Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

April 29, 2018 at 10:44 pm.

Cowboys 2018 draft: Premium on help for QB Prescott

An entire offseason of tailoring the offense and organization to maximize the skills of third-year quarterback Dak Prescott came full circle during the 2018 NFL Draft.

Six of the nine picks were on offenses, including the selections of Texas offensive lineman Connor Williams in the second round, Colorado State wide receiver Michael Gallup in the third round, Stanford tight end Dalton Schultz in the fourth round and Boise State receiver Cedrick Wilson in the sixth round.

The Cowboys took Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch with the 19th overall pick in the first round to fill a much-needed hole on defense.

It was a good haul for a Cowboys team that is now charged with rebounding from last season’s 9-7 campaign not only minus their all-time leader in touchdown receptions in Dez Bryant but also possibly tight end Jason Witten, the team’s all-time leader in receptions and yardage and a potential future Hall of Famer.

Per a source, Witten plans to retire after 15 seasons and join ESPN as an analyst on Monday Night Football.

Jones said Witten would use a couple of days to consider his options before making a final decision.

In the interim, the Cowboys went about the task of improving their team with Prescott-friendly offense in a post-Dez Bryant world.

Jones said the process started at the beginning of free agency when the Cowboys unsuccessfully tried to sign receiver Sammy Watkins.

It continued with the signings of Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson in free agency to go along with holdovers Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Ryan Switzer and Noah Brown before the team officially parted ways with Bryant two weeks ago.

In addition to the draft picks, the Cowboy also traded a sixth-round pick to the Los Angeles Rams for receiver/running back/kick returner Tavon Austin, which made receiver Ryan Switzer, a 2016 fourth-round pick expendable. The Cowboys subsequently traded him to the Oakland Raiders for defensive tackle Jihad Ward.

“When you lose a player like Dez and what he has brought to the team … we are remaking our receivers room,” vice president Stephen Jones said. “There was obviously some focus there. We said we wanted to create competitive situations. We also wanted to do some things that are Dak-friendly. We think we did things to loosen up defenses and keep them honest against our running game.”

Receiver was an obvious focus since the beginning of the offseason.

The Cowboys had a plan and clarity what they wanted to do to improve the passing game and make it more Prescott friendly.

First and foremost, they understood there was no receiver in the draft who had No. 1 receiver traits of a Bryant no matter when they drafted him.

But that was the direction they wanted to steer clear from in the first place which was at the root of the decision to move away from Bryant, the team’s all-time leader in touchdown receptions.

“We said we weren’t going to have an elite (No.) 1 receiver,” Jones said. “We said were going to have to do it by committee by numbers or by scheme. I think this draft represented that. We honored the fact that the top receiver wasn’t there. We drafted that way. Having a real clarity as to what we weren’t going to be helps you make those decisions.”

The Cowboys are clear about their plan to make the offense and passing game more Prescott friendly. They wanted a stable of pass-catchers who ran precise routes and were disciplined in their approach.

They found that Prescott is a quarterback who likes to go through his reads and throw to the open player rather than having to focus on getting the ball to one primary target.

As great as Bryant was, running precise routes and being where he was supposed to on time was not one of his strong suits. Hurns and Thompson have those traits and that’s what the Cowboys focused on when they evaluated the receivers in the draft. Gallup and Wilson check the boxes as well.