Cowboys 1st and 10: Between Mind And Body, Pick Your NFL Draft Problem

This week in 1st and 10 I tackle a tough question — draft the player with the physical issues or draft the player with the off-the-field issues?

Each week I provide 10 quick hits on the Dallas Cowboys. Would you rather have a player with issues in the mind or issues in the body? I explore that question, plus much more, in this edition of First and 10.

1. Which would you rather take a chance on in the second round — a player with a serious injury or a player with serious personal issues? That's the question the Cowboys have been asking themselves the past couple of years.

This year's second-round pick, linebacker Jaylon Smith, comes to Dallas with what appears to be impeccable personal credentials. It's been impossible for me to find a documented personal issue. But Smith comes with a left knee that was surgically repaired just four months ago, after he tore two ligaments, including the ACL, at the Fiesta Bowl. There's nerve damage and the time needed for the peroneal nerve to regenerate will likely keep Smith off the field in 2016.

Last year's second-round pick, Randy Gregory, didn't come to Dallas with physical issues. But he came to Dallas with personal issues, which influenced his fall into the second round. He reportedly suffered from bi-polar disorder, though Gregory didn't characterize it as such and his agents refused to comment on draft night. But what was documented was a positive test last February for marijuana at the NFL Scouting Combine and Gregory's admission that he used marijuana in college. Now Gregory will miss the first four games of this season after violating the league's substance abuse policy.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones spoke to the media on Friday night about the risk in taking Smith, but he might as well have been talking about Gregory, too.

"We're not buying bonds here," Jones said. "This isn't risk-free. When we've got a player that we think can be a cornerstone defensive player ... to get a player like that not be able to live with the nerve firing, that's a risk ... that you don't even know about. It's certainly within our tolerance level of risk-taking."

So the Cowboys have taken risks the past two years in the second round. In fact, you should count the last three years, given that the 2014 second-round pick, Demarcus Lawrence, may miss the first four games for a violation similar to Gregory's, though that is under appeal. The Cowboys knew those risks and they took them anyway.

In my case I will almost always take the risk on the player with the physical issues. And if you want a shining example of this, look at Johnny Manziel.

Where was Manziel Thursday night? Watching the first few minutes of the NFL Draft in an Ohio bar. Later, it was off to a Justin Bieber concert (which in of itself should be a fineable offense in the NFL). Next week he faces a court date on assault charges stemming from an altercation with his former girlfriend. Two agents and a marketing firm have dropped him this year and have all publicly asked him to get help for issues with alcohol. Manziel's issues have nothing to do with football and nothing to do with injuries.

And those are two things that no NFL team can control.  So give me the injured player any day of the week. At least NFL teams can manage a player's injury rehab and control his recovery. There is little teams can to do to control issues related to substance abuse and family violence. The player has to WANT to get better.

I'm not thrilled with where the Cowboys took Smith, but his chances of a long NFL career are looking better than Gregory's, if you ask me.

2. I think Ezekiel Elliot can have a significant impact on the Dallas Cowboys in 2016. But it better come in two areas — red zone offense and turnovers. And you better believe they're tied together. The Cowboys' red-zone scoring percentage was third-worst in the NFL a year ago (44.4 percent). The drop from 2014 to 2015, in terms of red zone touchdowns per game, was one touchdown. Running the football more effectively inside the 20, and more specifically inside the 10, will have an impact. Elliott had a nose for the end zone and I suspect the Cowboys will use it. 

The more effective you can be running the football in the red zone the fewer chances you'll have to take in the passing game. The Cowboys had 33 turnovers last year, and 22 of them came in the passing game. Elliott was sure-handed in college and that should help the Cowboys cut into their 11 lost fumbles of a year ago.

You'll hear quite a bit about time of possession and yards per carry later this offseason. Well, don't let last year's 4-12 record fool you entirely. The Cowboys were a Top 10 team in time of possession and held the ball at an acceptable NFL level. In fact, their 31:07 per game average was only one minute less than 2014. When it came to rushing yards per carry the Cowboys were ranked third in the NFL in 2015, averaging 4.6 yards per carry, their identical average as a team from 2014.

If Elliott helps them fix the red zone offense and the turnovers, the Cowboys will get better in 2016.

3. You may have missed it, but the Cowboys activated the fifth-year option on center Travis Frederick's contract. As if that wasn't going to happen. The note here is that the salary — $8.8 million — doesn't kick in until 2017, so this won't impact the Cowboys' 2016 salary cap at all. My suspicion is that the Cowboys will try and work out some sort of extension with Frederick this season. Why? The Cowboys already have $151-$155 million in cap money committed to 2017 — and that's before Frederick's option kicks in.

In fact the Cowboys will have to start paying the price for this outstanding offensive line soon. Martin is entering his third year and will be due his fifth-year option soon. Right around that time La'el Collins will be ready to hit free agency. The Cowboys face some tough O-Line decisions in the years ahead.

