Jerry Jones has never been afraid of making bold decisions, but his and the Dallas Cowboys’ pick on the second day of the 2016 NFL draft was a major surprise, even by his standards.
The Cowboys had already raised eyebrows in Chicago with the fourth overall pick in this year’s draft when they selected Ezekiel Elliott, a running back. The addition was questioned by some for a team in clear need of defensive depth and dynamism .
After winning their first two games of the regular season in 2015, the loss of their two main offensive weapons - Tony Romo and Dez Bryant - put a lot of onus on their defence for most of the season to help grind out wins. More often than not they were found wanting and they eventually slumped to an unacceptable 4-12.
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One benefit of course, of holding such an unenviable record is the chance to put things right with a relatively high draft pick heading into the 2016 season.
For most commentators, the defence was the priority area to be addressed, especially with Romo and Bryant well on their way to recovery and the acquisition of Alfred Morris in free agency.
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The offence looked pretty healthy, so to take another back with their prime draft pick drew more than a few sideways glances, more borne of presumption perhaps than a reflection on what Elliott will bring.
The more one thought about it, the more it made sense – a brilliant, young, three-down back behind that offensive line could transform a ground game that never recovered last year after the loss of DeMarco Murray. Elliott is one to watch for sure (especially for fantasy football owners!), even in a pass-happy league.
But that move now seems like foreplay for Jones’ next move – the type of defining pick that may yet prove a masterstroke in years to come.
Throwing caution to the wind, the Cowboys selected Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith in the second round. A polarising move, given that Smith had been viewed by some as the most talented player in a deep draft class, but has question marks about the likelihood of him ever seeing action on the football field again.
When healthy, Smith is a priceless commodity with all the attributes to become a cornerstone defensive player for the Texas outfit.
The Butkus Award winner of the nation's best collegiate linebacker, he led the Fighting Irish with 113 tackles last season before tearing two knee ligaments and suffering nerve damage in his leg, in his last ever game at college level.
The serious concerns about the nerve damage in particular is the reason he slid to the 34th pick in the first place, and most certainly without them, Jerry Jones may have missed out on his all-pro potential with the fourth pick in round one, such is Smith’s ability.
Cowboys team doctor Dan Cooper is the man who performed the surgery on Smith, so some of the fears may have been assuaged and presumably there must be some sign that the youngster will recover.
Clearly Jones believes Smith will be back to his best eventually but even if the risk was calculated somewhat, the move was arguably one that only Jones alone; in his unique position as owner and GM could make.
Rarely would a franchise draft someone who cannot contribute immediately, especially at a position in urgent need. Rarer still to burn a second round pick on someone who may never play professionally. But Jones is not going to fire himself.
Whichever way the gamble will go will make for compelling viewing if and when Smith pulls on the blue and silver. Whilst Smith is unlikely to see the field until 2017 at the earliest, the jury will remain out on Jones’ stunning pick.
Could it prove a massive coup or the biggest case of hubris the draft has seen in years? A Huge risk, but a huge reward...everything is bigger in Texas, just don’t mention the name Dan Gregory
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