‘Going to be growing pains’, Cowboys’ McClay preaches rookie-class patience
Every NFL team has a team-building strategy. Some teams prefer veteran players who are dependable. Some teams like the high risk/reward element young players offer. Some teams like proven rookies who can hit the ground running. Others like rookies who have translatable traits that can be developed.
The Cowboys appear to be the last category of team.
Since Will McClay joined the franchise in 2009, Dallas has been a traits-driven franchise. College success and film study obviously matter, but if the prospect doesn’t have NFL-caliber traits, the Cowboys will turn their attention elsewhere.
Whether it’s size, speed, agility, explosiveness, or arm length, Dallas is probably interested in the measurement. Many great college players go on to have disappointing professional careers. Just like many average players go on to have better professional careers. The traits need to translate.
McClay recently spoke to 105.3 The Fan after the draft. He talked draft picks and expectations of draft picks.
“College football is not played like the NFL,” McClay said bluntly. “So when you draft a kid out of college, there’s going to be growing pains, but you want to pick guys with the traits, with the mental fortitude and the ability to continue to grow.”
McClay was on the topic of offensive line at the time, but he mentioned various traits in just about every corner of his analysis across the positions. He explained why traits matter in scouting and also set the expectation that “there will be growing pains” because the pro game is different and everyone must take a step up in order to compete.
Patience and Excitement
There are two big takeaways from his comments:
Patience is required with the Cowboys’ newest draft class because most of them require a hefty amount of development.
Be excited about players from previous draft classes, ready to take that next step in Dallas.
The most recent draft class is littered with developmental players. Mazi Smith, Luke Schoonmaker and DeMarvion Overshown were all drafted because McClay and the Cowboys saw some untapped potential in them.
Smith wasn’t a pass-rushing factor at Michigan (scheme and assignment related) but Dallas thinks, based on his ridiculous athletic profile, they can develop him into one as a pro.
Schoonmaker wasn’t much of a pass-catcher at Michigan (scheme and assignment related) but based on his athletic profile they hope to turn him into one as a pro.
Overshown played a number of roles but never seemed to put together all of his special traits at Texas. The Cowboys hope they can unlock him with a little more focus in the pros.
All of these players are expected to become better professionals than they were amateurs. That will take time and patience.
On the flip side, there are a handful of young players who Dallas has been slowly developing over the years. They may be on the verge of taking that next step, meaning it might be time for some patience to pay off.
Jalen Tolbert, WR
Tolbert was drafted in 2022 to serve an immediate need. The Cowboys had just parted with Amari Cooper and had Michael Gallup coming back from a late-season ACL injury.
Tolbert, 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, fell into their laps in the third round and he was selected with the 88th pick of the 2022 draft
The jump from South Alabama to Dallas proved to be too significant of a gap to bridge in a single season. Tolbert only contributed two receptions in his first season and now looks to 2023 to make his mark.
Jabril Cox, LB
Widely regarded as one of the best value picks in the 2020 NFL draft, the Cowboys picked up Cox with the 115th selection. At 6-foot-3, 233 pounds, Cox played like a safety in a linebacker’s body.
Jabril Cox was drafted with pick 115 of round 4 in the 2021 draft class. He scored a 9.73 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 59 out of 2155 LB from 1987 to 2021.
Since he tested so close to the draft, Cox's testing remains unofficialhttps://t.co/Q22FbWzSAr #RAS #Cowboys pic.twitter.com/zWlP02r1Y4
— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) May 1, 2021
Cox’s athletic scores set him apart in the class and his film backed it up. He was a player made for the NFL game. An ACL injury stole his rookie season and he struggled getting into the rotation and seeing the field in Year 2.
Entering his third season, it’s time for Cox to take that next step.
Matt Farniok, Josh Ball, Matt Waletzko: OL
The Cowboys have a handful of young linemen they expect to take the next step in their development.
Farniok is one of the best examples of a traits player drafted to develop. His 9.9 RAS score places him in an elite tier and even though his film isn’t quite so clean, Dallas knows he has the physical ability to be a viable starter.
Ball and Waletzko are a pair of tackles the Cowboys drafted in back to back seasons (2021 and 2022, respectively). Both were picked in part because of their measurables and testing.
Ball and Waletzko are physically equipped for the pro game and it could be only a matter of reps and technical refinement before they make an impact. Ball should factor into the competition at LG while Waletzko will likely develop as tackle depth.
Patience usually pays off when a team like the Cowboys is committed to developing high-traits players each and every year. Fans should be patient to see results from the latest crop of rookies but the good news is previous developmental players should start paying off.