Based on the Cowboys’ recent track record for developing versatile players, position flex may be something they should avoid
The Dallas Cowboys value versatility immensely. And why wouldn’t they? The math is easy: versatile athletes who can play multiple positions are more likely to get on the field. Since the player plays wherever the need is greater, they’re more likely to play than your average one-position player.
But a closer look shows players with position flex rarely thrive with the Cowboys. They log snaps and serve vital roles, but they never reach the potential they were expected to. One can deduce this is because they’ve never been given the chance to hone their skills in one particular spot.
While players with position flex are important to have on a team, it might not be a good use of draft resources if a Day 1 or Day 2 pick is used for said versatile player. 1st and 2nd round players are supposed to be more than average players. They are supposed to excel. Take these players, for example:
Tyrone Crawford is a player who once had extremely high expectations. Craw was drafted in the third round as a defensive end out of Boise State. But it wasn’t long before the Cowboys started moving him inside to play tackle. Dallas liked him there so much they let Jason Hatcher and his 11 sacks leave in free agency.
Crawford was supposed to be the next great inside pass-rusher at the 3-technique defensive tackle and they paid him accordingly. As we all know, Crawford never found a permanent home at DT and moved inside and outside the rest of his career. He’s an important part of the team but considering he’s never collected more than five sacks in a season, he’s severely overpaid (pulling in roughly $10 million annually).
His disappointing progression fell well short of expectations and one can attribute it to the Cowboys coaching staff constantly moving him into different spots throughout his career.
Byron Jones is the most recent example of position flex potentially stunting growth. The fourth-year safety was drafted as a CB/S hybrid but the Cowboys decided early on they wanted him at safety. But after years of average play at safety, many are projecting him to move to cornerback in 2018.
The Cowboys didn’t tinker with his development like they did with Tyrone Crawford. For all intents and purposes, they played Byron Jones by the book. They assessed and then they committed. It just seems they assessed incorrectly.
And Byron himself offers his own lesson. A player who doesn’t have a set position may never be great at any one position. Not a bad thing when it’s a fourth rounder you’re talking about but pretty disappointing when it’s your first rounder.
The jury is still out on what the future holds for 2017 second round pick, Chidobe Awuzie. Talk of moving him inside, outside, and to safety never seem to stop. We should all be nervous what the Cowboys decide to do with him because he’s shown enough potential to make us believe he could be a very special player someday.
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Anthony Hitchens is a good example of when position flex goes right. Drafted in the fourth round, Hitch was never supposed to be much more than a role player with position flex. The Cowboys have used him over the years in a variety of roles, playing all three linebacker spots on the Cowboys defense.
It’s possible Dallas stunted his growth by moving him around so much, but as a mid-round pick, they made a great use of their resources.
Now, on the cusp of free agency, we’ll likely see Hitch dedicate himself to just one spot and probably play his best season yet.
Position flex is a good thing as long as the coaches know how to use it. Using a high pick on a premium player and then never letting him get comfortable is a recipe for disaster and also a waste of talent. That’s why I always get nervous when the Cowboys draft a player without a position on the first two days of the draft.
Versatility is not something to avoid but allowing a player the chance to specialize in one position is vital to his development. That’s something the Cowboys have learned the hard way.