1st & 10: Grading A '3-Years-Later Draft & Today's Present Impact
The logic in the NFL is that you don’t grade a draft right away (even though I gave the Cowboys an A for their 2020 Draft like, an hour later). That’s a knee-jerk reaction and most pro football fans know that. NFL executives will tell you that you don’t grade a draft for three seasons. You need to see how players develop. You need to see their impact. You need to see if they stick. You need to see if they’re going to be worth the contract you’re likely going to have to pay them in a year or two.
And those decisions three years prior can have an impact on how you approach free agency and the draft down the line.
1. THREE YEARS LATER
So, three years later, it’s time to break down the Cowboys’ 2017 NFL Draft, now that it’s three seasons later. Along the way, we’ll see how those choices made by the Cowboys impacted the Cowboys of today.
Round 1: DE Taco Charlton
Sorry, yeah, I know. Bad memories. Flop. Bust. Miscalculation. Whatever you want to call it. Charlton turned out to be a dud at No. 28 overall. The Cowboys were hoping he would augment the pass rush. He did nothing of the sort. He had four sacks in 27 games in two seasons for Dallas before the Cowboys finally released him and he ended up in Miami (where, for some reason, he ‘blew up’ and had five sacks). He’s now in Kansas City.
The impact? The Cowboys passed on T.J. Watt, who has become a menace as a pass rusher in Pittsburgh (albeit in a 3-4 scheme). When the Cowboys passed on Watt to take Charlton there was plenty of pushback on Cowboys Twitter. And, today, it’s easy to be an armchair GM and criticize the pick.
The impact on the Cowboys is that Charlton never became an answer to the pass rush and other players stepped up, but not consistently — David Irving (briefly), Randy Gregory (briefly and that’s another discussion). More importantly, the Cowboys had to pay big money to DeMarcus Lawrence (which they probably would have done anyway) and trade to get Robert Quinn for 2019.
Then, in the 2020 Draft, the Cowboys snagged Utah’s Bradlee Anae late, to go along with other late-drafted players like Kansas’ Dorance Armstrong (2018). In other words, the Charlton bust meant the Cowboys had to expend more energy addressing the pass rush.
And, frankly, they still don’t look settled on that edge opposite Lawrence.
Round 2: CB Chidobe Awuzie
The Cowboys have gotten much more bang for their buck here. Awuzie has played 41 games in Dallas, started 36 games, has three interceptions and has defended 32 passes. Certainly, the Cowboys would like more takeaways. But as Awuzie heads into his fourth season, he looks like a starting-caliber guy and a player the Cowboys would seek to keep if possible past this season. The same could go for the cornerback the Cowboys took in Round 3 …
Round 3: CB Jourdan Lewis
Lewis has played 46 games in Dallas, but he’s only started 13. But the Cowboys have typically used him as a nickel corner, so the starts aren’t indicative of his value to the team. He has four interceptions, one more than Awuzie, and has broken up 17 passes. Like Awuzie, he’s shown starter ability and is a player the Cowboys may seek to keep after this season.
So Awuzie and Lewis have been good players, but not necessarily great players. And that’s colored some of the Cowboys’ moves this offseason.
Choosing not to retain Byron Jones was more a financial decision, but the Cowboys are counting on Awuzie and Lewis to step up and play larger than they have. But there is no guarantee.
So the Cowboys took two cornerbacks in the first four rounds of last month’s draft, and have brought in three veterans that have quality NFL experience and can compete for playing time. That sends a clear message: It’s a contract year guys. Put up or move on.
Round 4: WR Ryan Switzer
A great example of the Cowboys looking for a player that gives them position versatility and not really exploiting it. Switzer was largely a returner for Dallas in his rookie season, averaging 8.8 yards per punt return and 25 yards per kickoff return. He also scored on one punt return. But the Cowboys only got six passes to Switzer in 16 games, plus four rushes.
If the logic was to use him as a Swiss army knife player, it never materialized.
The Cowboys traded Switzer to Oakland after the season, and Switzer ended up in Pittsburgh. But history is now a little kinder to the Cowboys’ trade of Switzer after the rookie season. Switzer’s numbers and use have really been no better or worse than it was in Dallas. So perhaps the Cowboys recognized Switzer’s ceiling and got out when they knew he still had value?
The Cowboys had to play return-man roulette in 2018, but the selection of Tony Pollard last season appears to have given the Cowboys a similarly-talented player with a higher ceiling, and that’s a pick the Cowboys might not have made if they were still committed to Switzer.
Round 6: S Xavier Woods and CB Marquez White
Let’s get the easy part out of the way. White didn’t even make the team coming out of the preseason. But, many sixth-round picks don’t. Woods, however, did.
And Woods has given the Cowboys quality play. He’s played in 45 games and started 33 of them. He actually has more career interceptions than either Awuzie or Lewis (Woods has 5). He’s defended 17 passes and he’s closing in on 200 career tackles. You could make the argument that Woods is one of the most impactful players of this draft class because his play as a rookie made the Cowboys comfortable enough to move Byron Jones back to cornerback from safety.
The Cowboys have only drafted one safety since taking Woods, and that was Donovan Wilson in 2019, another sixth-round selection. Yes, the Cowboys have flirted with trading for Earl Thomas and have signed Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. I’m not saying Woods' career is in the class of their careers. But, his steady play has made it possible for the Cowboys to address other positions.
Plus, signing Clinton-Dix was a move to replace Jeff Heath, and maybe an upgrade at that.
