Slater As Cowboys 'Default' First-Round Pick?

When the Cowboys cornerbacks of choice aren't there, mock drafters are defaulting to the Northwestern OT. But is that the right move?
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FRISCO - Northwestern offensive lineman Rashawn Slater has become the default ‘offensive’ pick in Dallas Cowboys mock drafts in the first month of this offseason.

Yes, the Cowboys have plenty of defensive needs to address — cornerbacks, safeties, defensive linemen, even linebackers. My first CowboysSI 7-Round Mock Draft on Sunday had the Cowboys taking a defensive player. In fact, The Athletic’s Dane Brugler had the Cowboys taking defensive players with their first four picks.

I follow mock drafts closely, and there appears to be something happening when it comes to the Cowboys’ No. 10 overall pick.

If Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II and Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley are off the board, most mock drafters are defaulting to Slater.

Why?

Well, he’s a great player to start with. Many player rankings have him as the No. 2 overall offensive lineman in the draft, behind Oregon’s Penei Sewell. NFLDraftBible.com’s Ryan Roberts has Slater as the No. 1 overall guard. Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald was on NBC Sports Chicago on Wednesday and talked about Slater like he’s gonna get a cut of the contract. But, seriously, Fitzgerald loves the progress his 6-foot-3, 315-pound left tackle has made in Evanston, even though Slater opted out of the 2020 season.

“He fits at the very top,” Fitzgerald said. “Young man that came in, and right away was an instant-impact player. Amazing family, dad played in the NBA. Really athletic, just needed to get stronger, and to Rashawn’s credit, my goodness is he a freak in the weight room. He’s going to have one heck of a pro day.”

So you can already see the value in a player like Slater. He played tackle in college and he has the body to play guard in the NFL, with position flex outside. And, thanks to some good old-fashioned recency bias, mock drafters have bought into Slater becoming a Cowboys first-round pick.

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The Dallas Cowboys were a train wreck up front in 2020, and most of that was due to injury. Tyron Smith missed 14 games at left tackle. Zach Martin missed several games at left guard. Lael Collins missed the entire season at right tackle. The assumption is that all three will be healthy and ready in 2021. But let’s keep this in mind. ...

Smith will be 31 in 2021 and already has 10 years in the NFL. He’s missed at least three games in each of his last five seasons. He’s costing the Cowboys a lot of money (cap hits of at least $10 million each of the next three seasons) and, you combine those things and some suggest Smith could be a cap casualty. 

That isn’t happening. 

Why? While Smith has large cap hits, most of those cap hits are in base salary that can be converted to open up cap space, if needed. Plus, the Cowboys believe he has more in the tank.

And, if Smith gets hurt again, I could see Martin as his heir apparent. Martin played some tackle last season, and he played tackle in college. He could do the job at either tackle position if asked.

Some forget, Tyron's future can be determined by Tyron. He's earned that right.

But based on what we know? The Cowboys do have to figure out the future plan at offensive line, lest they end up like they did a decade ago with a decaying line in front of a super-talented quarterback in his prime (hello, Tony Romo). It might be to hang on to Smith as long as humanly possible and then swing Martin out to left tackle. It could be to do the same with Connor Williams, who has that position flex, too. 

Or do the Cowboys draft and groom?

That’s the problem. Slater isn’t a draft-and-groom player.  I say he can play now. And he can play at multiple positions, and the Cowboys have returning starters at all five positions.

So why is Slater such a hot pick? Along with the recency bias due to the Cowboys’ offensive line woes of a year ago, there’s also a lack of originality.

The Cowboys’ only defensive need is not cornerback. There are plenty of good, starter-ready defensive players at the top of the draft that the Cowboys could take at No. 10. Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons and Miami (FL) pass rusher Gregory Rousseau come to mind. Mock drafters seem to be limiting their view to corner, and there’s a good reason — elite corners are hard to find.

But trying to address one position should not force a mock drafter to take a player for the Cowboys that, at least at this time, seems superfluous. The Cowboys may do something that doesn’t make it as superfluous. But, for now, taking Slater, as great a player as he appears to be, seems like a lost pick to me.