How high is too high? The Dallas Cowboys could still pick up several starters if they ‘over-draft’

NFL Draft News

Trey McBride would likely walk in as a starter for Dallas, and he plays a position of need. The Cowboys’ current starter at tight end, Dalton Schultz, is coming off a career year but is an unrestricted free agent – and the team needs to cut costs.

The problem with drafting the Colorado State senior is his ranking. Considered by many as the top TE in his draft class, McBride is generally seen as a mid- to late second-round player. He’s currently the No. 51 overall player in the most-recent Fanspeak-Jake Rigdon big board. Dane Brugler, draft analyst for The Athletic, ranks him as his No. 1 TE but the No. 60 overall prospect. Pro Football Focus’ latest top 150 rankings has McBride as the No. 63 overall prospect and, like the others, the top TE.

But Dallas’ pick in the second round is at No. 56. In other words, unless the Cowboys take him in the first round, then there’s a good chance McBride won’t be available when the team is back on the clock.

So why not take him in the first round?

That’s the question the Cowboys will have to ask themselves as they are in an awkward spot in the draft in relation to where some of the prospects at positions of need are ranked. McBride is one example. Baylor safety Jalen Pitre is another example of a fringe-first round pick. The same goes for some of the guards who will likely be available in the second- and third-rounds who might be gone when Dallas picks in the fourth-round.

And therein lies the dilemma: If Dallas loves a player, then why not over-draft to make sure they get him?

There’s precedence for that draft strategy.

Dallas traded down from pick No. 18 to No. 31 in the 2013 draft, picking up an extra third-rounder in the process. The Cowboys then selected Wisconsin center Travis Frederick with its first-round pick.

The problem? Most draft analysts had Frederick as a second- or third-round prospect. At least one prominent publication gave Frederick a Day 3 grade.

Dallas wound up having the last laugh. Frederick went on to become a two-time All-Pro recipient until he retired in 2020. And he likely would have played longer, too, but Frederick was diagnosed with Guillain–Barré syndrome and wound up missing the entire 2018 season. He came back and was named to his fifth Pro Bowl the following season, then retired months later.

Again, it turned out pretty well for the Cowboys.

Is the opposite true, too? Dallas could have drafted a different player with that No. 31 – or No. 18 – pick. LSU safety Eric Reid was available. That was the player San Francisco traded up for with Dallas. Clemson receiver DeAndre Hopkins and Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson were available at No. 18. Stanford TE Zach Ertz and Mississippi State CB Darius Slay were also still up for grabs.

Would a draft haul of Hopkins in the first round (at pick 18) and Frederick in the second (at pick 47) have been better for the franchise?

Of course.

But what’s also true is how risky that is. For example, it’s possible that other teams viewed Frederick the same way Dallas did, as a late-first, early second-round type player. In other words, there’s no guarantee Frederick would have still been there in the second round.

It all comes down to the Cowboys’ own big board, which will constantly evolve between now and the draft. How much do they like a certain player, regardless of where he’s ranked by other teams? And how badly does the team need a starter at that position?

Those are the questions Dallas must ask.

Here are three prospects who would likely start for Dallas but would be considered a reach if drafted that high:

Round 1: Trey McBride, Colorado State

Going over all of the 6-foot-4, 260-pound senior’s accolades would take up too much space. You can read about them here. Otherwise, know this: McBride is coming off a historically good season for a tight end.

He finished the season with 90 receptions for 1,121 yards and only 1 TD. That gives him a four-year line of 164-2,100-10. PFF summed up McBride’s dominance: “Everyone knew the ball was coming his way, and he still dominated.”

This is considered a good-to-great year for tight ends – but none are on the Kyle Pitts/T.J. Hockenson/Noah Fant trajectory. Most of the top tight ends have late round-two to mid-round-three grades.

Round 1: S Jalen Pitre, Baylor

The 5-foot-10, 196-pound senior might not fit the profile of an “over-drafted” player, as he’s a rising prospect. Pitre finished his five-year career for the Bears with 195 tackles, 8 sacks, 4 interceptions, 10 passes defended, 3 fumble recoveries and 4 forced fumbles. He also scored two touchdowns on defense.

