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2016 Dallas Cowboys draft picks: Analysis for every selection

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Todd Archer breaks down the 2016 Dallas Cowboys draft class so far.

Round 1, pick No. 4: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State | Highlights

My take: The Elliott train started rolling a couple of weeks before the draft given the way Elliott rolled as a running back for Ohio State.

The Cowboys had eight rushing touchdowns last season, and leader Joseph Randle had four despite playing in only six games.

The Cowboys are looking for Elliott to do what DeMarco Murray did for them in 2014, when he ran for 1,845 yards. If Elliott can, that will help Tony Romo and, perhaps more importantly, the defense.

“I’m a balanced guy, ” Elliott said. “I wouldn’t say I run one way. I think I run well inside the tackles. I think I run well outside the tackles. I think I’ve got good speed and I’m a physical guy too. I can make you miss. I think that I did a great job in college kind of developing on my weaknesses, and I think I’m a balanced runner.”

In good company: For just the third time since 1967, the Cowboys have selected a running back with a top-20 pick. The previous two made the Hall of Fame. One is the NFL’s all-time leading rusher.

In 1977, the Cowboys used the second overall pick to take Tony Dorsett. In 1991, the Cowboys used the 17th overall pick to take Emmitt Smith, who went on to rush for 18,355 yards. When it comes to the Cowboys, expectations are big for quarterbacks (Troy Aikman, Roger Staubach), wide receivers (Michael Irvin, Drew Pearson, Bob Hayes) and running backs (Smith, Dorsett). Elliott will arrive with big-time expectations. Can he handle them the way Romo and Dez Bryant have?


Round 2, pick No. 34: Jaylon Smith, OLB, Notre Dame| Highlights

My take: The Cowboys wanted to take a risk in the first round by aggressively looking to trade up for quarterback Paxton Lynch, but were thwarted. They were even more aggressive in the second round by taking Smith, knowing he will need a redshirt year.

Smith suffered a torn ACL and LCL in Notre Dame’s Jan. 1 bowl game, but it is nerve damage that is keeping him off the field in 2016. The Cowboys are confident the nerve will regenerate and have the knowledge of the team doctor, Dr. Daniel Cooper, who performed the surgery.

This move is usually reserved for a team with something of a finished product on defense. The Cowboys are far from that, but at linebacker they have Rolando McClain, who is set to be a free agent in 2017. It’s possible Smith could be the starter in 2017 -- provided the knee is healthy.

It’s a big risk, but one the Cowboys were comfortable taking.

Another chance: Last year the Cowboys were hailed on draft night when they took defensive end Randy Gregory in the second round. His stock fell because of a failed drug test and off-field concerns. Those worries were well-founded since Gregory, who did not have a sack last season, will miss the first four games this season because of a substance-abuse suspension. The team’s 2014 second-rounder, DeMarcus Lawrence, is also facing a four-game suspension after violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. Lawrence led the Cowboys with eight sacks last year. In addition, the team’s second-rounder in 2013, tight end Gavin Escobar, will not be ready at the start of the season due to a torn Achilles.


Round 3, pick No. 34: Maliek Collins, DT, Nebraska | Highlights

My take: The Cowboys will be without Randy Gregory for the first four games and are also expecting to be without DeMarcus Lawrence for the first four, so it would have made more sense to go after a defensive end.

The Cowboys value position flexibility and could look to play Tyrone Crawford, a starter at tackle the last two years, at defensive end more in the first month of the season. Free-agent signing Cedric Thornton could also play end more than expected when he joined the Cowboys.


Round 4, pick No. 101: Charles Tapper, DE, Oklahoma| Highlights

My take: Perhaps the Cowboys received the message: They need pass-rush help. Like third-round pick Maliek Collins, Tapper has what Rod Marinelli wants in a defensive end -- speed.

He ran a 4.59-second 40-yard dash at the combine, which is incredible considering his 271-pound frame. Tapper had 15.5 sacks in his career at Oklahoma. He needs some work but he has the traits to be successful. He was a first-team All-Big 12 pick last season.

