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While there is still time to make a few additions to the roster, it’s pretty apparent where the Cowboys stand at this point in the 2021 offseason. Dallas has done was Dallas does, and that’s use free agency to plug toilet paper into the leaks on their boat in hopes they can make it to shore. That did not work in 2020 when their free agent additions were not very helpful and the injury bug ravaged them at two of their three most stocked position groups.
Quarterback and offensive line were decimated while wide receiver remained healthy. Those players shined despite their dependence on the other two. What’s notably absent is that the Cowboys aren’t strong at any of the defensive position groups and that is once again the case following the veteran additions they made over the month of March.
BPAPN is a term I coined way back when I first started covering the Cowboys. The earliest I can find is this reference from April 2011’s draft, the first draft I covered. It’s the concept I believe smart teams operate from and marries what are seen as two conflicting draft policies. Take the Best Player Available, among the team’s Positions of Need. But how does it actually work?
Teams have needs in the draft, but unlike most mock drafts, successful teams don't look at their biggest priority and automatically pick the prospect they think is the best at that position. Relative value play integral roles in that decision-making process. The Cowboys have made it abundantly clear (to their detriment in my humble opinion) that they do not value nose tackle and safety as important positions and this certainly plays a role in either how they build their draft boards or how the interact with it during draft weekend. Positional scarcity is important as well. If a position is uber deep, like wide receiver is over this recent stretch of years, then it makes sense to draft a player at a more scare position early if you know similarly-graded talent will be available in a later round. We know Dallas does this as well as when they've revealed their draft boards in the past we've seen them pick lower-rated players and then circle back for a higher-rated player in the next round. The usability of a player factors in as well. If Kansas City grades Justin Fields as the eighth-best player in the draft, and he's on the board at No. 31, BPA quote-unquote demands he be taken. But only one quarterback gets on the field at a time, so there's no point in using a high-pedigree pick for a quarterback when you have Patrick freakin' Mahomes. The Cowboys would not be able to give Najee Harris any burn in the immediate future because they have Ezekiel Elliott. Finally, long-range vision applies. Teams should just worry about the holes they need to fill in the current season. The NFL salary cap rules demand that teams have to make decisions on some level about keeping or letting go players who aren't the best at their position. The superstar guys are easy answers to retain, but the tier below demands choices be made. Will he be too expensive? Can that guy be replaced? Does his replacement need to be drafted a year early to ensure he's ready to take over? These types of questions are what Dallas has to be asking currently about a guy like Michael Gallup.
How It All Fits Together
In theory a team should be able to cluster their biggest holes together. Yes, there is the possibility that one position truly dominates the others in terms of the hole needing to be filled and the importance of the position. This is traditionally only the case when a club needs a QB. All rules are thrown out the window when needing a quarterback, including the fact that teams should rarely if ever look to trade up. Outside of QB, most needs can be grouped together. Now within those groups, positions are certainly ranked. A team really needs three things but one is more immediate than other. No problems there. But when on the clock, the team shouldn't just say, "We need Position X more than anything, so whomever is our highest-graded guy at that position, take him." No, the team should have a top prospect from multiple positions in consideration, and then apply the integral factors to the choice they make. Say a team needs WR a little more than defensive end, but both are big needs. If the draft seems to have 10 WRs still on the board who could come in, fit the scheme and help immediately and long-term but only has two defensive ends that fit the profile, guess what? The defensive end makes more sense, even if when on the clock the next guy up on the board is a wide receiver.
So a team has a group of two or three positions. What happens when one of those is filled? Position groups should get replaced by whatever the next biggest need is. For example, if a team has WR, DE, CB in their group when they get on the clock. Say this is what their board at those positions looks like: WR3 WR4 DE1 CB1 WR5 WR6 WR7 CB2 CB3 DE2 CB4 CB5 WR8 DE3 WR9 WR10 Taking WR3 here would be okay, but it could lock the team out of a serviceable defensive end or corner when they could have that plus a comparable wideout in the next round. So the club takes DE1 with their selection. That effectively takes DE2 and DE3 off their board because of usability. A club should consider backfilling the vacuum left by DEs leaving the board with another position. For instance, now safety is part of the mix of positions that are considered.
The Caveat - Generational Talent
This supercedes almost every rule. If there's a generational talent (and this term is horribly overused year after year, but it does exist), then that player jumps to the front of the line. Unless a position is so bereft of talent where the cupboard is absolutely bare AND there is a star-in-the-making available, then the generational talent should be picked and other things worked out later. Let's use this draft for example. Let's say the draft breaks down as follows:
Jacksonville - Trevor Lawrence, QB
New York Jets - Zack Wilson, QB
San Francisco 49ers - Justin Fields, QB
Atlanta Falcons - Penei Sewell, OT
Cincinnati Bengals - ??
The best player on the board is clearly TE Kyle Pitts, who by most evaluators is a generational talent at a position which is often disregarded but can become an uncontainable mismatch with this kind of extreme talent. However, the Bengals are so bereft of talent along the offensive line that they may be right in selecting Northwestern's Rashawn Slater instead of Pitts because Slater should be a star player capable of multiple Pro Bowls. Miami, sitting at No. 6, has much bigger needs than TE as Mike Gesicki is an ascending player. However, they aren't bereft of talent elsewhere so jumping Pitts to the top of a BPAPN draft board makes sense. For those wondering, having Trevon Diggs means the Cowboys are not bereft of talent at the cornerback position. If they only had Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis on the roster, then they would be right to pass up on a generational talent for a star-in-the-making cornerback.
Continue the Two-Part Series Here: Ranking Cowboys positional needs in 2021
(AP Photo/Gus Ruelas)