Cowboys’ 1st pick must be a tight end

DALLAS -- This is a column about the Cowboys' need to take a tight end early, quite possibly Thursday night in the first round. Because it deals with quarterbacks and it because it deals with the NFL Draft, it could be 100% wrong.

That disclaimer is not, in this case, solely related to personal shortcomings. It has to do with the fact that a process in which 32 teams employ dozens of scouts and coaches and personnel people to evaluate pro prospects frequently ends in disaster. For point of reference, I give you the top of the 2015 and 2016 drafts -- players who should be moving through the prime of their career after seven or eight NFL seasons.

The four quarterbacks chosen 1-2 in those two drafts were Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz. None are with their original teams. Wentz doesn't even have a team. Mariota is a backup in Philadelphia, his fourth club. Winston is a backup in New Orleans. Goff, now in Detroit, is the only starter and the Lions are reportedly looking for draft help at the position.

In fact, the Cowboys are even loosely involved in this discussion. You would expect quarterbacks selected at the top of the '15 draft to be somewhere close to 1-2 in salary at the position now as Troy Aikman was at that stage of his career, as Joe Burrow will be at that stage of his. Well, Winston is the 34th highest paid quarterback, Mariota checks in at 28th and the next pick -- defensive end Dante Fowler, now a Cowboy -- is the 47th highest paid defensive end.

Remember, people were paid millions of dollars to make these picks. So having established the "nobody knows anything" principle as it relates to the NFL Draft, we proceed.

The best news for Dallas fans would be to hear Commissioner Roger Goodell announce the name "Michael Mayer, Notre Dame" or possibly "Dalton Kincaid, Utah" when the Cowboys get their turn at No. 26 Thursday.

While the Cowboys are in position to focus on best players by having similar needs at a variety of positions, I think their need at tight end has been understated. Dalton Schultz was never a fully appreciated player in Dallas, and I don't mean to suggest he's following Jason Witten to Canton. But I also don't believe the club's season stats from 2022 fully state Schultz's importance to the club as Dak Prescott's short-to-mid-range security blanket.

For the year, CeeDee Lamb caught 107 passes to Schultz's 57, a wide disparity between the top two receivers here. But Schultz had 55 catches in the 12 games that Prescott started. And when the games mattered most, that gap all but vanished. In two playoff games against Tampa Bay and San Francisco, Lamb had 19 targets to Schultz's 18 and 14 catches to Schultz's 12. Both had three catches of at least 20 yards and Schultz beat him in postseason touchdowns, 3-1.

Whatever the Cowboys do in the draft just a few days away, it's always best to keep one eye on Philadelphia. The defending NFC champs own the 10th pick, thanks to last year's swap in which New Orleans surrendered a fortune to obtain two first-round picks, along with their own pick at 30. Philadelphia even owns the Saints' second-round pick in 2024 so who knows where the wheeling-dealing Eagles might actually make picks in the first round?

Regardless, we know the rich will get richer -- possibly with Texas' Bijan Robinson, a player with far greater value to Philadelphia than Dallas -- before the Cowboys' turn to strike. I'm sure the team can justify selections at any number of positions (except running back), but tight end in today's game with Dallas' preference for its two-tight end offense makes the most sense.

At least it does today. Check back in eight years and see if anyone really knew what they were doing in the NFL Draft.

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