The Cowboys will miss Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence for the first four games due to suspension, so Tapper will have a chance to earn significant playing time right away.


Round 4, pick No. 135: Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State| Highlights

My take: For everybody who wanted the Cowboys to select a quarterback this year, there has to be some relief. The Cowboys wanted Paxton Lynch in the first round but were thwarted in their attempt to trade back into the round.

Prescott is similar in size to Tony Romo. He can make plays with his feet, like Romo, and he improved greatly from the pocket. As a senior he threw for 3,793 yards with 29 touchdowns and five interceptions. He also ran for 10 scores. Is he the successor to Romo? Time will tell, but he will have time to be ready. The last quarterback the Cowboys drafted came in 2009 when they took Stephen McGee in the fourth round. He started one game for Dallas.

Getting to know you: The Cowboys spent time with Prescott at the Senior Bowl, where he was named the game’s MVP. They met with him at the combine. They also had him in for a pre-draft visit after his March DUI arrest. The Cowboys clearly feel comfortable with what happened there and believe he can be a developmental quarterback.


Round 6, pick No. 189: Anthony Brown, CB, Purdue| Highlights

My take: The Cowboys re-signed Morris Claiborne in free agency and got Brandon Carr to accept a pay cut earlier in the offseason, but they are set to be free agents in 2017. The Cowboys are looking for some cornerback depth, which is why Brown fits.

Brown had four interceptions last season (the first four of his career) and he had 9.5 tackles for loss and 15 pass breakups. What is his greatest trait? Speed. He ran a 4.35-second 40-yard dash at the combine, which was second fastest among the cornerbacks.

The only interceptions the Cowboys had last year from their cornerbacks came from Deji Olatoye and Terrance Mitchell. Three of Brown’s interceptions came against Nebraska.


Round 6, pick No.212: Kavon Frazier, S, Central Michigan| Highlights

My take: The Cowboys closed the defensive needs by taking Frazier. In the second round they took a linebacker (Jaylon Smith). In the third they took a defensive tackle (Maliek Collins). In the fourth they took a defensive end (Charles Tapper). To start the sixth round, they took a cornerback (Anthony Brown).

Frazier started 13 games in 2015 and finished with a team-high 108 tackles. He had 4.5 tackles for loss and one interception. He finished his career with five interceptions, including three in 2013.


Round 6, pick No. 216: Darius Jackson, RB, Eastern Michigan | Highlights

My take: While the running back room might seem crowded with Elliott, Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris and Lance Dunbar, the Cowboys are likely going to have Dunbar open the season on the physically unable to perform list because of knee surgery.

Jackson had a school-record 16 touchdowns last year and ran for 1,110 yards on 207 carries. What may have been more important for the Cowboys were his 21 catches for 201 yards and two touchdowns. Without Dunbar, the Cowboys don’t have a pass-catching runner, although they are high on Elliott as a possibility there.


Round 6, pick No. 217: Rico Gathers, TE, Baylor| Highlights

My take: The Cowboys held a private workout with Gathers and loved what they saw. Not only does he possess the long arms and big hands that helped him become one of the nation’s best rebounders the last few years, his 276-pound frame leads them to think he can be more than just a basketball player playing football.

Stephen Jones said the hope is Geathers can be an in-line tight end and put his hand on the ground. He will get to learn from one of the best in Jason Witten, but there has to be caution put into this move because he has not played football in a long time. Gathers will arrive at the Cowboys’ rookie camp next week not knowing what he doesn’t know about football.

Hardcourt success: In the Cowboys’ early years they found players everywhere, including the basketball court. Rayfield Wright was a basketball player at Fort Valley State and made the Hall of Fame as an offensive tackle. Cornell Green played basketball at Utah State and was a four-time All-Pro. The Cowboys even drafted Kentucky star and basketball Hall of Famer Pat Riley in 1967. Martellus Bennett, a second-round pick in 2008, played a little basketball at Texas A&M as well.