre'Davious White are cornerbacks that could be worth picking at No. 28 who visited the Cowboys. The four safeties -- Obi Melifonwu, Tedric Thompson, Marcus Williams and Xavier Woods -- are considered second-, third-, or fourth-round selections.
Will any of those cornerbacks or safeties be as good as Ramsey?
Perhaps, but the odds say the fourth pick in the draft will be better than the 28th pick. It's not a fool-proof notion, obviously, but you would go with the high-first rounder over the low-first rounder more often than not.
Part of the reason why the Cowboys chose Elliott was the effect he would have on their defense. The better he was, the better the Cowboys would hold on to the ball and the less the defense would be on the field. In 2016, it was a strategy that worked very well.
Elliott has the look of a transcendent player. He changed the Cowboys' modus operandi last season. He made the big plays. He picked up the dirty yards. He helped make everyone's job, from Dak Prescott, to the line and, yes, to the defense, easier.
The Cowboys did the right thing in selecting Elliott last year, but had they picked Ramsey a year ago it wouldn't have been the wrong thing.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The confidence is there in Taco Charlton's mannerisms, in how he speaks about his place in the draft and his future in the NFL. The confidence he shows is almost as strong as anything he did on the field at Michigan.
Hours earlier, he re-ran the 40-yard dash at Michigan’s pro day. With a group of reporters surrounding him -- Michigan closed its pro day to most media -- Charlton beamed. He ran a 40-yard dash in the 4.7/4.8-second range inside Glick Field House, cutting between one- and two-tenths of a second from his NFL combine time of 4.92 seconds.
For an edge rusher like Charlton in a crowded 2017 defensive end class, that could be the difference between being selected in the teens Thursday night versus the late 20s or possibly waiting until Friday.
Need to hear the confidence? Just listen to Charlton.
“I think I’m definitely a top-15 guy,” Charlton said. “I watch film all the time. I’m the hardest critic on myself -- things I should have done, could have done this, could have done that. I feel like I’m only going to get better.
“The more football I play, I’m only going to improve. And you watch film, especially my last games on the field where I’m at my best and more healthy, I’m one of the better edge guys out there.”
He has received no guarantees, of course. This is just his own belief. His own projection. His confidence coming through. Charlton always had the first-round measurements. At 6-foot-6, 277 pounds with 34 1/4-inch arms, his physical attributes were never questioned. Neither was his athleticism. He played high school basketball with Brooklyn Nets guard Caris LeVert at Pickerington Central and even joked at one point about trying to play for Michigan’s basketball team, on which LeVert played for four seasons.
That he ran well only accentuated everything else about him from a physical standpoint. And there’s that confidence again. His expectations are high for this week. He visited with Dallas, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Washington, Miami and Detroit. At his pro day, he met with others, including Pittsburgh.
So when he discusses his expectations, there is no question. He knows they are high. He prefers it that way.
“I definitely feel like I’m a first-rounder,” Charlton said. “I feel like I’m one of the better pass-rushers in this draft. There’s a lot of stuff I can do on the edge. I’m one of the most complete pass-rushers and most complete edge guys that they’ve got out there. I’ve proven to stop the run. I’ve played inside and stopped the run. Played outside. Played a lot of different positions.
“Had 10 sacks in 10 games, and that’s on one foot. What I could do when I’m healthy and all the different things I can do, I feel like I could be a great player in the league.”
His health is an important consideration. He spent much of the 2016 season playing with a high ankle sprain. Those injuries linger and can affect performance even after a player returns to the field. Sometimes it’ll take a full season to get healthy.
It was at the end of the season when his potential showed. He had 23 tackles over the final four games, including games against Ohio State and Florida State. In each of those games, he had at least one tackle for loss, including three against the Buckeyes. He had a sack in every one of those games, too, including 2.5 against Ohio State. It was part of a 10-sack season for Charlton -- more than doubling the sack number for the first three years of his career.
Mel Kiper Jr. said Charlton is the type of 4-3 defensive end who can “handle the responsibilities” of the position, and that’s something that could help him stand out in a deep group with Tennessee’s Derek Barnett, Missouri’s Charles Harris and UCLA’s Takkarist McKinley.
Charlton could land in a number of spots, including Detroit, a team with which he has developed some relationships. Charlton said he has spoken “a lot” with Lions defensive line coach Kris Kocurek and that he has “a close connection” with him. The Lions need pass-rushers, and the team's facility is a 40-minute drive east on Interstate 94 from Ann Arbor.
