Defensive Focus Shines Through In Cowboys' Talent-Laden 2017 Draft Class

FRISCO, Texas – Jerry Jones called it "a change of scenery," and there might not be a more fitting way to describe the Cowboys' 2017 draft class.

It was the organization's first draft at their palatial new headquarters at The Star – a facility that many of their new draftees raved about. More important than the location, though, was the look and makeup of their very roster – particularly their defense – which looks completely different after a hectic three days.

"That's a good thing," Jones said. "I think it is healthy for the team, I think it is healthy for the particular makeup of this team."

Jones and other Cowboys officials long expressed a desire to find help on defense, where the Cowboys lost five key starters from a unit that drastically outperformed expectations in 2016. The prevailing logic was that the 2017 NFL Draft was deep on defensive talent, and the front office would be able to offset its losses.

But it's one thing to look for reinforcements, and another to find them. By the time the smoke cleared on Saturday evening, the Cowboys had drafted nine new players, seven of them on defense – and all seven of those at positions of need.

"The draft set up really nice for us in terms of the defensive side of the ball, in particular the defensive line and the secondary," said Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones. "We just felt there were players throughout the draft that we had an affinity for that could really help our football team and fell in line with where we were in the draft."

It started with a bold move on Thursday night, when the Cowboys made Taco Charlton their 28th overall pick. The decision came with some question marks, given that there were talented defensive backs available when Charlton came off the board.

"As good as it was, to help us get a good pressure player at the bottom of the first round, I think the draft sets up even better for us to get a really nice corner in the bottom of the second," Stephen Jones said on Thursday.

That Day 1 game plan paid dividends in the picks that followed. Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis joined the fold on Friday night, mitigating the losses of Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne with two new starter-caliber cornerbacks.

It was never likely that the entire draft class would be defensive. And in all honesty, the selections of wide receivers Ryan Switzer and Noah Brown might have been two of the best values of the entire weekend.

But after a whirlwind Day 3 saw the Cowboys trade twice – once up and once down – in moves that helped them net four total defenders, the additions of Switzer and Brown feel almost like an afterthought.

What's left instead is the strong impression that the Cowboys were willing to take extra steps to remake their defense. For evidence, look no further than the decision to trade up in the sixth round, parting ways with next year's fifth-round pick, to secure Xavier Woods.

"At some point, we couldn't stand it with Xavier Woods sitting there," Stephen Jones said.

Woods was in consideration to be the Cowboys' fourth-round pick, which made him a no-brainer as the top prospect on the Cowboys' board when he was eventually selected No. 191.

In fact, that turned into a theme for the weekend, as Stephen Jones said the Cowboys were repeatedly able to snag prospects at the top of their wish list.

"We actually had five picks inside of our top 70 players. I think it was 68 actually that we counted," he said. "That was a big deal for us to get that many players inside of your top 70 players."

It's impossible to project the success of a draft class immediately, but it's safe to say the Cowboys have high hopes. It's a given that Charlton will be expected to contribute, but that extends across the secondary – from Awuzie and Lewis, taken in the early rounds, to Woods as a sixth-round pick.

"I think he is going to come in here and compete and really add depth," Stephen Jones said of the safety. "He is one of those guys that has some versatility as well. He has some great ball skills, he's very instinctive, he's the type of guy you want on your football team."

Throw in some late-round prospects, and the defensive focus becomes even more apparent. Florida State cornerback Marquez White adds another new face to the secondary – which, all of a sudden, features six players aged 23 or younger, including second-year players Kavon Frazier and Anthony Brown.

"If you add Frazier and Brown and make this a time frame form this time last year, we could wake up here and have 70 to 80 percent of our whole secondary within 11 months be fresh faces," Jerry Jones said.

For good measure, defensive linemen Joey Ivie and Jordan Carrell can create competition on the defensive front – which is bound to make defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli happy.

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Jerry Jones is always sure to include Jaylon Smith and Charles Tapper, who are expected to return from injury in 2017, whenever he prognosticates about his defense. But even without that duo, it's safe to say the Cowboys have bolstered the talent level on their defense.

That was the goal when this process started, and the Cowboys aren't shy about saying they've accomplished it.

"Yes, we are a better defense than when we ended the year," Jerry Jones said. "We've got a chance to really be better than where we are right now as the year goes along."

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