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3 & Out: This Is Truly A 'Draft & Develop' Team

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FRISCO, Texas – Back with three quick topics on the Dallas Cowboys following their roster cuts to 53, just a week and a half from the season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

  • Draft & Develop
  • Tyler Smith & Left Tackle
  • The WR Question

I Know…
the term "draft and develop" might sound like a sports trope, but the Cowboys' *initial* 53-man roster shows they're all-in on that approach, coined and referenced many times by head coach Mike McCarthy.

I don't know if I have the time or desire to count this up for every team and compare, but this is actually pretty wild: 46 of the 53 players on the current roster began their NFL careers with the Cowboys, either as draft picks or rookie free agents.

The only exceptions: wide receiver James Washington, defensive ends Dante Fowler and Tarell Basham, linebacker Anthony Barr, safeties Jayron Kearse and Malik Hooker and punter Bryan Anger.

That's 87% draft and develop. (Or, if we're being technical, draft/sign and develop.) And over half of the group (29 players) came from the last two draft classes.

I'm gonna take a wild guess and say that ranks pretty high in the league for homegrown players.

Now, you might take this one of two ways. One, it shows the Cowboys' eye for scouting and drafting players who can contribute on salary cap friendly rookie contracts, a necessity when the franchise quarterback (Dak Prescott) is one of the league's highest-paid players. Or, maybe it supports your stance that the Cowboys must add more players in free agency to take the next step in the playoffs.

Either way, it's clear that the Cowboys are committed to the guys they've brought in. Two prime examples are positions that we've been talking about the most since training camp began: offensive tackle and wide receiver.

More on that below.

I Think…
I would be hypocritical if I criticized the Cowboys for Tyler Smith's lack of practice time at left tackle heading into Week 1.

I had no problem with the Cowboys shifting Smith to guard full-time in training camp. Tyron Smith entered camp fully healthy, and the club wanted to give Tyler every chance to play right away and add some power to the run game in particular. If that meant letting him focus entirely on guard, a position he hasn't played since North Crowley High School in nearby Fort Worth, so be it.

Now that's all pretty much moot. Tyron's hamstring injury has reshuffled the deck, and Tyler is currently the expected replacement at left tackle for the foreseeable future. Is two weeks enough time to get him ready for the Bucs' defensive front, though? The Cowboys must think so, unless Tyler's ankle sprain – "a little high ankle," team owner/GM Jerry Jones said – resurfaces over the next couple weeks.

If you want to take issue with the Cowboys' big-picture approach at left tackle, you can argue a couple things. Why did they cut La'el Collins in the offseason? Well, they decided Terence Steele had earned the right tackle job full time, and $10 million is a huge amount on the salary cap if Collins were to become a backup. OK, so why didn't they cover themselves once fifth-round pick Matt Waletzko injured his shoulder the third day of training camp? Basically, it goes back to the "draft and develop" thing. Instead of signing a veteran backup – an approach they've taken the past several years with so-so results – they gave those extra reps to Josh Ball, a 2021 fourth-round pick, and Waletzko when he returned to practice last week. This week, when hundreds of players are released around the league, there's more opportunity to find veteran help if they so choose.

And, circling back to Tyler Smith, it now appears that he's always been their break-glass fallback plan if anything happened to Tyron, who hasn't played a full season since 2015.

"We knew – we just didn't want it come any earlier than it needed – but we knew we had to get ready to replace our left tackle. And he was the pick," Jones said.

The good news: we only have to wait a few more days to find out if the plan works.

I Have No Idea...
if wide receiver will turn out to be as big a concern as many outside The Star fear, but the Cowboys are probably looking at 2009 as a reference, not 2018.

If you're a pessimist about the receiver rotation without Amari Cooper, you've probably pointed to 2018, when the Cowboys didn't adequately replace Dez Bryant and subsequently traded for Cooper at the deadline that year.

If you're an optimist, it's probably based on a couple things. First, CeeDee Lamb is more of a viable No. 1 option than anyone the Cowboys had in 2018. Second, the receiver group will soon get back a viable No. 2 option, Michael Gallup, though he's coming off a major injury.

If you're leaning into the bright side, there's this, too: The Cowboys have actually replaced a star receiver twice in the last dozen years. In 2018, it didn't work. In 2009, they pressed forward with Roy Williams and Patrick Crayton after cutting Terrell Owens, and the group didn't really take off, either … until Miles Austin emerged with that 250-yard outburst at Kansas City just before the bye week.

Austin made the Pro Bowl that season. It's like he flipped on a light switch in his fourth year.

Who knows, maybe Noah Brown can do that in his sixth season – if not as a Pro Bowler, at least as a productive and reliable option for Dak Prescott. Brown is the most tenured receiver on the team, after all. He had an outstanding camp, looked quicker, and he's always had good tools. Maybe this is a light-switch year, too.

Again, only a few more days before we actually get to find out.

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