Kocurek is the type of defensive line coach who has proven to get a lot out of long, rangy defensive ends with high athleticism and raw potential. George Johnson had the best season of his career under Kocurek.
Kocurek helped turn Ezekiel Ansah into a star. Yes, Charlton has more experience in football than Ansah did when the Lions drafted him in the first round in 2013. But both are long. Both are lean. Both have good athleticism and a strong basketball background. Charlton noticed. He pegged Ansah as someone he wanted to watch and study.
“I watch Ziggy a lot,” Charlton said. “He’s a guy I kind of study film on and watch pass rushes, because he’s a relentless pass-rusher and gets after the quarterback.”
Whatever team drafts Charlton will have to be confident he can turn into a guy who can play like Ansah.
In his nine years in Dallas, Ware became the franchise leader in sacks (117), was named to the Pro Bowl seven straight seasons (2006-12) and led the NFL in sacks twice, including 20 in 2008.
"This right here is a lifetime opportunity," Ware said at a Monday news conference, flanked by owner and general manager Jerry Jones, executive vice president Stephen Jones and coach Jason Garrett. "As a kid, you usually don't think about [that], when you're sitting in the backyard and you're playing for America's Team. Yeah, you play for America's Team, but you've etched yourself in the star's history and that means something to me."
Ware spent his final three seasons with the Denver Broncos, winning Super Bowl 50, but seriously considered returning to the Cowboys before free agency began in March.
"I contemplated, do I really want to put the pads back on?" said Ware, who turns 35 in July. "You can always have the passion for the game, but your body and having great health after football was more important to me when I started to think about my 6-year-old son [and] my little 9-year-old daughter. That was the most important thing for me, [but] it was hard, I'm going to let you know right now."
Jerry Jones called Ware the "perfect player." Garrett called Ware a "special guy."
Ware retires with 138.5 sacks, eighth in NFL history. All six of the retired players ahead of Ware on the list have been selected for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"They're going to give him a Hall of Fame jacket in five years, I know that," Garrett said.
The Dallas Cowboys have seven picks in next week’s draft and more needs than selections. This week we will take a position-by-position look at the roster to determine which spots they needs are more necessary to fill than others.
What they need: The Cowboys lost Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox to free agency. Church recorded four straight 100-tackle seasons and played 707 snaps last season despite missing four games with a fractured forearm. Wilcox started in Church’s absence and played more than 500 snaps as a valuable part of the sub packages.
Heath is currently projected as the starter opposite Jones. He had his best game in the playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers, with an interception and a sack of Aaron Rodgers. Jones was solid in his first year as a full-time safety but has to do a better job of taking the ball away.
If the Cowboys defense is to improve, as a team they must do a better job of taking the ball away. Their secondary has not shown the ability to do that. Jones has one interception in two seasons. Heath led the Cowboys in picks in 2015 with two. The cornerbacks don’t have a lot of takeaways either.
This draft has a strong group of safeties where the Cowboys could get into the middle rounds and still find some help, and not just because their depth, like Frazier, is untested.
Best fit: Marcus Williams, Utah. Church led the Cowboys in interceptions last season with two. That’s it. Williams had five interceptions in each of his final two seasons at Utah. Williams has the range to go and get the ball from sideline to sideline. Pairing him with Jones would give the Cowboys a pair of athletic safeties to help their cornerbacks, which will have a new look with the free-agent losses of Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne.
Late-round possibilities: Xavier Woods, Louisiana Tech; Tedric Thompson, Colorado. There are players that just seem to have the ball find them. Woods is one of those types. He had 14 career interceptions in college. Last season he had 89 tackles, 11 pass deflections and five interceptions. Thompson has similar playmaking skills. He had seven interceptions last year, but he doesn't take the best angle on tackles.
Feeling a draft: It’s breezy at this position. The Cowboys have numbers at the position, but Jones is the only one with meaningful experience at the spot. Heath started nine games as an undrafted rookie in 2013 but only one game since. Wilcox was the last safety the Cowboys drafted in the third round or earlier when they took him in 2013. Finding a playmaker in the secondary is a must for the Cowboys.
The Dallas Cowboys have seven picks in next week’s draft and more needs than selections. This week we will take a position-by-position look at the roster to determine which spots they needs are more necessary to fill than others.
What they need: Bryant has missed games the last two seasons with leg injuries (foot and knee). He turns 29 in November, and while there is no reason to think the production will fall off, there has to be at least a little concern.
