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Draft Central | 2023

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Mick Shots: At Pick 26, It's All About The Board


FRISCO, Texas – The Board, The Board, The Board.

What everyone wants to know is who the Dallas Cowboys will select with the 26th pick in Thursday's first round of the NFL Draft.

But as Cowboys owner Jerry Jones began Monday's pre-draft press conference, trying to be funny, but offering a slice of truth, he said, "You're not going to know anything close to what we're going to do because I don't."

No, Jerry doesn't. Stephen Jones doesn't. Nor Mike McCarthy or Will McClay. Because they would have to be equipped with mental telepathy to predict how the first 25 picks in the draft unfold before they go on the clock at 26.

That is why the Cowboys' pre-draft triumvirate of Jerry, Stephen and Mike all claimed they must have confidence in how they put their Board of graded players together to tell them who the highest-graded player available will be at that point. And that's highest within reason since they are unlikely to draft a quarterback at No. 26, and probably not a safety nor a center.

But after that, only The Board knows.

"I would say have your board in order, that's how you get prepared. As long as you feel confident about your board, what other people do, it affects you, it takes options away, but as long as you feel comfortable as these guys fall off, your best guys that you have remaining on your board, then you feel very much at peace that you'll be just fine. … Then you'll feel good about what the outcome will be on draft day," Cowboys COO Stephen Jones said of how in the world do you possibly get prepared to select as late as 26th in the first round.

Wish we could just take a shot at asking TB. Because The Board knows.

  • Historical Clues: This will be the Cowboys' 63rd NFL Draft since in 1960 the draft had already been completed by time the NFL granted Dallas a franchise, their expansion draft consisting of picking no more than three unprotected players from each of the existing 12 NFL teams. So in other words, the leftovers after teams were able to protect 25 roster players. Well, in all of those years, the Cowboys have only drafted two tight ends with first-round picks, David LaFleur in 1997 and Billy Joe DuPree in 1973, and have only selected two offensive guards in the first round, Zack Martin in 2014 and John Niland in 1966.
  • On Guard: So when the subject of drafting a guard in the first round came up, McCarthy had already pointed out that usually the biggest improvement a team makes from one year to another is your first- and second-year players making that jump, saying of Josh Ball, who will train at tackle and guard, and Matt Waletzko, another potential tackle/guard, "They're ready. We've just got to get them battle-tested in the preseason." Now in the second or third round, a guard, OK. Or an offensive tackle that can play guard before an opening occurs at tackle. At least to me.
  • Everyone Mocking: There are enough Mock Drafts out there to make your head spin, with the same guys doing a weekly version for five weeks or so. Well, the Cowboys perform their own mock drafts, McCarthy saying they will conduct 20 to 30 in-house mocks trying to prepare as best they can for whatever scenario presents itself at 26. In fact, McCarthy said they're utilizing a computer program to spit out varying scenarios.
  • Up Or Down: Hey, why not if the scenario presents itself? Can see the Cowboys doing either, trade up or trade down at No. 26. Up slightly if they see a player having a first-round grade dropping into the 20s, or if a player with a low first-round grade is still there, maybe trading down for extra picks and getting their man at maybe 29 or 30.
  • Break A Leg: Someone asked me what would the Cowboys do if Texas running back Bijan Robinson is still available at 26? My answer was, "They would break a leg trying to get up there with his name on the card fast enough," first-round RB status notwithstanding. My goodness, Robinson definitely would be the best player on their board still standing. Heck, probably one of the best players at the top of their board, no matter if other teams have devalued the running back. Heck, at No, 26, the projected four-year salary would be an average right at $3.4 million a year. That's peanuts in the scheme of things. Or as Stephen Jones qualified taking a running back in the first round, if you are picking in the top 15, you'd like that player to be good enough to earn a second contract. But if you are picking 20 down, well, "If you happen to see a running back there at the end of the first and he falls because he's a running back, I'd have to think we'd be considering it, especially if we thought he should have been picked in the top half of the draft but because he's a running back he's fallen a little bit." Makes perfect sense to me.
  • Draftables: Since the Cowboys can qualify drafting about any position in the first round, don't dismiss a linebacker, a guy like Arkansas LB Drew Sanders, to me a poor man's Micah Parson, who can also put his hand on the ground rushing the QB, and oh, is a local kid from nearby Denton Ryan High School . … A defensive end? Sure, why not, and Iowa State's Will McDonald sure is an interesting prospect, a well-rounded athlete having recorded 34 sacks during his Iowa State career. … About a dozen Cowboys players were in a suite for Tuesday night's Dallas Stars' 4-0 playoff victory over the Minnesota Wild, with Dak Prescott front and center when the video board spotted them, hanging out with the tight ends and a bunch of offensive linemen and wide receivers. … Also in attendance was Hall of Fame QB Troy Aikman. … Cowboys Hall of Fame receiver Drew Pearson will be announcing the Cowboys' second and third-round picks on Friday night, and hopefully he'll be better received by the folks in Kansas City than those a few years back in Philadelphia. … Nothing wrong either with the Cowboys selecting a potential backup quarterback of the future in the last couple of rounds, maybe like Tulane's Clayton Tune or Purdue's Aiden O'Connell. … And what about a kicker? See where only two have received draftable grades by one ranking, Michigan's Jake Moody and Maryland's Chad Ryland.

Jerry Jones gets the first word, and let's give him the last word when trying to qualify what position you might draft in the first round. As previously pointed out, the Cowboys have not had a history of selecting guards in the first round – only two, right? – and that is why Jerry points out it's hard to have high-salaried players at every position. You must spread out the salary cap funds, knowing you can't have a steak at every position. And currently the Cowboys have three first-round picks on the offensive line, Tyron Smith, Tyler Smith and Zack Martin. The Cowboys proved during their 1990s Super Bowl seasons that a great offensive line can be raised and pieced together. Do you realize, until Larry Allen arrived as a second-round pick in 1994, that their highest-drafted starters on the offensive line were third-rounders, center Mark Stepnoski (1989) and Erik Williams (1991).

The salary cap must be managed, with money spent at positions of priority.

"These guys have to come," Jones began, referring to younger low-round drafted players developing into starters, knowing you can't have a first-rounder at every position. "Think about it because if you have all multimillion-dollar offensive linemen, and you've got a multi-million quarterback, top receivers, pass rushers, where is the give (on the salary cap)? How do you keep it rolling? And you really do have to, and it's always meant to be that way regarding the cap.

"But you really do with your key salaries – but those key salaries get up there. Then you have to recognize that you are going to have turnover there, guys are going to have to play. … They've got to come, and they've got to be part of a team in there. This isn't beauty-contest stuff here. This is the rule, and if you get over that cap, they will cut your last man on the roster for you and keep cutting until you get under the cap.

"My point is a factor managing (the cap), looking forward, picking an offensive lineman right now (to help manage the cap in the future)."

Nothing wrong with a little marinated smoked top sirloin, you know.

"From Thursday's First-Round party to Friday's Live Music and a Saturday 5K run, celebrate the NFL Draft with us. Join us for Draft Weekend presented by Miller Lite, April 27-29, at The Star in Frisco"

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