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Cowboys 2024 NFL Draft grades: What Dallas failed to do, and one thing it definitely got right

FRISCO, Texas — The 2024 NFL Draft was the Dallas Cowboys‘ only real shot at going “all in,” and they did a solid job overall at plugging up holes at positions of need following their 48-32 NFC wild-card round postseason defeat against the seventh-seeded Green Bay Packers, especially up front. 

Here is a look at the biggest thing Dallas didn’t do and the best thing it did do with its latest draft class. This is how its eight-man class shook out after seven rounds. 

2024 Dallas Cowboys NFL Draft Class

Round Overall Pick Player Grade

1

29 (via trade with Detroit Lions)

Tyler Guyton, OT, Oklahoma B (Pete Prisco)

2

56

Marshawn Kneeland, DE, Western Michigan  B- (Chris Trapasso)
3 73 (via trade with Detroit Lions) Cooper Beebe, OL, Kansas State B+ (Trapasso)

3

87

Marist Liufau, LB, Notre Dame   C+ (Trapasso)

5

174 (compensatory pick)

Caelen Carson, CB, Wake Forest B+ (Trapasso)

6

216 (compensatory pick)

Ryan Flournoy, WR, Southeast Missouri State A (Trapasso)

7

233 (via trade with Raiders)

Nathan Thomas, OT, Louisiana-Lafayette A (Trapasso)  

7

244

Justin Rogers, DT, Auburn C (Trapasso)

Biggest thing Cowboys didn’t do: Address offensive skill position upgrades aggressively

Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones couldn’t stop talking about University of Texas running back Jonathon Brooks, the first rusher off the board — taken by the Carolina Panthers 46th overall — 10 picks before Dallas was on the clock at pick No. 56 in the second round.

After he was no longer an option, the team did not select a replacement for Pro Bowl running back Tony Pollard, who departed for the Tennessee Titans in free agency after signing a three-year, $21.8 million deal. The Cowboys thought about reaching for a running back, but they felt strongly about addressing their fronts. Also, the gap between their final pick of the third round (87th overall) and their fifth-round pick (174th overall) caused many of their targets at the position to disappear and fall into the hands of other teams. The reason Dallas was missing a fourth-round pick was because they traded it to the San Francisco 49ers at the end of the 2023 preseason to acquire 2021 third overall pick quarterback Trey Lance.

A cluster of running backs were taken in the fourth round: Tennessee’s Jaylen Wright (120th overall by Dolphins), Oregon’s Bucky Irving (125th overall by Buccaneers), Clemson’s Will Shipley (127th overall by Eagles), Kentucky’s Ray Davis (128th overall by Bills), Louisville’s Isaac Guerendo (129th overall by 49ers) and Wisconsin’s Braelon Allen (134th overall by Jets). 

“You know I think a lot of times there’s always a question mark of, ‘Would you really, really, really stick to your board?'” Cowboys COO and EVP Stephen Jones said Saturday. “It just felt like every time the situation was there for us to make a pick and do the right thing, it wasn’t a running back. We had running backs we’d be thinking, ‘Ok, our pick is coming in 10 picks, eight picks, five picks away,’ and then there would be a run. We obviously had a group of running backs there in that space of 75 or 85 players on the board [in the fourth and fifth rounds], and we had a handful of backs that we would’ve considered, but it just didn’t work out. At the end of the day, you stay true to what you’re about. … We’ll have opportunities throughout [the offseason] to address this running back situation, and we fell like we’ll get it done. It makes a running back’s job a lot easier when the guys up front are doing their job. I think we really helped that situation today in terms of the foundation of our offensive line group. We feel like we can address that [running back] position as we go.”

Each of head coach Mike McCarthy’s four seasons with the team have involved either Ezekiel Elliott (2020-2022) or Pollard (2023) be the lead, go-to guy at running back. His 2024 squad may operate differently. McCarthy alluded to Rico Dowdle (2020 undrafted free agent), Deuce Vaughn (2023 sixth-round pick), new free agent signee Royce Freeman (2018 third-round pick), Hunter Luepke (2023 undrafted free agent) and Malik Davis (2022 undrafted free agent) as players who could factor into the running back rotation. 

“It’s a young group, but they all have upside,” McCarthy said Saturday. “I think they’ll be better in the second year of the offense. … I feel really good about where we are today … and [the offseason’s] not over.”  

When asked about the potential of being active in the veteran free agent market, the Cowboys signaled they could be on the precipice of adding some talent, one of which could be a running back. 

“On the phone trying to get our numbers right,” Stephen when asked about the potential in signing a veteran free agent like Elliott, cornerback Stephon Gilmore or safety Jayron Kearse.

“I’ve seen teams go on and win the Super Bowl after trading for a running back or running backs in midseason,” Jerry Jones said after the 2024 NFL Draft on Saturday. “My point is this thing is a long way from being over in terms of how you are going to line up in the next six or seven months.”

The Cowboys were then true to Stephen Jones’ word, as they signed Elliott to a one-year deal worth up to $3 million on Tuesday. Despite totaling career lows in rushing yards (642), rushing touchdowns (three), carries (184) and yards per carry (3.5) for the 4-13 New England Patriots, Jerry Jones reiterated his faith in Elliott, who racked up 2016 first-team All-Pro honors and three Pro Bowls in his first four seasons with the Cowboys after Jones selected him fourth overall in the 2016 NFL Draft.

Dallas using its second of two third-round picks (No. 87 overall) on a wide receiver may have been helpful as well with veteran wideout Brandin Cooks entering the final year of his contract and 2022 third-round pick Jalen Tolbert (24 catches, 280 yards and two receiving touchdowns in two NFL seasons) standing as the best in-house option prior to the draft. Sixth-round pick Ryan Flournoy out of Southeast Missouri State stood out at the NFL Scouting Combine — 4.44-second 40-yard dash with a vertical jump of 39.5 inches and an 11-foot broad jump while standing at 6-foot-1 and weighing 202 pounds — and could develop into a solid receiver for the Cowboys down the road. With quarterback Dak Prescott squarely in his prime and entering the last year of his contract, it would have made sense for them to take more than one swing at the receiver position.

“Mike [McCarthy] came in here and said they always took a receiver or two at Green Bay, and we added Flournoy to that group,” Stephen Jones said.

What Cowboys got right: Shoring up offensive and defensive fronts

The objective to get tougher and stronger up front was accomplished after the Cowboys used three of their eight selections on their offensive line (29th overall on Oklahoma offensive tackle Tyler Guyton, 73rd overall on Kansas State interior offensive lineman Cooper Beebe and 233rd overall on Louisiana offensive lineman Nathan Thomas) as well as utilizing three other picks on their front seven (56th overall on Western Michigan defensive Marshawn Kneeland, 87th overall on Notre Dame linebacker Marist Liufau and 244th overall on Auburn defensive tackle Justin Rogers). 

Trading back from 24th to 29th with the Lions netted the Cowboys the extra third-rounder (No. 73), which resulted in the selection of Beebe, a 2023 consensus All-American and the two-time Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year (2022-2023). Dallas will likely replace two departed veteran offensive line starters with two rookie starters in Guyton and Beebe. 

“I think from an offensive line standpoint, obviously when you lose two really good football players in (Pro Bowl center) Tyler Biadasz and (eight-time Pro Bowl left tackle) Tyron Smith, we came in here looking to improve the offensive line to go along with a good young group that we already have,” Stephen Jones said. 

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