IRVING, Texas – Kevin Costner had it right in "Draft Day." Well, partially right. Let me explain. (And if you still haven't seen the movie two years later, sorry. Spoilers below.)
Sonny Weaver, Jr., fictional Cleveland Browns GM, wakes up with the seventh pick. His new coach wants skill players for a new offensive system. What does Sonny scribble on a sticky note before he leaves for work?
Vontae Mack, no matter what.
Sonny doesn't really need a linebacker, but Mack is his guy. Best player in the draft, Sonny's convinced. And he does get Mack … after he trades three first-round picks to move up and take him at No. 1.
(Of course, Sonny could have drafted Mack at No. 7, or No. 17, but hey, don't worry about that. That's Hollywood, and that's what I mean by "partially right." No GM in their right mind would ever do such a thing.)
The point is, Costner's character trusted his instincts. He didn't reach for need. He took the best player on his board, and he got the pick right. We assume he did, anyway.
In real life, this is the challenge for every team picking in the top 10, including the Cowboys at No. 4.
Get the pick right.
This is easier said than done, even at No. 4. Which is why teams can't ever, ever reach for a presumed biggest need.
See, there are 88 days till The Real Draft Day, and the pre-draft narrative for the Dallas Cowboys is clear: at No. 4, will they strongly consider selecting a developmental quarterback that could be Tony Romo's heir apparent, or will they use the pick on another position player that could help them win now?
I've been reading these pre-draft mocks and summaries, and it's all good fodder, it really is. Some say the Cowboys might not pick this high again for years and this is their chance to groom their next franchise quarterback for down the line. Some insist the Cowboys must draft a shutdown corner or an impact pass rusher because they didn't get enough takeaways or sacks in 2015.
There is some level of merit to all those opinions. But there's an assumption implied within each of them:
Because the draft pick is so high, whomever they select will become a star and capably fill a roster hole.
Look at draft history. That's not always the case.
Of the 14 fourth overall picks from 2000-2014, only five have made multiple Pro Bowls: A.J. Green, Trent Williams, D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Philip Rivers and Justin Smith.
Derrick Thomas and Jonathan Ogden made the Hall of Fame as former No. 4 picks. Another, Charles Woodson, seems certain to land in Canton one day. But for every one of those draft home runs, there's a Gaines Adams or a Cedric Benson or a Dewayne Robertson or a Mike Williams or a Peter Warrick that didn't pan out.
The Cowboys have been very fortunate with draft picks in this range. Troy Aikman (No. 1), Tony Dorsett (No. 2) and Randy White (No. 2) all worked out pretty good. Like, Hall of Fame good. I'd venture to guess none were simply "need" selections.
There can be exceptions to the Best Player Available credo. For instance, I don't know how the Cowboys could invest a fourth first-round draft pick since 2011 on an offensive lineman. They have so much equity in the position already. It's already the biggest strength on the roster.
Need usually factors into a team's draft decisions on some level. But teams can't afford to risk reaching for a player. There are no sure things in the NFL Draft, even in the top 5. That's what makes the Cowboys' evaluations and the building of their draft board so important over the next few months.
They believe in that process. And the biggest thing is getting the pick right at No. 4.
First and foremost, it's about a player's talent, not so much his position.