When he is right, Bryant remains one of the NFL’s best playmakers. This is a big offseason for him and Dak Prescott to work on their chemistry and take the next step.
Williams returning as a free agent with a four-year, $17 million deal was something of a surprise. The Cowboys felt he would go elsewhere but jumped at the chance to keep him. He can run all day and doesn’t miss games or practices. He makes plays in key moments, even if people just want to remember a couple of miscues.
Beasley had his best season in 2016 and quickly developed a rapport with Prescott as a security blanket. Butler re-signed on a one-year deal before Williams returned to the Cowboys. He has a big frame but needs to add consistency.
The Cowboys have a good mix of speed and quickness in this group, but you can always add speed and quickness. Generally speaking, they like their receivers to be bigger on the outside to handle the physical play and fight through coverages. Beasley is among the best slot receivers because his quickness at the line makes him a tough cover.
If they could find a receiver with solid return skills as an upgrade over Whitehead, that could be an area to explore.
Best fit: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Southern Cal. He was among the Cowboys’ national visitors to The Star. He won’t wow you with speed and separation, but he can make the difficult catches and is tough. While his production dropped from 2015, he still managed to get to the end zone 10 times in 2016. An interesting note the Cowboys will like: he broke his hand in 2015 and didn’t miss a game.
Late-round possibilities: Mississippi State’s Fred Ross, Baylor’s KD Cannon, North Carolina’s Mack Hollins. Ross was Dak Prescott’s favorite target at Mississippi State, so why not get the band back together? While some Baylor receivers have struggled to adapt to the NFL, Williams has been productive for the Cowboys, and Cannon has similar traits. Hollins is big (6-foot-4) and can play some special teams, which is normally a must for the final few roster spots.
Feeling a draft: This isn’t a "need" position, but the Cowboys could be looking beyond 2017 to develop a receiver. If the right guy falls to them in the early rounds, then maybe they would take a chance, but this looks like a Day 3-only type of selection.
Jerry Jones has made it clear: He wants a war daddy for the Dallas Cowboys defense.
For those not familiar with the term, he wants a pass-rusher’s pass-rusher, a guy who requires every offense know where he is on every snap of the ball. For nine years, the Cowboys had a war daddy in DeMarcus Ware. From 2005 to 2013, he put up a franchise-record 117 sacks. He led the NFL in sacks twice, with 20 in 2008 and 15.5 in 2010. He had at least 10 sacks a season in 2006-12.
Every offense knew where No. 94 was on each snap.
Since Ware’s departure, the Cowboys have not had a player record more than eight sacks in a season (DeMarcus Lawrence, 2015). Jeremy Mincey led the Cowboys with six sacks in 2014. Benson Mayowa led them in sacks last season with six. The last time the team leader had fewer than six sacks in a season came in 1963, when Bob Lilly had five.
As great as Ware became, however, he was not a war daddy when he showed up as the 11th pick in the 2005 draft. Going into the final two games of his rookie season, he had four sacks. In the final two games, he recorded another four sacks, including three in Week 16 against Carolina.
If the Cowboys draft a pass-rusher with the 28th pick in the first round, there will be high expectations. Perhaps too high for any player picked late in the first round.
That’s what happens at any position for the Cowboys, but especially this season when pass rush is such a focus.
What can be expected of a first-round pass-rusher?
Since 2012, some 24 pass-rushers, either 4-3 defensive ends or 3-4 outside linebackers, have been selected in the first round. Only seven had six or more sacks as a rookie, led by Joey Bosa, the third overall pick a year ago, who had 10.5 for San Diego.
Leonard Floyd, drafted ninth overall by Chicago last year, had seven sacks. DeForest Buckner was the seventh overall pick by San Francisco as a 3-4 defensive end and had six sacks. But they were top-10 picks.
The last time a player selected 20th or lower in the first round had at least six sacks as a rookie came in 2012, when Chandler Jones (No. 21, New England) and Whitney Mercilus (No. 26, Houston) had six apiece. The last pass-rusher picked 20th or lower in the first round to reach double digits in sacks was Clay Matthews, No. 26 overall by Green Bay, who had 10 in 2009.
Why does it take pass rushers time to adapt?
