Dallas Cowboys bolster depth after Amari Cooper trade meant no first-rounder in NFL draft
The Dallas Cowboys entered the 2019 NFL draft with Amari Cooper as their de facto first-round selection and a haul of free-agency veterans that enabled them to draft largely for value over position.
The team emerges with eight more selections who illustrate the franchise’s commitment to winning at the line of scrimmage and bolster depth at positions where starters’ contracts soon expire. After selecting two fifth-round Miami defenders named Jackson and an early round offensive lineman named Connor for the second year, Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones postured confidently about the roster.
“We have as deep a roster as we’ve had in terms of competition from the top to the bottom,” Jones said.
Dallas Cowboys Executive Vice President Stephen Jones. (Photo: Ron Jenkins, AP)
NFL DRAFT: 2020's top 10 prospects: Tank for Tua Tagovailoa?
NFL DRAFT GRADES: Patriots' class among best, Giants' haul confounds
Dallas opened the draft quietly on Thursday. The team didn’t trade up to regain a selection higher than pick 58. Twenty-four draft selections without a receiver — and only three receivers taken in the top 50 selections — lent further credibility to their investment in the three-time Pro Bowler Cooper. Nike shirts at The Star celebrated Cooper as “WORTH THE FIRST.” All 214 (the Dallas area code, as well as the numbers of Cooper’s co-stars Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott) shirts sold out.
Cowboys HQ @Nike store ordered 214 (yes, a fitting number) @AmariCooper9 “Worth the First” shirts for #NFLDraft weekend.
Shirts sold out pic.twitter.com/kXNRmXCfIM
By the time the Cowboys were on the clock just after 9 p.m. ET on Friday, many anticipated the team would grab one of the remaining safeties from its 30 pre-draft visits. Instead, the Cowboys selected Central Florida defensive tackle Trysten Hill at 58 and Penn State offensive lineman Connor McGovern at 90.
A safety spot that Cowboys brass last week admitted has the fewest resources invested in didn’t officially get help until Round 6, with Texas A&M safety Donovan Wilson. But Dallas viewed its strategy otherwise. The team drafted Miami cornerback Michael Jackson in Round 5, 158th overall, for secondary support. Hill joins defensive ends Joe Jackson (Miami, Round 5/165) and Jalen Jelks (Oregon, Round 7/241) as upgrades to Rod Marinelli’s homegrown defensive line. Improve the line, owner/general manager Jerry Jones said, and the secondary improves.
“Disrupting the passer helps make safeties play better,” Jones said Friday night. “It makes it easier for them to do their thing, easier to cover, easier for the quarterback to not be as accurate, easier for the quarterback to have to throw quicker, easier for the quarterback to have to disrupt the plans of the offense.
“When you can rush and disrupt, which is what we think [Hill’s] game is, is where it starts.”
Hill recorded 71 tackles, including 20 for loss and six sacks, across three seasons at Central Florida. He collected a career-high 36 total tackles in 2018 even after losing his starting role following a coaching change. Hill started every game during Central Florida’s undefeated 2017 season in which the Knights crowned themselves national champions.
And Hill is among members of this draft class who will have the opportunity to prove themselves in a lineup full of players whose contracts expire after 2019. Hill could succeed 2016 third-round selection Maliek Collins, who has started 45 of 48 games the last three seasons. At cornerback, Michael Jackson enters a room where Byron Jones hasn’t missed a start in three years and Anthony Brown has posted 30 starts. Each has one year remaining on their contracts. Jones, named to his first Pro Bowl in 2018, also is recovering from offseason hip surgery.
The Cowboys know they can’t keep each of their drafted talents in the coming years. Dallas opened April signing pass rusher DeMarcus Lawrence, their 2014 second-round selection, to a five-year, $105 million contract with $67 million guaranteed. Cap space quickly tightens as mega-extensions loom for quarterback Dak Prescott, Cooper and likely running back Ezekiel Elliott. McGovern, who blocked for Saquon Barkley at Penn State, could ensure the offensive line remains Dallas’ strength when La’el Collins’ contract expires after 2019. The Cowboys saw how their line’s production could dip when all-pro center Travis Frederick missed 2018 with an autoimmune disease.
“It was a tough one to swallow — you just can’t have enough of those guys,” Stephen Jones said of Frederick, after drafting McGovern. “Don’t leave good players behind on the board because your strongest position is the offensive line.”
On their call to McGovern informing him of the selection, Jerry Jones told the prospect he should see the selection as a high compliment.
“Boy, are you joining a hellacious offensive line,” Jones said. “I think you joined the best unit of any unit of anything in the NFL.”
The Cowboys draft class boasts versatility, from McGovern’s experience at both guard and center to Memphis running back Tony Pollard (fourth round, 128) spending time at receiver and punt returner. (Pollard’s 30.1 yards per kick return in college rank fifth best ever; in 2017, he averaged 40.) Michael Jackson said he’s happy to move from corner to safety, like Byron Jones once did with the Cowboys.
“You want me to play nickel, dime, corner, any position on the field and I’ll take it,” Jackson said on a call with reporters. “I’m going to learn the playbook before rookie minicamp starts.”
Factor in the Cowboys converting six picks after the Cooper trade into eight — Dallas traded down twice after players they wanted left the board — and the team executed a draft that didn’t flash but does offer numerous ways to ensure short- and long-term roster depth. Adding two running backs in Pollard and Ohio State’s Mike Weber (seventh round, 218) behind the league’s rushing champion Elliott was surprising. But Pollard could serve as a running back complement ala the Saints’ Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, Stephen Jones said. Pollard’s role as a more traditional backup could spell Elliott after his whopping 381 touches for 2,001 yards from scrimmage in 2018.
“That was a goal coming into this draft: Let’s wisely use Zeke now and in the future,” Jerry Jones said. “Prudence tells you you need to manage this.”
And though Dallas’ safety group remains a collection of players drafted in the fifth round or later, the team isn’t concerned.
“We felt better than people from the outside looking in feel about our safety position,” Stephen Jones said. “I’ve mentioned time and time again that we don’t have as much resources allocated to that position, and it is probably not by accident.
“If you can find a difference maker [or] a situation to improve anything, then we will do it. At the same time we like what we have at safety.”
Cowboys 2019 draft selections
Round 1, Pick 27: Traded to Raiders for Amari Cooper
Round 2, Pick 58: Central Florida DT Trysten Hill
Round 3, Pick 90: Penn State OL Connor McGovern
Round 4, Pick 128: Memphis RB Tony Pollard
Round 5, Pick 158: Miami CB Michael Jackson
Round 5, Pick 165: Miami DE Joe Jackson
Round 6, Pick 213: Texas A&M S Donovan Wilson
Round 7, Pick 218: Ohio State RB Mike Weber
Round 7, Pick 241: Oregon DE Jalen Jelks
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.
Source: Read Full Article