DALLAS — There are many ways to win in the NFL, which is something Dallas Cowboys Executive Vice President and CEO Stephen Jones is quick to tell everyone.
Last season, the Los Angeles Rams won the Super Bowl by pushing all their chips into the middle of the table, signing the best free agents and trading most of their draft picks for top-of-the-line talent.
The Cowboys do it the exact opposite way: they rarely invest heavily in free agency and love to use the NFL Draft to build the team. The edge currently goes to the Rams, since they recently enjoyed the success that the Cowboys have been striving to attain.
Yet the Cowboys continue to plug away using their strategy. Using the draft to build their team isn’t the only prong of the plan, as Dallas also wants to pick their type of players, and it was seen once again at this year’s draft. Team building for the Cowboys is all about constructing an identity.
This year’s first round pick, offensive lineman Tyler Smith, is a great example. Smith wasn’t a popular selection, and although there were a few teams who reportedly had Smith as a first-round talent, to many it seemed a little rich to select the Tulsa standout 24th overall.
However, Dallas won’t be worried about the perception. They built their own rankings of the available talent and listened to their talent evaluators. It’s how Smith came to be listed as a top 16 player in the now famously leaked draft board.
They liked the player and drafted him, much like they did when they drafted center Travis Frederick in 2013. That pick was second-guessed by fans and draft experts all the way up until Frederick quickly proved why he was worthy of his first round selection.
Just as Frederick did, Smith fits the identity of who the Cowboys want to be on offense. Dallas wants to be a team that physically dominates and can run the ball; they are designed to run to set up the pass more than most of today’s NFL teams. Fans may not like that strategy, but the team stayed true to who they are.
Being true to who you are isn’t easy these days, but the Cowboys had the fortitude to trust that Smith brings to table a lot of what the team is looking for. Smith’s a mauler. He’s physical and nasty in the running game. That fits Dallas’ philosophy to a T.
The same can be said about second-round pick, defensive end Sam Williams. Most draft experts had players, and pass rushers, ranked higher than Williams, but the Cowboys took their guy. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn worked Williams out during his pro day and saw enough to support the selection.
Dallas hired Quinn and put their faith in him to lead the defense, so allowing him to help pick a player he believes in is a smart way to get everyone to buy in on what you’re trying to build.
Selecting players with strong athletic traits is something that can be seen throughout the Cowboys’ draft. One glance at any of the Cowboys’ draft picks or players added as undrafted free agents and you’ll find it’s a common theme, they all tested well athletically or fit what the team is looking for.
Drafting excellent athletes or relentless performers is a philosophy that team Vice President of Player Personnel Will McClay pursued throughout the draft process. McClay wants big, strong, fast athletes on both sides of the ball to keep up with the ever-expanding amount of athletic talent that every NFL team now possesses. With the players only getting bigger and stronger, the Cowboys seek to be on the forefront of keeping up with that trend.
Armchair evaluators might have had other players in mind, but the Cowboys were smart enough to know their identity and had the fortitude to draft the players that they felt fit their profile.
The Cowboys want to be a physically dominating team on offense, and a play-making unit on defense. Their draft reflects who Dallas aspires to be, and everyone working towards a set philosophy is always better than having no identity at all.
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