Dallas Cowboys Draft: Why Opt-Out Players are so Risky

Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports /

2021 is brings an entirely new set of challenges to navigate in the NFL Draft. NFL teams like the Dallas Cowboys have to find a way to avoid, adapt, or accept these circumstances when they head into the 2021 NFL Draft because playing the situation wrong, could bring disastrous results.

It’s safe to say COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the 2020 college football season. Games were canceled, seasons shortened, rosters decimated, and some players just opted out entirely.  Even the NFL combine was gutted and quartered. All this makes for a very difficult scouting process, and given the reduction in gradable film produced, an increased level of risk across the board.

Dallas Cowboys scouts use film to identify strengths, weaknesses, potential, and possible limitations. The more film they get, the more they can determine. Anyone who’s watched and graded film will tell you, the more the better. Some players can look like one thing one game, but something entirely different the next.

This is about risk and the added bust potential that comes with players who have less gradable film

Less film essentially means more risk. And added risk means the bust potential rises. One group of players specifically hold more risk than your average draft pick: The opt-outs. The players who opted out of the 2020 season entirely, bring arguably the most risk of all.

The Dallas Cowboys should be weary of drafting any player who opted out in 2020

This is by no means an indictment on their character like some scouts and fans want to make it out to be. Every player who opted out did so based on his own unique circumstance and none of us should use that to draw an inference regarding their love for the game.

This is about risk and the added bust potential that comes with players who have less gradable film and have been away from game for nearly two years (by the time the 2021 season kicks off). Players like Trey Lance, Micah Parsons, and Caleb Farley looked great last time we saw them, but the time away and the amount of good film available should be concerning. All of them could be NFL All-Pros. They could just as easily be colossal busts. The Dallas Cowboys need to keep this mind.

A lot can happen to a player’s stock in a single season. Both good and bad.

We see it all the time. Player A enters his last college football season considered a lock to be a first round pick. One bad season later, scouts are questioning whether or not he can even play in the pros.

The Dallas Cowboys are missing out on a lot of information by not having the 2020 season available to grade for some players. And player without film from last year should have a big red flag waving by their name.

Let’s take a look at a few player’s whose draft stock changed after the 2020 season. CBS Sports produced a 2020 preseason top-100 list last August. Let’s compare it against their recent top-100 list produced in 2021.

Dallas Cowboys: Comparing preseason rankings to postseason rankings

The top names on the board aren’t surprising. Trevor Lawrence was the top pick before the 2020 season and he’s the top pick today. Justin Fields was in the top-10 before and he’s in the top-10 after as well. Same with DeVonte Smith. Those are pedigreed names in proven programs so it’s not surprising they backed up their film last season.

What the Dallas Cowboys need to take note of are the players who moved up and down dramatically based on a single season. Minnesota WR Rashod Bateman dropped from No. 8 to No. 24 because of his film last season. LB Dylan Moses dropped from a sure first rounder at 20, all the way 47 after his play in 2020

CB Thomas Graham was No. 26th before the season and he fell to 49th after. Shaun Wade was 23rd on the preseason big board and after getting exposed in 2020 he’s all the way down to 48th and may need to switch positions entirely.

Even the usually stable O-linemen can be exposed in a single season of play. The Dallas Cowboys should take note of what happened to Creed Humphrey in a single season. He was a first round pick before the season, but after 2020 he dropped to 96th on CBS’s big board.

Florida CB Marco Wilson was a top-50 pick who fell to Pick 100. Tamorrion Terry fell from 41 to 85. Richard LeCounte fell from 44th before the season to 142 after the season. The list goes on and on.

If all of those players I just listed would have opted out, they’d all be over-drafted based on their last available scouting report. The extra year of play exposed weaknesses in their games. Weaknesses the Dallas Cowboys wouldn’t have seen if they didn’t play.

What weaknesses did we miss with the opt out players?

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That’s the million dollar question, right there. Lance, Farley, Parsons, Gregory Rousseau, Rashawn Slater, etc… all limited the amount of film they produced by opting at various points. The list of players who opted out probably includes some of your favorite players. I know it includes some of mine.

But we, and more importantly the Dallas Cowboys, need to keep in mind a lot can happen in a single season. And the player we have rated as a top-15 pick may not have even been a top-50 pick had he played the 2020 college season.

In the scouting world, the more the data the better (for the team, that is). And we are missing a whole lot of data on the opt out players in this draft. Proceed with extreme caution.

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The 2021 NFL Draft is going to be challenging enough for the Dallas Cowboys. If they pick an opt out player with limited film available, it will be all the more challenging.

  • Published on 02/28/2021 at 12:01 PM
  • Last updated at 03/11/2021 at 13:04 PM