How high has Pitre risen? Prior to the Senior Bowl week, most publications had a third-round or lower grade on him. Now? He’s the No. 40 prospect in the Rigdon big board, No. 36 in the Brugler rankings, and No. 28 in PFF’s update.

Here’s what Brugler said about Pitre: “Playing the hybrid ‘Star’ position in Dave Aranda’s scheme, Pitre is an exercise of ‘Where’s Waldo’ on tape. From play-to-play, he moved from edge rusher to slot corner to traditional safety, which allowed him to show off his toughness in the run game (18.0 tackles for loss in 2021) and coverage skills. Along with his strong week in Mobile, Pitre is a player trending up.”

Dallas could lose its top three safeties from this past season, as starters Jayron Kearse and Damontae Kazee and key backup Malik Hooker will all be UFAs. Therefore, expect the team to address the safety position in the offseason. If they can’t sign a potential starter in free agency, then Dallas will likely draft a safety relatively high.

History, though, says Dallas won’t take a safety until Day 3, if they draft one at all. The Cowboys haven’t drafted a safety as high as the third round since 2013 when they selected Georgia Southern’s J.J. Wilcox with pick No. 80 overall. (Incidentally, that was the same year the team drafted Frederick in the first round.)

Round 2: G Cole Strange, Chattanooga

This is a fairly big reach, as the 6-foot-4, 304-pound Strange is the No. 117 overall prospect in the Rigdon big board. Strange fell outside of Brugler’s top-100 rankings, while PFF ranks him No. 124.

However, it’s no sure thing he’ll still be available in the third round because of two important details: there aren’t many draftable centers in this draft, and Strange can play the position. In fact, Strange can fill in in a pinch at every position along the line. Normally a left guard, Strange took reps at center during the Senior Bowl week, and he played his final collegiate game at left tackle as an injury replacement. Strange told Fanspeak that he’s taken practice reps at every position along the line.

“It’s awkward at first, but it’s just one of those things where you get more comfortable with it over time,” he said of playing different positions. “I’m just more comfortable at left guard because I’ve played there for more years. But, in terms of a game-time decision (like moving to left tackle), at the end of the day, it’s just one of those things that, if I give the team the best chance to succeed, at any position, then I’m gonna get it done.”

After Iowa’s Tyler Linderbaum, the next-highest-rated center is Arizona State’s Dohnovan West. Linderbaum is the No. 5 prospect in the Rigdon big board; West is the No. 132 prospect.

Dallas will likely lose its starting left guard, 2018 second-rounder Connor Williams of Texas, to free agency. Williams was the most-penalized player in the league last season with 14. The Cowboys briefly tried to replace Williams with 2019 third-rounder Connor McGovern of Penn State, but the move didn’t last long as Williams was inserted back into the starting lineup after missing a few starts.

So Strange would immediately walk-in as a starter, presumably at Williams’ left guard spot. However, the team might look at Strange as a center, where second-year former fourth-rounder Tyler Biadasz is coming off just an average year. PFF gave Biadasz a grade of 64.8, and his nine penalties tied him for the fifth-most in the league. (For what it’s worth, CB Trevon Diggs also committed nine penalties, while OT La’el Collins committed 10). So it’s not out of the question for Strange to get a look at center for Dallas, especially if Biadasz misses time for any reason.

Something else in Strange’s favor: The top small-school interior linemen the past few seasons have fared well at the next level. Quinn Meinerz of Wisconsin-Whitewater was taken by Denver in the third-round last year; he wound up starting nine games at guard. Will Hernandez has been a starter for the New York Giants since they made him a second-round pick out of UTEP in 2018. Forrest Lamp of Western Kentucky and Taylor Moton of Western Michigan have been solid as 2017 second-round picks, and 2015 second-round pick Ali Marpet of Hobart College made the Pro Bowl this past season.

However, one stat goes against the Cowboys taking Strange in any round: The team typically shies away from small school prospects in the draft.


Click here to see what a full seven-round draft would look like if most or all players are picked at least one round higher than projected.

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