How The Cowboys' '7 Habitual Hints' Lead To Ezekiel Elliott Vs. Jalen Ramsey

With colleague KD Drummond, we've developed '7 Habitual Hints' in what the Cowboys do in the NFL Draft that lead us to a Round 1 debate over Jalen Ramsey vs. Ezekiel Elliott. Go Premium and Get Smarter, inside ...

I call him "Jerry Poppins'' for the way the Dallas Cowboys owner spends most of the NFL season shoving spoonful of sugar down the public's throat to help the medicine go down.

But Jerry Jones doesn't ever do that during NFL Draft Week. And he isn't doing it now.

Every team, just like every poker player, has "tells.'' In the case of the Cowboys, Jerry dropping informational Easter eggs is one of his. My colleague KD Drummond originated this group of "tells'' for Dallas, and we build on it now.

  • 1. At an almost 80% clip, Dallas trades their first-round pick. Up, down, out of the first… the majority of the time Dallas will not select where they were originally slotted.

This is why the very first question to Jerry on Monday was about moving from No. 4. His answer is, I believe, an honest one:

"We'll most likely stay,'' he said. "Got a chance to have an outstanding player there. If you make any assumption at all about how those first two picks are going to go, you’ll more than likely stay. It’s a good spot.

So while it's always something to look for, Dallas is prepared to buck its own trend here. Of course, maybe the reason to buck Habitual Hint 1 is because of Habitual Hint 2 ...

  •  2. Dallas will do everything they can in the first round, and sometimes subsequent picks, to draft the “Best Player In The Draft At His Position.''

Look at 'em all. The trend started with selecting Dez Bryant in 2010. Bryant was the second receiver selected behind Demaryius Thomas, but the Dallas Draft Board leak of 2010 revealed that the Cowboys rated Bryant higher than Thomas. The following year, Dallas selected Tyron Smith. In 2012, Dallas moved up to select Morris Claiborne, who they considered the best defender in the draft, not just cornerback. After the draft, the Jones' admitted they would have taken Michael Brockers if they stayed put, the guy they had as the highest-rated defensive lineman. In 2013 it was top center Travis Frederick. In 2014, they selected top guard Zack Martin. In 2015, they took top safety Byron Jones.

And here, at No. 4, sits either the top defensive back in Jalen Ramsey or the top running back in Ezekiel Elliott ... or both.

  • 3. Dallas has waited until the second year of a new defensive coordinator to flood the defense with draft picks.

Rod Marinelli now enters his third year, and his voice is a powerful one. He got Tank and then he got Gregory and now if Dallas has dropped Joey Bosa from candidacy at No. 4, it's largely because Marinelli doesn't want him as a candidate.

  • 4. ”Jerry Poppins” talk does not extend to draft plans. The team is unabashedly honest about their draft plans, through the media.

Jerry Jones on Monday essentially told you that he's a "Freak For Zeke,'' that Dallas is working on making sure "Availability (not being suspended) needs to meet Ability'' and that they aren't drafting QB Paxton Lynch at 4.

Many Cowboys watchers tend to ignore Jerry Speak. That's a mistake, as there is a way to "Translate Jerry'' that helps you know when he's being a salesman and when he's being The Easter Bunny.

  • 5. Dallas uses their Valley Ranch visits very wisely, and will most often select players throughout the draft that visit team headquarters through the 30 National invites of Dallas Day visits.

Again, look at 'em all. Bobby Carpenter, Anthony Spencer, Felix Jones, Jason Williams, Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin are among the guys brought in for pre-draft visits who eventually landed here as first-rounders. There are exceptions; DeMarcus Ware didn't visit. But the evidence of not wasting the 30 is strong.

Who visited this year? We've got most of the 30-Visit Guys here. I guarantee you, Dallas is trying to draft from this group.

  • 6. Follow the money. Over past several seasons, Dallas has focused on positions that will eventually replace high salaries, or players in line for big pay increases.

As KD wrote last year: In 2013, Dallas was forecasting to the future. Looking at the expensive contracts of Miles Austin, Brandon Carr and Jason Witten, Dallas went with Terrance Williams, Gavin Escobar and B.W. Webb. Obviously Webb didn’t work out and Witten refuses to let Escobar take on a larger role. However this is was one pre-draft prediction that rang very true.

Yeah, this comes with no guarantees that it'll work; Joe Randle for $500,000 was supposed to replace DeMarco Murray when it came time to not want to pay him $9 mil. (Well, that half-worked.) But it's the plan. Among the guys whose contracts are about to be up and are due to be replaced? T-Will.

So Dallas will try to draft a wide receiver. Watch and see.

*7. The War Room needs a unifying voice. Or else. And now it has one.

The 2013 Sharrif Floyd debacle was the final straw. He was high on Dallas' board (maybe as high as No. 5.) The Cowboys sat at No. 18. There he was ... and they didn't take him. It doesn't matter that it might have worked out for the best; what matters is that communication was botched, the Dallas board was built "dishonestly,'' and there wasn't the necessary consensus in the room before they got into the room.

That's over now thanks to the promotion of Will McClay, the de facto "assistant GM.'' He is politically skilled, has the respect of all three corners of Valley Ranch (executive wing, coaching and scouting) and I believe will be the last loud voice Jerry and Stephen hear.

This won't guarantee draft-day perfection. But it will guarantee precision in the execution of the plan ... which is all we will be able to grade until actual games are played.


This "7 Habitual Hints'' aren't etched in stone. But the evidence is strong historically and if you collect it looking forward to Thursday night, you can easily see how they add up to Zeke vs. Ramsey.

CowboysHQ Top Stories