Dallas Cowboys Draft: Rounds 1 and 2
- Updated: May 5, 2015
The Dallas Cowboys went into last week’s draft with several options to add high end talent to the roster. They could trade up for a player they liked. They could trade down in an attempt to gather more picks in the top 100, thus increasing their chances of landing impact players. Or they could sit calmly and let the draft play out and select the best players left on their board. In the end, the latter is what they did. And it paid off in a big way.
The Cowboys draft can be divided into two parts. The first part, and subject of this article, is round 1 and 2 where the players taken were of remarkable value and provide immediate and substantial impacts. The second part (coming soon) is about rounds 3 through 7. These players will be expected to provide solid depth and contribute on special teams and potentially become starters down the line.
Round 1, #27 overall:
Byron Jones, S/CB, Connecticut, 6’1″ 199
The selection of Jones was almost a no-brainer. Widely regarded as a top-20 talent, he was available to the Cowboys at 27. Jones has the size, speed and athleticism to excel at either CB or safety. His ability to play cornerback allows the Cowboys to take a hard stance in its negotiations with Brandon Carr to accept a pay cut. If he refuses a reduced salary, Jones could step in as the starter across from Orlando Scandrick. If Carr accepts the reduction, he will keep his starting position and Jones becomes a super-sub and nickel safety.
Jones’ best position will ultimately be at safety. The Cowboys have lacked a true free safety that can range deep in the secondary and make plays across the field. Jones’ athleticism and and football IQ make him a perfect fit for that role. He will certainly see time at safety in nickel packages allowing JJ Wilcox to move to the strong safety spot. Barry Church would replace the strongside linebacker, giving the Cowboys mobility and size across the secondary. In an increasingly pass happy league, this alignment will get the majority of snaps. Regardless of whether he plays CB or safety, Jones will see starter minutes and play a prominent role in the defense. That is exactly what a team should expect from a first round draft pick.
Round 2, #60 overall:
Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska, 6’5″ 235
As much as Jones was an obvious selection at 27, Gregory was even more so at 60. A top five talent in the draft as well as being the best edge rusher, Gregory slid down in the draft due to multiple failed drug tests for marijuana use. Some teams removed him from consideration all together. But the Cowboys did their due diligence on Gregory and determined that with some guidance and structure, he was worth the risk. The reward could be substantial.
Gregory possesses elite athleticism and speed for the position. He plays with a chip on his shoulder and is hyper-aggressive and relentless when rushing the passer. He will need to add some weight to become a full-time defensive end and withstand the rigors of playing against the run. But he will be utilized immediately as a pass rush specialist on passing downs, where his speed and surprising power will be a perfect combination with DeMarcus Lawrence on the other side of the line. When Greg Hardy returns from his suspension, the Cowboys will be able to rotate their defensive ends in order to keep them fresh throughout the game. On passing downs, Hardy can slide inside to a defensive tackle position with Tyrone Crawford, while Gregory and Lawrence apply pressure from the outside. In other words, put 4 very good/elite pass rushers on the field at the same time. Gregory’s addition to the defensive line should transform Dallas’ pass rush into one of the best in the league.
In the NFL, drafts are ultimately decided by what a team does with its picks in the first few rounds. The Cowboys were able to add two substantial contributors to a defense that overachieved last season only to finish near the middle of the pack. By adding Jones and Gregory, the Cowboys defense has many more teeth to bare. An anemic pass rush transforms into a formidable one. A secondary that was solid yet struggled to force turnovers becomes much more diverse and dangerous. It is far too early to assign a grade to these picks, but judging by what I thought the Cowboys draft board may look like, the Cowboys got two of the top 19 players in the draft while picking at 27 and 60. Needless to say, the chances of this draft being a success will largely be determined by what these two players accomplish.
Next: Rounds 3 through 7 – Depth and Potential