So it’s Dallas Cowboys Mock Draft 9.0, I wanted to explore the idea of taking the “best player available.” You’ve heard the philosophy. Practically every NFL team says they adhere to it. (Fish loves to bahhhhh 'B.A.A.'') And, yet, on draft day, just about every team takes at least one player that compels its fans to say, “What. The. Heck?”
If the idea is to take the best player available, then the NFL Draft is easy for every team. Create your draft board, wait until your pick comes up and just take the top player on the board. Easy peasy. Taking the best available player implies that the position they play really doesn’t matter.
But that isn’t how it works. As our Mike Fisher has explained before, the idea of best available player regardless of position is a bit flawed. It doesn’t take into account a team’s needs, and those needs matter, not only in the short term but in the long term. Mike moves beyond "Best Available Athlete'' and calls the real process teams use as “Best Available Player Within Reason.” In other words, if you have Peyton Manning in his prime, then why are you taking a quarterback in the first round? That doesn’t make much sense, right?
So this mock draft is going to look a LOT different than my previous mocks. It’s about exploring the ‘why’ of why best available player regardless of position doesn’t work. Then, I’ll look at what I COULD have done had I taken into account the Cowboys’ needs (or, best player available within reason). So, for each round, you’ll see the best player available pick with analysis, and then analysis of what I could have done with that pick.
The idea? Show why teams like the Cowboys taken their needs into account on Draft Day.
So let’s get to Mock Draft 9.0. And we’ll get back to sanity next week.
Round 1: WR Jerry Jeudy, Alabama
Best available player: When the Cowboys came on the clock Jeudy was at the top of the board, and since we’re taking best available player regardless of position that’s what I did. Now, there’s nothing wrong with Jeudy. In fact, if you’re thinking about bolstering the Cowboys’ wide receiver corps further he’d be a great selection. But with Amari Cooper under contract and Michael Gallup returning, is another potential No. 1 receiver something the Cowboys really need? To take Jeudy, the Cowboys had to ignore other needs like cornerback, safety and defensive line.
What I could have done: Based on what was on the board, I would have gone defense. Right after I took Jeudy, safety Xavier McKinney went to Miami. Two picks later South Carolina defensive lineman Javon Kinlaw went to Jacksonville. Two picks later LSU cornerback Kristian Fulton was on his way to Minnesota. Heck, two picks later Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray headed for New Orleans. Any of those would have made more sense at this selection than taking Jeudy. And that’s what we’re talking about here — best available player is one thing, but it does have to marry up with need on some level. And if taking Jeudy in the first round seems superfluous, wait until you see the selection in Round 2.
Round 2: RB Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin
Best available player: Taylor was at the top of the board so I took him. But, if you’re working the Cowboys on draft day, are you taking Taylor? Not right now, not when Ezekiel Elliott is in his prime and is under contract for several more years (plus backup Tony Pollard has three years left on his deal). Taylor isn’t a backup. He’s a starter. And in order to use Taylor like the player he is, then you have to take carries away from Elliott. And that makes no sense.
What I could have done: I could have helped the Cowboys at cornerback immediately, as A.J. Terrell was on the board and went to the Los Angeles Rams with the following pick. In fact, there was a run on cornerbacks, with Utah’s Jaylon Johnson and Ohio State’s Damon Arnette going in the next two selections. So by blindly looking at the top of the board when the Cowboys were on the clock, I passed over highly-regarded corners that could have helped the Cowboys this season. I could have also taken Alabama defensive tackle Raekwon Davis, who went to Minnesota seven picks later.
Round 3: S Ashtyn Davis, Cal
Best available player: This is the first time the best available player at the top of the board made sense with the Cowboys’ overall needs. Safety is a position where the Cowboys still need some help and Davis can fit right in. As we’ve seen so far, it doesn’t always work that way.
What I could have done: I might have taken Davis here anyway. But given that I likely would have gone with a corner or safety in Round 1, I could have helped the Cowboys with a pass rusher like Jonathan Greenard of Florida, Darrell Taylor of Tennessee and Khalid Kareem of Notre Dame. Also, Mississippi State linebacker Willie Gay Jr. was there, too.
Round 4: WR K.J. Hill, Ohio State
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Best available player: Perfect. I’ve been doing mock drafts for two months and I’ve mentioned on a few occasions that there is tremendous depth at the wide receiver position in this draft. If I were doing this mock as I normally do, Hill is a player I very well would have taken, even if he wasn’t at the top of the board. But, here’s the thing — using the best available player model I took Jeudy in the first round. Why on earth would I take another wide receiver, given the Cowboys’ needs?
What I could have done: Shortly after I took Hill two solid pass rushers went off the board, Auburn’s Nick Coe and Syracuse’s Alton Robinson. Iowa cornerback Michael Ojemudia was also there, as was Maryland running back Anthony McFarland and Texas wide receiver Collin Johnson. When you have locked in starters and depth at key offensive positions like running back and wide receiver, taking a player at that position in the middle of the draft makes more sense than taking the position early.
Round 5: RB Lamical Perine, Florida
Best available player: In a normal mock draft, Perine is a player I would have considered here. In fact, I’ve taken Perine in the sixth round before. But in this experiment he was the top player on the board, so I pulled the trigger. But, again, as with taking a wide receiver in Round 4, taking Perine here is superfluous given that I took Taylor in the second round and the backs the Cowboys already have on the roster.
What I could have done: If I had passed on Taylor in Round 2, I might have taken Perine here. But there were other quality players on the board, such as Rhode Island offensive lineman Kyle Murphy, Auburn offensive tackle Jack Driscoll and Miami (FL) linebacker Shaquille Quarterman. You’re looking for a player that can add depth immediately and project as a starter down the line.
Round 5 (compensatory): S Antoine Brooks Jr., Maryland
Best available player: The Maryland safety was at the top of the board here, and that marks the second safety taken in this draft for the Cowboys. It’s not unusual for a team to grab a couple of players from the same position in a draft, especially when you’re looking for a player that can help on special teams as well as his chosen position.
What I could have done: Right after taking Brooks two interior linemen came off the board — Washington’s Jared Hilbers and Mississippi State’s Tyre Phillips. Remember that a certain starting center retired recently?
Though Dallas thinks it has young depth here, I say the Cowboys could be in a market for an interior lineman they could convert into a center one day.
Round 7: WR Jeff Thomas, Miami (FL)
Best available player: Yeah, a third wide receiver in this draft when the Cowboys have plenty of options on the roster really makes no sense.
What I could have done: Michigan State defensive lineman Raequan Williams, Texas offensive lineman Zach Shackelford and Michigan defensive end Mike Danna were the first three players off the board after taking Thomas.
Analysis: As you can see, best available player regardless of position isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The Cowboys ended up with three wide receivers, two running backs and two safeties in this mock draft. It completely ignores defensive end, cornerback and even linebacker, areas where the Cowboys have some level of short-term and long-term need.
So - as we review a mock draft that is really about what I think Dallas should NOT do - when you hear teams talk about taking the “best available player,” make sure you know that it’s really the “best available player within reason.”
My next mock draft will appear on April 10.