A season marred by injuries to franchise players cost the Dallas Cowboys a chance at a second consecutive playoff berth. Instead, the team finished 4-12 and received the 4th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. Joseph Ferraiola writes that Dallas had many holes to fill, especially on the defensive side of the ball, and used all nine of its picks to bolster positions of immediate and long-term need. Joseph breaks down the Dallas Cowboys draft fits to determine where the players selected will likely contribute.
Ezekiel Elliott, Running Back, Ohio State, 1st round pick (#4)
The Cowboys weren’t in desperate need of a running back, but decided that picking a player of Elliott’s caliber could help the team on both sides of the ball. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has explained that the Cowboys war room thought Elliott could add plays to the Cowboys offense and keep their defense off the field. Elliott could also keep the pressure off of Tony Romo much as DeMarco Murray did in 2014.
While some criticized the selection of a running back so early, it is hard to deny that Elliott is a talented, well-rounded running back who fits the Cowboys zone blocking scheme. His production as a Buckeye his junior year was impressive, as he ran for 1,821 yards and 23 touchdowns in 13 games played. In his entire career at Ohio State, he rushed for 3961 yards and 43 touchdowns in 40 games.
Elliott adds to a crowded backfield that includes veterans such as the incumbent Darren McFadden who rushed for 1,000-plus yards last year and newly-signed Alfred Morris. They also have Lance Dunbar, who may start the season on the PUP list, and fellow rookie Darius Jackson. As the 4th overall pick, Elliott would seemingly be slotted to start right away and have the veterans spell him when he needs a breather. With arguably the NFL’s best offensive line creating rushing lanes, Elliott is expected to be great from the get go.
Immediate Role Player
Maliek Collins, Defensive Tackle, Nebraska, 3rd round pick (#67)
At 6’1”, 311 pounds, Collins could potentially play the 1 or 3 technique in the Cowboys’ 4-3 defense. Collins is raw, but his athletic ability and high motor could make him into a solid starter eventually. These are exactly the traits defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli likes in his linemen. He and defensive tackles coach, Leon Lett, should be able to get the most out of Collins.
The Cowboys are in need of defensive line help, especially with Randy Gregory and Demarcus Lawrence both facing four-game suspensions for violating the league’s drug policy. Collins will be a rotational player with Tyrone Crawford, Cedric Thornton, Terrell McClain, and David Irving. Crawford could also play defensive end while Gregory and Lawrence serve their suspensions, making snaps available for a player like Collins inside.
Charles Tapper, Defensive End, Oklahoma, 4th round pick (#101)
Like Collins, Tapper is presented with a great opportunity to contribute immediately. The Cowboys had just 31 sacks a season ago, tied for 25th in the NFL, and would like to add to that total. At 6’3”, 271 pounds, Tapper is projected to play one of the end positions for Dallas as a rotational player. It is said that at Oklahoma he was asked to read and react instead of just reacting. Therefore, the Cowboys feel he will fit into their scheme as he will only be asked to react.
Tapper shows excellent straight-line speed as displayed by his 40 time of 4.59 seconds, a best out of all the defensive linemen at the combine.
Anthony Brown, Cornerback, Purdue, 6th round pick (#189)
Brown was drafted to address the Cowboys’ need for depth in their secondary and has a good opportunity to make the roster. They will likely use him in press coverage on the outside receivers. Brown also provides value on special teams. Dallas was able to re-sign Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr took a pay cut to stay on the roster. They also have Orlando Scandrick returning from an injury that caused him to miss the entire season. Last year’s first-round pick, Byron Jones, is slotted to play safety this season, but can also move to corner.
Kavon Frazier, Safety, Central Michigan, 6th round pick (#212)
Dallas was in need of safety depth coming into the draft; Frazier will be able to backup Barry Church and play a physical game if he is needed on the field. However, his first-year value should come mostly in the form of special teams. His head coach at Central Michigan, John Bonamego, was a special teams coordinator in the NFL for 16 seasons. Special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia and assistant special teams coach Keith O’Quinn should make Frazier into a solid NFL caliber special teams player at the very least.
Darius Jackson, Running Back, Eastern Michigan, 6th round (#216)
Dallas has a nice stable of running backs, especially after drafting Elliott, but it doesn’t hurt to add a 6’0” back who runs a 4.40 40-yard dash. Jackson’s athletic ability and size give him an opportunity to compete immediately for a roster spot, especially if Dunbar is unable to practice. Elliott, McFadden, and Morris all should have roster spots, meaning Jackson will have to turn heads to make his way on to the roster as the team’s fourth running back. His value to this team this season is most likely as a special teams player or on the practice squad.
Jaylon Smith, Linebacker, Notre Dame, 2nd round pick (#34)
If not for a torn ACL and MCL during the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State, Smith would have probably been a top-five pick. The Cowboys have direct information on Smith’s medical condition as their own team doctor performed the surgery on him. The team is obviously confident that he will be back playing after redshirting his rookie season given they spent a high second-round pick on him. If he recovers, Smith displays the speed, burst, and reaction ability to play any of the LB positions. He won’t have much first-year impact, though, other than taking up a spot on the Cowboys roster.
Dak Prescott, Quarterback, Mississippi State, 4th round pick (#135)
Dallas attempted to trade up for Paxton Lynch and Connor Cook before selecting Prescott with their second 4th round pick. The Cowboys had Prescott visit quite a few times and were apparently comfortable taking him. Prescott has the luxury of learning from one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks, as well as a head coach who also played the position. If Prescott wants to develop into Romo’s eventual successor, though, he will need to refine his mechanics and improve his accuracy.
Rico Gathers, Tight End / Power Forward, Baylor, 6th round pick (#217)
Gathers played basketball, not football, while at Baylor. Yet the Cowboys think he could become the next successful power forward turned tight end. With help from tight ends coach Mike Pope and veterans like Jason Witten, Gathers could turn into a solid player. He will like have no impact for the Cowboys this season as he has much to learn.
Brice Butler & 6th (5th), Christine Michael (7th)
Dallas made a trade with the Seattle Seahawks to acquire Christine Michael for a 7th round pick. The trade never worked out for the Cowboys as Michael played in just five games last season and ran the ball 15 times at 3.4 YPC. He eventually ended up re-signing with the Seahawks later that season after being cut by the Cowboys.
Mid-season the Cowboys received Brice Butler and a 6th from the Oakland Raiders for a 5th round pick. Dallas needed depth at wide receiver after an injury to Dez Bryant, and Butler made the most sense in an attempt to fill Bryant’s role. Butler should make the 2016 Cowboys roster and provide solid depth behind Bryant, Terrance Williams, and Cole Beasley.
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