Ranking the Cowboys Last 10 First-Round Picks, Worst to Best

The last 10 1st-round picks for the Cowboys ranked worst to best.
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7. Leighton Vander Esch, LB (2018)

Like Byron Jones, Leighton Vander Esch is another outstanding player whose time in the NFL has officially been cut short due to injury.

Vander Esch feels like he's been with the Cowboys a lot longer than he has, but maybe that's because it has felt like his time with the Cowboys was coming to an end for the last handful of years. Vander Esch was one of the best rookies in the entire NFL back in 2018, making the Pro Bowl after racking up 140 total tackles, a pair of interceptions, and 7 passes broken up.

Vander Esch looked like he was in line to become the next best thing in the NFL at the linebacker position, but his production from that 2018 season would never again be matched. After struggling with injuries in 2019 and 2020, Vander Esch was finally able to put together a healthy stretch of games from 2021-22 where he had 167 total tackles and eight total tackles for loss.

But again, injuries reared their ugly head in 2023 and Vander Esch was limited to just five games. Now, he's been medically forced to retire from the game, a sad ending to a once-promising career.

6. Tyler Smith, LG (2022)

Over time, Tyler Smith will have a chance to ascend much higher on this list, and not just because he'll be replacing guys who were drafted in the years before him.

Smith came into the NFL with a unique projection. Was he going to be the heir apparent in Dallas for Tyron Smith? Was he going to have to slide over to the right tackle position? Ultimately, the Cowboys settled on slotting Smith at the left guard position next to Tyron Smith, and he's developed very quickly into one of the best players in the league at that position.

So much so, that even though Tyron Smith is now gone, there are questions about whether or not the Cowboys should even contemplate moving Smith to the left tackle position as was speculated back when he was drafted.

In fact, it doesn't seem like Dallas is realistically considering that. Smith's development at left guard has been tremendous, and he's blossomed into one of the league's most promising young players at guard. And with so many elite interior defensive linemen developing in today's NFL, having someone like Smith at left guard is more essential than anything else.

5. Ezekiel Elliott, RB (2016)

Checking in at #5 on the list is 2016 Offensive Rookie of the Year Ezekiel Elliott, a three-time Pro Bowl selection for the Cowboys and someone who has been named to two All-Pro teams.

As you might expect with a running back on this list, Elliott's most productive years came early on in his NFL career, but he was truly one of the league's most dominant backs for a good stretch of time. For the first six years of his NFL career, Elliott had at least 1250 yards from scrimmage every season, including a career-high 2,001 total yards from scrimmage in 2018.

He racked up nearly 8,300 rushing yards in his time with Dallas along with nearly 2,700 receiving yards and 85 total touchdowns. Even though the shelf life of running backs is short in today's NFL, Elliott has proven longevity and was still playing rather well last season as a member of the New England Patriots, his first year away from Dallas.

After spending a year away, it makes sense for the Cowboys to potentially bring Elliott back into the mix in 2024 as they currently have no viable alternatives at the running back position with Tony Pollard off to the Titans.

Cutting Zeke was one of the toughest decisions Jerry Jones has had to make in recent years, so it wouldn't be shocking if a reunion was in the cards.