4. We were all over it on draft weekend. Mike Fisher, Matt Galatzan and I were covering the draft from every angle. (Example: Monday's terrific Peter King column on Dallas' decision to not trade down from Elliott and to chase of QB Paxton Lynch but only at the right price? Fish and the gang wrote much of that very same info here ... and here ... on Friday morning. Cami Griffin and Bobby Belt were mingling with Cowboys fans at Cowboys parties all over the state (including one at Fish's Maverick Bar in Carrollton on Thursday night). Do  yourself a favor — head to The Maverick Bar and have the Maverick Burger. Just don't eat beforehand. Like, at all that day.  

Did you miss anything? No worries. Check out the Cowboys Draft Hub. Every single story we've run on the draft since it started on Thursday is there. One page, every link. You won't miss a thing.

5. I was utterly impressed with what the Cleveland Browns did in the draft. Yes, they went a little wide receiver heavy, but three of them — Corey Coleman, Jordan Payton and Rashard Higgins — can play right away. Spencer Drango in the fifth is a steal in my opinion. So is Scooby Wright in the seventh. Emmanuel Ogbah and Carl Nassib can get to the quarterback. I mean the Browns really got something done here. I just hope their owner, Jimmy Haslam, can stay out of the way. Seriously, Jimmy — sit down, shut up and let your guys do their job. They're onto something. Finally.

6. I came across this quote from Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly about Jaylon Smith, from a story written last September. The idea was to compare Smith to former Irish linebacker Manti Te'o who, catfishing aside, was a pretty damn good linebacker.

Kelly thought there was no comparison. Smith, in his mind, was better than Te'o.

"Short answer," Kelly told NCAA.com, "I haven't coached a player like (Smith) before, period. (Smith) can line up with his hand on the ground. He can cover the inside receiver. He can play in the box. He can tackle in open space. There's not much he can't do."

Now the Cowboys just have to be patient. That's a Jerry Jones strong suit, right?

7. Best draft in the NFC East? Tough call. No one draft really stands out. I think both the Giants and the Redskins did a good job of maximizing their first three picks. The Giants selected cornerback Eli Apple, wide receiver Sterling Shepard and safety Darian Thompson, and all three could start in 2016. The Redskins nabbed wide receiver Josh Doctson, linebacker Su'a Cravens and cornerback Kendall Fuller in the first three rounds and I could see all three of them start, as well. If you're looking at starting potential, the Giants and the Redskins probably won by a nose. In the long term? Dallas' draft hinges on the recovery of Jaylon Smith while Philly's draft is all about the development of quarterback Carson Wentz.

8. This week's Great Moments in Headline Porn? "Cowboys fan Dak Prescott criticized Tony Romo after 2012: I'm done taking up for him" from dallasnews.com. Wow, so he really IS a Cowboys fan.

That tweet came after the Cowboys' loss to the Redskins in the finale, one that would have allowed Dallas to win the NFC East. Something tells me Mr. Prescott will be carrying Mr. Romo's helmet, pads and anything else the vet can get his hands on at training camp.

Another candidate from the Morning News? Its story that notes that Sean Lee underwent a scope that will require two weeks of rehab -- complete with a headline that screamingly suggests it might be some frighteningly longer period that that. No, I won't link it. That's enough attention there.

9. Remember the name Deon King this weekend when the rookie and undrafted free agents come to town. King went to Norfolk State and the linebacker was one of 30 players brought to Dallas for an on-site visit. Why a guy from Norfolk State? Because he led the nation in tackles with 163. I don't know how on earth on you get 163 tackles in 11 college games. That 's 14.8 tackles per game. That almost sounds made up. But it's not. Watch his tape and he flies everywhere to the ball. It's the kind of pursuit to the ball Rod Marinelli loves in his defense. My bet is this kid gets to training camp. The Cowboys were smart to lay the groundwork for bringing this guy to town.

10. Ron Leary told Fish he signed his restricted free agent tender this week. The tender was $2.5 million. So he's committed to Dallas for 2016 as a backup guard to La'el Collins and Zack Martin before hitting free agency next year. Or the Cowboys could trade him.

I like the guy. And I feel for him too. Came from practically nothing in NFL terms, an undrafted free agent who signed with Dallas, came to camp, worked his butt off and became a starter. Did everything the Cowboys asked him to and he still ended up losing his job. That's the way the NFL works, though. It's part of the reason why so many great college players never make it. The NFL isn't even the top one percent of football talent. It's the top 0.001 percent of football talent. That's why it's so hard to get a job — and so easy to lose it.

Want to talk more about the Cowboys? Hit the CowboysHQ.com Boards or hit Postins up on Twitter at @PostinsPostcard and Mike Fisher at @FishSports.


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