By David Mullen
It was the most unique NFL Draft in professional football history. The seven rounds of picks were completely executed and communicated via teleconferencing, laptops and mobile phone. What made it all the more intriguing is that the Dallas Cowboys, at least on paper, may have had their best overall draft in years.
And guess what? No trading of drafting picks by Dallas, which they did so often in past years that it became almost expected.
On April 23 through April 25, sports-crazed fans, shutout of live sports viewing because of the COVID-19 crisis, watched in earnest as their favorite teams built for the future. It didn’t hurt that it was the deepest draft in recent memory, meaning no matter where a team selected, many great players were available.
April 23rd’s day one draft coverage wiped out the competition on other networks. Getting an overall 8.4 rating, viewership reached 20 million through ESPN, NFL Network, ABC and social media networks. Overall, more than 55 million viewed some part of the draft. Those numbers blew away “NCIS,” “60 Minutes,” “The Voice,” “The Masked Singer” and “The Bachelor Returns: Listen to your Heart.” The 2020 NFL Draft could have been called “The Receiver Returns: Listen to your Agent.”
Among a crowded field of NFL-quality wide receivers, there were three that seemed almost interchangeable players in the early to mid-first round. It was a forgone conclusion that Fred Biletnikoff-Award winner (given to the nation’s top collegiate receiver), Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy, Oklahoma All-American CeeDee Lamb and Alabama’s Henry Riggs III would be the top three pass catchers taken. Colleges throw down field more today than ever, abandoning the running game which was once the staple of offensive play in the NCAA.
In Mike McCarthy’s first year as the Cowboys head coach, Lamb’s availability as the 17th overall pick was a surprise. The drafting of Lamb pick brings up two intriguing subplots. First, was the selection made in part out of spite? The rival Philadelphia Eagles drafted at 21 and made it clear that wide receiver was their most pressing need. By taking the third of the big three receivers (Riggs III went to the Las Vegas Raiders at 12 and Jeudy went to the Denver Broncos at 15), the Eagles chose TCU wide-out Jalen Reagor. While no slouch, Reagor was not considered in the top tier.
Secondly, Lamb is a deep threat player. That means that Amari Cooper, fresh off signing a five-year, $100 million contract, must perform in his best role as an underneath option. His routes will often include going across the middle where linebackers and safeties make aggressive and resounding hits.
This is time for Cooper to prove his worth and no time for Cooper to get a case of “alligator arms.”
In the second and third rounds, the Cowboys addressed needs on defense by selecting Alabama cornerback Trevon Diggs and defensive tackle Neville Gallimore of Oklahoma. Defense remained a priority in the later rounds with Reggie Robinson II of Tulsa picked in the fourth round and All-American defensive end Bradlee Anae from Utah in the fifth.
Often injured in college, fourth round pick and 2019 In All-American Tyler Branasz from Wisconsin, assuming he stays healthy, could replace the retiring Travis Frederick at center. The final pick, quarterback Ben DiNucci of James Madison with pick 231, was the NCAA’s most accurate passer last season (70.0 percent) and was a transfer from the University of Pittsburgh.
In total, the Cowboys did extremely well in the draft. They got players that achieved in college and can fill immediate needs. Maybe a virtual draft is something Dallas will lobby to continue.
However, in what appeared to be an odd venue to take in the 2020 draft, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was aboard his $250 million yacht. In deference to the people who worked at AT&T Stadium, in lesser jobs within the organization and just people in general, Jones could have easily chosen a more sensitive spot for his draft evening. This move shows no display of empathy at a time when the Cowboys are asking a number of cash-strapped season tickets holders to make a sacrifice and pay for their 2020 tickets for a season yet to be formalized.
Jones should have considered, quietly and without fanfare, about viewing the virtual draft from a hospital, an open business deemed “essential,” the Salvation Army, a homeless shelter or the residence or workplace of a first responder. Let’s see if his team or other teams in the NFL will benefits during the coronavirus pandemic from business incentives from Washington or local governments. The league owners are used to special treatment, like tax breaks and local infrastructure expenditures, that are already in place.
Now it is time for the Cowboys to get these quality draftees under contract to avoid lengthy delays. Jones has the money and also has an advantage this year. The price of yacht fuel is at an all-time low.