Is it fair to say the Dallas Cowboys are at sort of a breaking point—my autocorrect almost changed the word “breaking” to “wrecking,” which might have been a foreshadowing—heading into 2021 just one year into a new head coach’s tenure?
On one hand, no, probably not. Owner Jerry Jones’ loyalty to the coaches he likes can be to a fault, as was evident by the Cowboys holding on to Jason Garrett for nine seasons. But to be fair to both Garrett and Jones, though there was inconsistency, there were a few division titles at the end of that tenure. But on the other hand, I wasn’t really a fan of the Mike McCarthy hire to begin with, and he didn’t exactly sway my opinion of him in his first year. Perhaps that clouds my judgment here a bit, which I’ll do my best to not let happen as we assess where the Cowboys are and where they could be going. In all, I don’t think we’re on the brink of drastic changes in Dallas quite yet.
In McCarthy’s first season as head coach, the Cowboys went 6-10 and finished third in a putrid NFC East. The built-in excuses for the below .500 record are actually pretty valid. The team lost their star quarterback, Dak Prescott, early in the season. Plus, of course, the entire year was different than ever before due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.
But valid excuses or not, 2021 is a big year for the Cowboys. It’s the second year of a head coach, which is typically a telling season, the first with their franchise quarterback locked into a big deal, and it’s a time in which the top of the division is up for grabs. Though McCarthy and Prescott are the cornerstones, the rest of the roster seems to have a lot riding on this season. The offensive line—once one of the best in the league for a long time—is showing its age, their offensive weapons will give no excuses for anything but top play, their secondary is brand new, their linebackers could be changing, and outside of DeMarcus Lawrence, their defensive line is unknown.
With the NFC East up for grabs, let’s see if the Cowboys have recently done what they’ve needed to in order to put their name at the top of the division.
2020 Draft Class
Round 1: CeeDee Lamb, WR
Round 2: Trevon Diggs, CB
Round 3: Neville Gallimore, DT
Round 4: Reggie Robinson, CB
Round 4: Tyler Biadasz, IOL
Round 5: Bradlee Anae, EDGE
This was quite the swing-for-the-fences kind of draft. Despite having much bigger needs on defense, the Cowboys went with a true “best player available” approach when Lamb was still there at their pick. There were reasons for reactions to be split here, but the overwhelming thought was that the Cowboys just set themselves up for one of the best offenses in the NFL. But it did come at a price. On defense, Diggs struggled his first season, as did Gallimore. Due to injuries along the offensive line, Biadasz was forced into action and played fine. It’s obviously just one year in, but the lone bright spot here appears to be at the top. The pick was exciting, but that’s not good enough.
Draft Grade: C+
2019 Draft Class
Round 2: Trysten Hill, DT
Round 3: Connor McGovern, IOL
Round 4: Tony Pollard, RB
Round 5: Michael Jackson, CB
Round 5: Joe Jackson, EDGE
Round 6: Donovan Wilson, S
Round 7: Mike Weber, RB
Round 7: Jalen Jelks, EDGE
This draft class looks near downright awful. For starters, half of the draft picks aren’t even on the team anymore. For the ones that are, Hill has not been what the Cowboys have needed on the interior, McGovern has been fine, Pollard is actually good but is just a backup right now to Ezekiel Elliott, and Wilson took over at strong safety this past year and has been serviceable.
There are only two players punching above their draft expectations and it’s Dallas’ fourth- and sixth-round picks. That’s bad.
Draft Grade: D+
2018 Draft Class
Round 1: Leighton Vander Esch, LB
Round 2: Connor Williams, OL
Round 3: Michael Gallup, WR
Round 4: Dorance Armstrong, EDGE
Round 4: Dalton Schultz, TE
Round 5: Mike White, QB
Round 6: Chris Covington, LB
Round 6: Cedric Wilson, WR
Round 7: Bo Scarborough, RB
The Cowboys made a lot of picks in this draft, but they got plenty of starters out of it, so it’s not too bad. Vander Esch played well as a rookie, but his play has declined since—a big reason why the team did not pick up his fifth-year option. Williams has improved his play each season, and Gallup has grown into a really good wide receiver in a stack receiver room. Armstrong has been fine as a Day 3 rotational player, and Schultz is the team’s starting tight end.
Did this class knock it out of the park? No, I wouldn't say that, especially since it’s somewhat shaky at the top. However, it was pretty good throughout.
Draft Grade: B
I haven’t been the biggest fan of what the Cowboys have done in the draft lately—don’t even get me started on how they went about the 2021 NFL Draft—but there were some redeeming qualities in that 2018 class. However, if I’m being blunt, this team better shape up quickly in the war room, or not even Prescott’s heroics will be able to save them.
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