Cowboys skip defensive needs, draft WR CeeDee Lamb at 17

NFL

Receiver CeeDee Lamb was still there in the first round of the NFL draft for the Dallas Cowboys, who decided needs at several defensive positions could wait.

The Cowboys drafted the breakaway threat from Oklahoma 17th overall Thursday night, giving quarterback Dak Prescott another weapon to go with Amari Cooper and his newly minted $100 million contract.

Pass rusher, cornerback and safety were bigger needs for a team that already has a trio of offensive stars in Prescott, Cooper and two-time NFL rushing champion Ezekiel Elliott, not to mention perennial Pro Bowlers on the offensive line.

Now there’s another intriguing offensive option for new coach Mike McCarthy, who won a Super Bowl in Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers and cultivated a number of standout receivers.

The Cowboys went with Lamb when they could have taken LSU edge rusher K’Lavon Chaisson, and former Oklahoma basketball star Trae Young was excited. The Atlanta Hawks guard tweeted to Lamb that he was in good hands with young Dallas Mavericks sensation Luka Doncic. Young and Doncic were traded for each other on NBA draft night two years ago.

Lamb was projected to go slightly higher, so his availability was a bit of a surprise. The All-American skipped his final season and left as the school’s career leader with catches of at least 40 yards (24). His 19-yard-per-catch average was the highest among Sooners with at least 130 receptions.

The Cowboys have the 51st overall pick in the second round and the 82nd choice in the third round Friday night.

A year ago, Dallas sat out the opening night of the draft following the 2018 midseason trade for Cooper, who has highlighted free agency so far for the team with his monster five-year contract. Only Atlanta’s Julio Jones has a higher annual compensation average among receivers.

The Cowboys lost their best cornerback in Byron Jones to Miami and their 2019 sacks leader in Robert Quinn to Chicago in free agency. While the remaining cornerbacks lack the pedigree of Jones, Dallas is optimistic that suspended defensive ends Aldon Smith and Randy Gregory will be reinstated to bolster the line.

Smith signed a one-year deal with the Cowboys even though he hasn’t played since 2015 and has had several legal issues, including a domestic violence case in San Francisco that ended his most recent hope of returning in 2018. Gregory was productive in 2018 before his fourth substance-abuse suspension kept him out last season.

Dallas is shifting philosophically on defense, though McCarthy says the base 4-3 alignment will be the same. The Cowboys signed a true nose tackle in 350-pound Dontari Poe and another bulky interior defensive lineman in Gerald McCoy for new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s defense. Predecessor Rod Marinelli preferred smaller, quicker linemen.

While the Cowboys had respectable overall numbers on defense the past three years, game-changing plays weren’t frequent enough for a team that missed the playoffs twice. That included last season, which started with expectations and a 3-0 record before fading into another .500 finish under Jason Garrett, whose contract wasn’t renewed.

Instead of focusing on that defense, though, the Cowboys gave Prescott more firepower in the passing game coming off career bests of 4,902 yards and 30 touchdowns.

Dallas is deep at receiver now as well. While Cooper is still the clear No. 1 receiver, Michael Gallup is going into his third season with the Cowboys believing he has plenty of promise. Gallup’s numbers improved dramatically from his rookie season as he finished with 1,107 yards and six TDs.

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