Dallas Cowboys: The lesson Detroit can teach Dallas about the Draft

(Photo by Sarah Glenn/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sarah Glenn/Getty Images) /

The Dallas Cowboys could learn something from Matt Millen’s Detroit Lions. It felt weird just typing that. Heck, Lion’s fans are probably scratching their heads as well. Matt Millen’s years running the draft are some of the darkest in Lions history (and there are a lot of dark years, my friends).

So how, exactly, could one of the better drafting teams in the NFL, learn from one of the worst? I’ll answer that in a sec, but first, let me set the stage…

Matt Millen was the Detroit Lions’ President and CEO from 2001-2008, an eight year span that produced the worst eight year stretch in the modern NFL. His tenure was marked with multiple top-10 picks and multiple busts, leading to the infamous “Fire Millen” movement which started in 2005.

The Dallas Cowboys could learn a valuable lesson from the worst drafting team in the NFL

While 99.9% of what Matt Millon did is a lesson in what NOT to do. There’s one bold action he took – which defied conventional wisdom – that turned out wonderfully. And the Dallas Cowboys could find themselves at a very similar crossroads when they go on the clock this Thursday.

Take the best player

If there is one redeeming quality of Matt Millen’s Lions, it’s his dedication to take the best player (in his mind) available, regardless of need or outside criticism. It’s this steadfastness that led to him drafting a future Hall of Famer who became, unquestionably, the best pick of his career.

The player I’m referring to is, of course, Calvin Johnson (aka Megatron).

After using top-10 picks on WRs in 3 out of 4 seasons, the Lions defied conventional wisdom and picked another WR, Calvin Johnson, simply because he was the BPA.

Drafting Calvin Johnson in 2007 was controversial. It wasn’t as if people questioned Megatron’s ability, but whether ANOTHER WR was the smart direction to take. Only two years earlier Detroit drafted WR Mike Williams with the 10th overall pick. One season before that they picked Roy Williams 7th overall. And a season before that they drafted Charles Rodgers 2nd overall.

After drafting 3 WRs in the top-10 over the span of 4 years, it made zero sense for the Lions to draft another in ’07 with 2nd overall. Yet they stuck to their board and got future HoFer Calvin Johnson. It was possibly the only good move of the Matt Millen era.

In all, Millen drafted four WRs in the top-10 of the draft over the span of just 5 seasons. Looking past his ability to properly evaluate talent, conventional wisdom would have said to draft another position in 2007. Yet, Matt Millen stuck to his guns, drafted the best player on his board, and picked up the best player of his 8-year career as a Lions executive.

Lesson for the Dallas Cowboys

Conventional wisdom says the Dallas Cowboys would be crazy to use another first round pick for a pass-catcher. It says they should invest in their 23rd ranked defense (DVOA) and not their top-3 offense. Especially not after Dallas used their past two first rounders at WR (2020 CeeDee Lamb and 2019 in Amari Cooper’s trade).

But passing over the best player available in the draft, all because another position seems more pressing and/or he plays a position similar to what was drafted the past two seasons, could cause a franchise to miss out on someone spectacular.

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Am I saying Kyle Pitts, Ja’Marr Chase, DeVonta Smith, and Jaylen Waddle are the next Calvin Johnson? No. But I’m not saying one of them isn’t either. Drafting the best player available is never really a bad move as long as he is properly evaluated and plays a high value position. In other words, the Cowboys shouldn’t simply pass over these pass-catchers just because they need a CB more and happened to use their last two first rounders on WR. They should trust their evaluations.

Just last week I made the case for drafting a pass-catcher. By drafting a pass-catcher at 10, they actually save money on offense and have more funds available to invest on defense. It’s short sighted to think just about one pick in the 2021 season.

The window is open much wider for the Dallas Cowboys than most are giving them credit for. This week we showed you the Cowboys were the fifth youngest team in the NFL last season. The future is bright and that’s why they should be focused on adding the best players possible.

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Trust the board…