“When you’re looking at them in college, you have to look at — say a kid has 15 sacks, well where did those 15 sacks come [from]? Who were they playing against? Was it 1-AA talent? Was it against a freshman offensive tackle at a major college?” Pittsburgh general manager Kevin Colbert said. “There are so many different factors as to why he was productive in college that you think will sometimes transfer over. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn’t. But you have to see where his production was accumulated. Again, maybe against an inferior opponent or an inferior player on a better team.”
In 2015, Atlanta made Vic Beasley the eighth overall pick in the draft out of Clemson. He had four sacks as a rookie, and some questioned whether he would ever live up to his draft status. In 2016, he led the NFL with 15.5 sacks.
In college, pass-rushers can get away with one move, generally speed off the edge. It works well enough to where they don’t develop other moves or counters to offensive linemen.
Against NFL offensive tackles, one-trick wonders get swallowed up. If they can’t develop a counter or other moves, they are left running in place.
“I think on both sides, O-line and D-line as well, development is delayed a little bit more now,” Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “Different rules. Different practice rules. Different, not the same ability and opportunities to be aggressive with contact as it used to be. That’s going to take time. For us, the situation with Vic Beasley, I really think he turned the corner literally and figuratively speaking because he did get up and around the corner very well this year. ... I think as they get to know the nuances of pass rush, I think that’s really good.”
The Cowboys had 10 pass-rushers at The Star among their visitors leading up to the draft. They had big-school, big-conference, big-production players, like Tennessee’s Derek Barnett, Michigan’s Taco Charlton, Wisconsin’s T.J. Watt and UCLA’s Takk McKinley. They had small-school, small-conference, big-production players like Ohio’s Tarell Basham, Villanova’s Tanoh Kpassagnon and Youngstown State’s Derek Rivers. They had bigger pass-rushers, like Michigan State’s Malik McDowell, and smaller pass-rushers, like Missouri’s Charles Harris and Houston’s Tyus Bowser.
Perhaps one might be the war daddy Jones craves.
The odds of that happening in 2017, however, aren’t very high.
The Dallas Cowboys have been drafting players since 1961. Here’s a look at the best draft picks by position for the Cowboys:
Quarterback: Roger Staubach, 10th round, 1964, Navy: The other obvious selection is Troy Aikman, the No. 1 overall pick in 1989 who won three Super Bowls in the 1990s. Staubach won two Super Bowls but the Cowboys showed tremendous foresight in taking him in the 10th round, knowing he had to fulfill Navy requirements before he would be eligible to play.
Running back: Emmitt Smith, first round, 1990, Florida: He's the NFL's all-time leading rusher, which is why he gets the nod over fellow Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett, the No. 2 overall pick in 1977. Jimmy Johnson preferred James Francis but had to settle for Smith, whose rushing record might never be broken.
Wide receiver: Michael Irvin, first round, 1988, Miami: The last of Tom Landry's first-round picks. He was the heart and soul of the Cowboys' 1990s dynasty. Picking Irving over Bob Hayes (seventh round, 1964) is a difficult decision. Both are in the Hall of Fame, and Hayes is credited with changing the game with his speed.
Tight end: Jason Witten, third round, 2003, Tennessee: He is the franchise's all-time leader in receptions and should pass Irvin in yards early this season. He has been selected for 10 Pro Bowls. He has missed one game in his career.
Tackle: Rayfield Wright, seventh round, 1967, Fort Valley State: He was a basketball player in college with one year of football experience when the Cowboys selected him. He played some defensive end and tight end before the Cowboys settled him in at tackle, where he became a Hall of Famer after earning All-Pro honors four times and Pro Bowl honors six times.
Guard: Larry Allen, second round, 1994, Sonoma State: Some put him in the conversation as the best offensive lineman to play. He was an 11-time Pro Bowl pick and seven-time Pro Bowler. He played every position on the line except center. In 2013 he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
Center: Mark Stepnoski, third round, 1989, Pittsburgh: In a few years Travis Frederick, who has been selected to the Pro Bowl the last three years and was named an All Pro in 2016, might occupy this spot, but Stepnoski helped anchor a line of two Super Bowl winners that opened holes for Smith and gave Aikman and Irvin time to connect in the passing game.
End: DeMarcus Ware, first round, 2005, Troy: He was technically an outside linebacker but in reality his No. 1 task was to rush the passer, which qualifies him for this spot. He became the franchise's all-time leader with 117 sacks. He was named to the Pro Bowl each year from 2007-12 and should call the Ring of Honor and Hall of Fame home now that his career is over.
