Sports Outside the Beltway

Dallas Cowboys 2008 Draft – Day 1 Grades

Dallas Cowboys Picks Felix Jones, Mike Jenkins, and Martellus Bennett The Dallas Cowboys addressed their top two needs in the 1st round, getting Arkansas running back Felix Jones with their 22nd pick and then trading up from the 28th spot to number 25 to grab South Florida cornerback Mike Jenkins. They stayed put in the 2nd round, taking Martellus Bennett out of Texas A&M, the consensus best tight end in the draft class, addressing a need they’d created the night before when they traded away Anthony Fasano.

I would be pleased, if not genuinely excited, about the two first round picks if they hadn’t left Rashard Mendenhall, a much higher graded running back, on the board to take Jones. And the Bennett pick was a great value; my objection there is that we wouldn’t have needed to make that move aside from the foolish giving away of Fasano (along with starting linebacker Akin Ayodele) for a 4th rounder.

I’d give them a B+ for the picks themselves but downgrade them to a C+ considering what might have been.

Mickey Spagnola is much more thrilled than I am.

You can have your running back, and your cornerback, too. That is, if you do your homework and play your cards right, and that’s just what happened to allow the Dallas Cowboys to select Arkansas niche running back Felix Jones with their first of two first-round picks and yet still claim the cornerback they absolutely needed with the second of those picks, South Florida’s Mike Jenkins, who, depending on who you talked to, was either the team’s top-rated cornerback or second to only Leodis McKelvin, the first corner taken in this draft. Give them a hand.

Then again, we expected that they’d get a running back and a corner with those picks. And they reached for Jones. That Jenkins was still available was mostly luck — teams reaching to take linemen, mostly — but that they aggressively moved up three spots to make sure they got him was not. And he wouldn’t have been there are 28, so kudos on that.

Jennifer Floyd Engel is thinking more like me:

The Cowboys had a good draft Saturday, landing two players many had penciled in for them beforehand and happily so. The problem is they were sitting on the makings of a great draft.

Possibly as karmic restitution for participating in “Save a Thug” month, draft day had dropped a projected mid-teen player, the second-best running back in the draft in Illinois’ Rashard Mendenhall, into their laps at No. 22. And they passed on him because, and I am not making this up, they believe he is not as good of a backup as Felix Jones.

Owner Jerry Jones actually launched into a long explainer of his logic that, quite frankly, made me crazy. It went something like this: Felix is a better complement to Marion Barber and has experience being a No. 2 and, unfortunately for Mendenhall, his potential to be an every-down back also hurt him. “The reason there was a distinction is because one could be a full-time, 25-carry back, if you wanted him to,” Owner Jones said. “We don’t see Felix that way.” This, I think, was meant as a compliment.

It definitely was the deciding factor. And, really, why would the Cowboys want a potential 25-touch back with speed and power and wiggle when a part-time “wow” was available?

Indeed. I don’t get it.

Randy Galloway is just happy Jerry didn’t do anything crazy.

And what the Cowboys came away with in the first round Saturday — running back Felix Jones of Arkansas and cornerback Mike Jenkins of South Florida — were exactly the two positions Jerry had circled in early March. “Need” positions, by the way, but neither Felix Jones nor Jenkins was a reach, based on every mock draft in the country. Plus, going back seven weeks, Jerry indicated Felix was the Cowboys’ top RB choice at that time, based on the 22nd pick.


For mild controversy, the Cowboys found the right kind when it came time to pull the trigger on the 22nd pick. Felix Jones was there, as expected, but due to slippage, so was Rashard Mendenhall out of Illinois, who outranked Felix Jones on most draft boards. Two totally different RBs, for sure, with Felix the breakaway, speed threat and Mendenhall the Marion Barber type of bruiser. “Felix Jones gave us dimensions we didn’t have,” said coach Wade Phillips, who shared the draft-day podium with Jerry.

That’s more sellable than the backup mentality argument. Still, this reminds me too much of the days when the Cowboys were intentionally drafting backups in the mid-1990s. That just doesn’t make sense.

Clarence Hill agrees with Galloway, though, praising the Cowboys for sticking by their draft board.

Felix Jones was chosen over a generally higher-rated Rashard Mendenhall because he was the best fit for Dallas. The speedy Jones, who specializes in the big play and is an excellent kickoff returner, is considered the perfect complement to Pro Bowl running back Marion Barber.

Jerry Jones said Barber and Mendenhall are similar-styled backs while Felix Jones’ quickness gave the Cowboys a chance to add another dimension to the offense. “They were both right there on our draft board,” Jerry Jones said. “Barber allowed me to think about Felix and the advantages of his exceptional running ability, making-them-miss, open-field type running. That was influential to me.”

Said coach Wade Phillips: “Felix Jones gives you that dimension of an open-field, Marshall Faulk-type. He gave us that dimension we didn’t have. We had the same thing with both Mendenhall and Barber. This way you’ve got a little more versatility in your offense.”

It didn’t hurt that Felix Jones is used to sharing the load. He rushed for 1,162 yards last season, averaging 7.66 yards per carry while splitting time with Darren McFadden.

Jean-Jacques Taylor is in my corner, though.

You don’t draft a complementary player in the first round when you have an opportunity to select a franchise back. Ever. But that’s what the Cowboys did Saturday. It’s a decision Jerry Jones, Wade Phillips and whoever else helped make it will regret.

By drafting Felix Jones instead of Rashard Mendenhall, the Cowboys finished Day 1 of the NFL draft with a good haul instead of a phenomenal one after also selecting South Florida cornerback Mike Jenkins and Texas A&M tight end Martellus Bennett.

Picking Jones over Mendenhall reminded me of the Cowboys’ ill-fated 1995 draft decision to pick a bunch of backups because their roster was so talented. As you would expect, Jerry vehemently disagrees with that notion.

In terms of Day 1 talent, this draft bares no comparison to the raggedy 1995 draft. It’s the approach I hate.

Exactly right. And there’s this:

If Barber gets hurt, the Cowboys still don’t have a runner capable of carrying the ball 20 to 25 times until he returns. Or if the Cowboys can’t get a long-term contract done with Barber – the sides are nowhere close in contract negotiations – he becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Now, Jerry has no leverage in those contract negotiations.

Jerry doesn’t care about any of that. Jerry said the Cowboys had Jones and Mendenhall rated virtually even. “I don’t want to get into which was the highest rated,” Jerry said. “I don’t want to do that.” Trust me, that means Mendenhall was rated higher, which is one more reason Jerry should’ve trusted the draft board and taken Mendenhall.

“We did not look at our decision to get a running back as a backup decision,” Jerry said. “We looked at the position as though we needed two backs to do the job at running back. We don’t view that as getting a backup.”

You’re the only one, Jerry. And JJT’s right: There’s no guarantee Barber will be around forever.

ESPN’s John Clayton declares the Cowboys among the day’s five Winners:

5. Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys wanted a running back and a cornerback at the top of the draft. They ended up getting more than that. Felix Jones is a perfect back to augment Marion Barber, a physical back who tends to wear down. Jones can be physical, but he’s also a receiving threat out of the backfield. Cornerback Mike Jenkins was a bonus. Most teams expected Jenkins to go in the top 20, but the Cowboys were able to trade up to get him at No. 25. Now they have Terence Newman, Anthony Henry, Jenkins and Pacman Jones, if he’s reinstated. A once-thin position is now deep.

There’s no doubt that the two first round picks improved the team. Hell, they should. The question is whether they could have improved it more given the players who fell to them. I’d argue they could.

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