Round 7: DT Joey Ivie, WR Noah Brown, DT Jordan Carrell
Ivie and Brown have logged time in the NFL. But none of these players made a meaningful impact on the Cowboys. In the seventh round, however, you temper your expectations.
This draft will always be colored by the selection of Charlton. You take a pass-rusher in the first round and you expect him to have an impact almost immediately, especially in today’s NFL. When he didn’t, it set the Cowboys’ plans back a year or two at the position. The changes made this season have as much to do with potential scheme changes as they do with Charlton not living up to expectations.
Three of the four defensive backs the Cowboys took in 2017 are still with the team, and that has to be looked at as a win. The fact that all three have contributed and, at the least, been solid players is also a positive. But because none of the three have emerged as ‘great’ players, that’s why you saw all the moves the Cowboys made at that position group in free agency and the NFL Draft. The Cowboys are preparing to give the unit help this season and preparing a succession plan next season if they lose any of those three players.
As for the rest of that draft? Throw it in the trash.
Final Grade: C-minus.
2. “I SPOKE WITH TONY BRIEFLY”
And that set a whole bunch of people off.
So here’s the thing. The New York Giants hired former Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett as their offensive coordinator. It sounds like the Giants are basically going to run the same offense Garrett ran with the Cowboys. You know offensive minds don’t typically change their stripes, right? This is probably good news for the Cowboys.
Because why not talk with the quarterback who ran Garrett’s offense at the highest level it ever experienced? If Jones wants to get better, that’s the guy to talk with.
So why is Romo a ‘traitor,’ as I saw one person on Twitter call him earlier this week?
Of course not. This happens all the time. Get over it. Garrett’s job is to get the best out of his new team, and bringing in his best pupil to tutor his new pupil is how it is done. I mean, it would be nothing different than new Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy bringing Aaron Rodgers in to tutor Dak Prescott, right (I mean, assuming Rodgers was retired and actually willing to do that)?
Let it go. You got what you wanted. Garrett’s gone. Move on.
3. EMMITT KNOWS NEGOTIATIONS
Once upon a time Emmitt Smith wanted more money from Jerry Jones. And the former Cowboys running back was justified in his belief that the Cowboys owner and general manager owed him more money. It took a holdout and an 0-2 start to the 1993 season to finally get a deal done.
4. POSITION GROUP ROUNDUPS
Now that the NFL Draft has ended and we’re fully into the offseason leading up to training camp, you can catch our position group updates through the next couple of weeks at CowboysSI.com. Our most recent ones are below, and they including Mike Fisher’s roster projections.
5. COWBOYS 'THE LAST DANCE': INSIDE THE INFAMOUS 'WHITE HOUSE'
This weekend marks the final two episodes of The Last Dance, the Chicago Bulls documentary about the team’s 1997-98 season. It should be a great wrap-up of a fantastic series. I fear my window for a cameo in The Last Dance has closed.
But it got us thinking — what if we did a ‘Last Dance’ documentary on some of the greatest moments in Cowboys history? Or, perhaps the most infamous? Like, The White House? No, not the one on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But, the one where the Cowboys partied like rock stars during the 1990s dynasty.
6. COWBOYS BLITZCAST: REASONS TO CELEBRATE AT THE STAR
Cowboys BlitzCast is back and the boys have the following queued up for your listening pleasure:
Once upon a time, Tom Landry made winning seasons look easy around here. Today? It's a premature celebration of a 10-win season for the 2020 Dallas Cowboys as we break down the games week-by-week and discuss our picks and predictions.
Sometimes it's pretty, sometimes it's ugly, but either way, it's 2020 Dallas Cowboys Football. Will new head coach Mike McCarthy lead the 'Boys to a division title? Or will this team struggle and miss the playoffs for a second straight year?
We have all the answers for you, along with some classic Fish audio detailing why the 2020 Cowboys will win 10 games. And he backs it up with a fool-proof scientific formula.
7. TRYING TIMES CALL FOR UNUSUAL MEASURES
We know that the NFL has mandated that players will work out from home and participate in ‘virtual workouts’ with their respective teams. How are the Cowboys doing with all of this?
Well, we checked in with new Cowboys defensive lineman Gerald McCoy and found out that his ‘listed’ weight is no longer his current weight, while offensive lineman Tyron Smith is resorting to using the kids as weights.
Hey, whatever you have to do to stay in shape, right? Check out Fish’s story here.
8. WHITT'S END: MVP DAK?
Despite our championships, Hall of Famers and braggadocio, the Metroplex has enjoyed only eight true “MVP” seasons. Just one of those belongs to the Cowboys. No Dallas Star has ever won the NHL’s Hart Trophy (Joe Nieuwendyk won the Conn Smythe as playoffs MVP during their 1999 run to the Stanley Cup). Dirk Nowitzki’s magical 2011 NBA Playoffs triumphs over LaMarcus Aldridge, Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook-Kevin Durant-James Harden and LeBron James-Dwyane Wade-Chris Bosh came after a regular season for the Dallas Mavericks in which he finished only sixth in MVP voting. The six MVPs belonging to the Texas Rangers are diluted, in that they were only an American League — and not overall baseball — award. A couple other magical years belong to Heisman Trophy winners, and an unprecedented golfer.
9. CELEBRATING THE COWBOYS’ 60TH
The Dallas Cowboys are celebrating their 60th season in the NFL in 2020 and Richie Whitt is counting down the 60 biggest moments in franchise history. Here’s the link to the full list.
10. TWEET OF THE WEEK
The kid speaks. Oh, and I believe it’s ‘boyz’, CeeDee.
And one more, because every once in a while Gil Brandt brings some swag to Twitter.