Tackle: Bob Lilly, first round, 1961, TCU; Randy White, first round, 1975, Maryland: How do you pick between Mr. Cowboy and the Manster? You don't. Lilly was the Cowboys' first draft pick and all he did was earn 11 Pro Bowl berths, seven All-Pro honors and help the Cowboys to their first Super Bowl. It took the Cowboys a little time to find White's home on the line but he was a nine-time Pro Bowler and eight-time All Pro. He was the co-MVP of Super Bowl XII.
Linebacker: Lee Roy Jordan, first round, 1963, Alabama: For 14 years he anchored the Cowboys' Doomsday defense. He did the dirty work for a defense that was among the NFL's best for years and was named to the Pro Bowl five times as well as earning All-Pro honors twice. He was added to the Ring of Honor in 1989.
Cornerback: Mel Renfro, second round, 1964, Oregon: He came to the Cowboy as a running back but moved to defensive back and made the Pro Bowl in each of his first 10 seasons. The first six came as a free safety, the last four at cornerback. He holds the team record with 52 interceptions and was named an All Pro four times. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1996.
Safety: Darren Woodson, second round, 1992, Arizona State: A linebacker in college, Woodson made a seamless transition to safety and is the Cowboys' all-time leader in tackles. Because of the offensive success the Cowboys had in the 1990s, Woodson is overlooked but he was able to cover receivers, tight ends and running backs as effectively as any safety in his generation.
Kicker: Nick Folk, sixth round, 2007, Arizona: He was named to the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 2007 when he made 26 of 31 attempts. He was better in his second season (20 of 22) but injuries hurt him in 2009 and led to his release.
Punter: Danny White, third round, 1974, Arizona State: Talk about roster flexibility. He was a terrific quarterback, helping the Cowboys to three straight NFC title games, but he also averaged 40.2 yards per punt.
The Cowboys have seven picks in next week’s draft and more needs than selections. This week we will take a position-by-position look at the roster to determine which spots are more necessary to fill than others.
What they need: With Elliott, the Cowboys have a bell-cow running back capable of handling 20-plus carries each week and being a force in the passing game as well. McFadden is the ultimate insurance policy and can also work as a third-down back. Two years ago he was fourth in the NFL in rushing with 1,089 yards.
Morris is a better back with the more carries he gets, and that won’t happen unless there is injury. He is not a reliable pass-catcher either. He could become trade bait over the summer should another team need a veteran fit.
Keith Smith and Rod Smith split the fullback duties early last year before Keith Smith became the full-timer. He is a solid lead blocker. Rod Smith can do more with the ball in his hands. Both players can be core special-teamers.
What’s missing? Not much, honestly. They lost Lance Dunbar in free agency, and he is more of a change-of-pace back, which is what they lack right now. Do the Cowboys use draft capital on a runner who would not be a lock to make the roster or be third on the depth chart at best and a possible game-day inactive?
The Cowboys were not afraid to give Elliott a lot of work last year, and his work this year could increase, especially as a third-down back. Too often he came off the field in favor of Dunbar. Let Elliott’s 83-yard screen reception for a touchdown stand as a sign of the big-play element he can bring to the passing game.
Best fit: Joe Mixon, Oklahoma. To be clear, the Cowboys will not pick Mixon. I’m not sure he would be on their draft board at all, but skill-wise there is no doubt he fits what the Cowboys like to do with their runners. He can get to the second level in a hurry, and he is skilled as a pass-catcher as well. He scored 15 touchdowns last season. But again, to be clear, he will not be a Cowboy.
Late-round possibilities: San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey, North Carolina’s T.J. Logan, North Carolina A&T’s Tarik Cohen. Pumphrey was productive over his career, breaking a lot of Marshall Faulk’s records. He is small (180 pounds) but doesn’t seem to take a lot of big hits. Logan can be an effective return man, which is something the Cowboys want out of their backup runners. He is also pretty adept out of the backfield as a pass-catcher. Cohen plays like he is in a video game. He can start and stop with ease. He makes people miss. It will take a vision from a coaching staff to find the right way to use him.
Feeling a draft: This is a deep running back group, but the Cowboys won’t take a look at a runner in the first two days of the draft, and they might way until late in the third day. They had the perfect back to develop last year in Darius Jackson, a sixth-round pick, but they lost him to waivers when they made room for McFadden off the non-football injury list. It’s a move they regret at the moment, but they can find a back who can offer the same potential as Jackson on the third day.