The Dallas Cowboys have recently built a reputation as a team that undervalues defense. The popular narrative has been they’ve neglected the defensive side of the ball, while investing resource after resource on the offensive side.
The indictment only grew last year when Dallas, a certified top-3 offense in 2019, used their top pick in the draft to draft CeeDee Lamb, arguably the top rated receiver in the 2020 NFL Draft.
So it wasn’t exactly shocking to see the defense fall to historically bad levels in 2020 while the offense hummed to a No. 1 rank (before Dak Prescott was hurt, of course).
With Dak on track to be back in 2021, the offense is primed to pick up where it left off. Sadly, the same can be said of the defense which finished in the NFL cellar in most major categories last season.
It looks as if all that neglecting of the defense thing, has come back to bite the Dallas Cowboys right in the rear-end. And calls for a philosophical change have reached fever pitch in Cowboys Nation. But is “defensive neglect” a fair indictment? Have the Dallas Cowboys really neglected the defense or is it something else?
The Dallas Cowboys invest far more of their top picks on defense than they do offense
I argue that it’s something else…
Dallas Cowboys Defensive Draft Picks
The narrative is the Dallas Cowboys always go offense with their top draft picks and that’s why they have such a disproportioned roster. But a simple look at their draft history suggests that’s just not true.
Last season Dallas used two of their three top-100 picks on defense (Trevon Diggs and Neville Gallimore). In 2019 they used one of their two top-100 picks on defense (Trysten Hill). In 2018 they used one of three on defense (Leighton Vander Esch) 2017 Dallas drafted defense with all three of their top-100 picks (Taco Charlton, Chidobe Awuzie, and Jourdan Lewis). And in 2016 they used two of three on defense (Jaylon Smith and Maliek Collins).
That’s nine out of 14 picks they’ve used on defense. If they’ve neglected anything in the draft it’s offense, not defense.
That’s 9 of 14 picks Dallas used on defense. If they’ve neglected anything in the draft it’s offense, not defense.
The problem is the Dallas Cowboys are just bad at drafting defense. Whether it’s their inability to evaluate on that side of the ball, their inability to play to defensive players’ strengths, or just plain ol bad luck, finding good defensive players in the draft is a problem for this franchise.
Some may see this as a call to draft more defensive players with more top-100 picks. Others may see it as a reason to avoid defense in the draft and stick to what they do well – properly evaluate offensive players.
Whatever the takeaway may be, one thing is clear – the Dallas Cowboys cannot continue down this path. They need good defensive players if they want to take the next step.
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What about payroll?
Some will argue the problem isn’t neglecting defensive players in the draft, but rather a disproportioned payroll. After all, the offense accounts for significantly more of the payroll than the defense.
But payroll goes hand in hand with the draft. Stephen Jones is known for avoiding outside big ticket items in free agency. He spends big on his own players. So the fact that Dallas has missed on so many of their defensive draft picks shows why the payroll is so disproportionate. They haven’t had many defenders worth extending.
Granted, the Cowboys didn’t help their case by letting Byron Jones leave. But they re-signed Jaylon Smith (when they shouldn’t have) so it’s not like they’re adverse to spending money on defense – Once again, they’re just bad at evaluating their defensive talent.
So next time someone tell you Dallas doesn’t do anything to help their defense and always picks offense with their top draft picks, be sure to remind them they’ve invested twice as many early picks on defense than they have on offense. They just keep picking bad players…