FRISCO, Texas – Perhaps he didn't realize it at the time, but Mike McCarthy gave us a blueprint for this draft process all the way back in January.
Just one week after he was hired as the Cowboys' new head coach, McCarthy sat down with reporters and covered a bevy of topics. Among them was a question about how he'd go about finding players to fit his preferred defensive scheme – though the answer revealed plenty about his team building philosophy as a whole.
"I think if you have a system of defense where you need a certain player to fit your scheme, you're limiting your personnel department," McCarthy said at the time. "We know what a Dallas Cowboys football player looks like. The length, the athletic ability. Let's get as many good football players as we possibly can."
Fast forward a few months, and that mantra seems to have come to fruition. Throughout the 2020 NFL Draft this past weekend, the Cowboys were lucky enough to have several surprisingly talented players fall to their draft slot. Without fail, they turned in their cards for the highest-rated player available – from CeeDee Lamb in the first round, to Bradlee Anae all the way in the fifth.
If you think that sounds like a bit of a shift in philosophy, you're not alone. To hear it from executive vice president of player personnel Will McClay, it was one of the first things he noted about working with McCarthy.
"When he joined the organization and we started talking about players, one of the first things out of his mouth was 'Players over system,'" McClay said on Tuesday. "Well, that rung a bell with me right away."
It's the opposite of what had been the norm for several years in Dallas. Some of the organization's biggest draft misses in recent memory have centered around the question of talent versus scheme. The Cowboys famously selected Taco Charlton over T.J. Watt in 2017, at least partially due to concern that Watt couldn't play defensive end in their system.
Contrast that with McCarthy, who also said back in January that it's his responsibility to make sure the parameters of his scheme are large enough to accommodate any good football players.
"That was a unique thing to hear a coach say, because most of it is system-based when they look at things," McClay said. "So that opened the door for a lot of things."
It's impossible to say how it will actually pan out until these draft picks start playing. But it seems to have opened the door for one of the Cowboys' most promising drafts in recent memory. By not pigeonholing themselves, they have added the most exciting young receiver in this draft class, on top of several potential difference-makers on defense – several of whom may not have been selected at all in previous years.
By all indications, McCarthy and his coaching staff were influential in that process, perhaps ironically by not being too influential. Now, the Cowboys have a talented crop of newcomers they can fit their scheme around.
"Our job is to look at all of these things, and then when those things match, some of the traits that they're looking for, we say this is what the guy can do," McClay said. "Now it's up to, from a schematic standpoint, to say the value of those traits, what's most important and then trying to fit them into the team so that the team can develop a scheme."