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Draft Central | 2024

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McClay, Cowboys stay true to form on day 2


FRISCO, Texas — Going into the NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys clearly needed to address a wealth of needs on both sides of the ball.

Even in addressing the left tackle position on day one, the argument could've been made for immediate day two picks at center, linebacker, defensive tackle and running back. And while the Cowboys did address two of those needs, they stayed true to form in the second round by taking a high-upside player with versatility in Western Michigan defensive end Marshawn Kneeland.

Cowboys vice president of player personnel Will McClay has preached often about his desire to find players that can do "two things instead of one" and each pick on Friday night resembled that key scouting belief that has led to Dallas drafting as well as it has over the course of the last decade.

Even though all but one running back and all but one linebacker – two positions that the Cowboys invested a lot of resources into in the pre-draft process – were still available at pick No. 56, McClay turned to what has worked for him so many times before in a player with versatility in Kneeland.

At 6-foot-3, 267 pounds, Kneeland comes off the edge with a bigger frame than most defensive ends, but it's his world-class athleticism that allows him to get off the ball and fly around as if he is 20 pounds lighter. But with the frame, there is also potential to move inside to cover the B-gap running lanes.

When you factor it all in, it's a prototypical selection for everyone in the room: Will McClay, Jerry Jones, Mike Zimmer.

Moving into the third round without addressing a blinking red light need could have increased the urgency to make a safe selection, and in addressing the interior offensive line, the center position would appear to become increasingly important.

Even with experienced and cerebral centers available on the board – such as Georgia's Sedrick Van Pran-Granger and Penn State's Hunter Nourzad, two players that the Cowboys have shown interest in – the War Room decided to turn in the card for Kansas State's Cooper Beebe, who has played the large majority of his career at guard.

However, the research done on Beebe would tell you that he has practice experience playing at center from his time with the Wildcats. A source at Kansas State told after the pick was made that Beebe is "extremely" cerebral enough to play the center position and that he played or practiced a large amount at each of the five offensive line positions during his time in The Little Apple.

"His position flex," Mike McCarthy said about what stood out about Beebe. "As you look at today's game with the 17 games and you look at our history, you can't have enough players – let alone linemen – that can play two positions."

Center problem, absolved. All because of research in a scouting department led by McClay that not only prioritizes positional versatility, it seeks it out relentlessly.

That philosophy continued with picking Notre Dame linebacker Marist Liufau with pick No. 87.

The former high school safety thought that he would be a secondary piece for the Fighting Irish when he made his way across the Pacific Ocean from Honolulu, but instead he was maximized early on as a coverage linebacker with his lateral movement and his physical growth potential.

Not only did he become that, he became an elite situational blitzer from the second level on passing downs that provided an ace up the sleeve of head coach Marcus Freeman in South Bend.

"Versatility," McClay said about what stands out about Liufau. "In this day and age, Coach McCarthy will talk about players doing two things, defensively the way they used him at Notre Dame…The multiplicity and the number of things he can do at a high level was attractive."

Each of those traits were sought out by McClay and his staff. And while taking Liufau – a player that most draft analysts had as a comfortable day three selection – in the third round may be a reach on paper, it could prove to be very fruitful if he becomes a three-level impact with his coverage abilities on the backend and across the middle of the field along with his sneaky speciality to attack the backfield.

All in all, on a day two where the Cowboys could have easily reached outside of character to address flashing needs, they stayed true to form in finding players that can contribute in multiple areas. Time will tell if that strategy will pay off in the long run – as needs at running back and defensive tackle become that much more imperative going into a day three that will see Dallas watch 74 picks go by before making a selection – but the strategy proves that even in an offseason mulled with criticism, they remained true to form.

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