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How Jerry Jones’ love of risk-taking shaped Cowboys’ second-round draft history

DALLAS — Jerry Jones exercises less control over the draft than he once did.

This isn’t from disinterest. He’ll have the final say on what the Cowboys do later this month. But the trust he has in son Stephen, vice president of player personnel Will McClay and others has altered the draft room dynamic.

His influence on the process? The best example of that comes with the organization’s approach to the second round.

Jones doesn’t preside over the most valuable sports franchise in the world because he plays it safe. The greatest risks often produce the greatest rewards.

Jones is a wildcatter. It’s part of his DNA.

It’s baked into the second round of most Dallas drafts.

The Cowboys are willing to lean into risk here more than any other round. They embrace players who have fallen further than expected due to injury, questions about their approach to the craft or concerns about their conduct off the field. They will reach for a player with more upside, knowing that player will likely be gone when they’re back on the clock in the third round.

Exceptions? Sure. Trevon Diggs was no reach. The cornerback was in the discussion to be taken in the first round until receiver CeeDee Lamb unexpectedly slid their way at No. 17.

Guard Connor Williams was a solid pick five years ago. Three years before that, the club moved to the top of the second round so it could take defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence.

But of the 12 players taken in the second round since 2010, eight fall into the risk profile.

Randy Gregory tested positive for marijuana at the scouting combine in ‘15 and entered the NFL under the league’s substance abuse program. He tested positive for marijuana twice at Nebraska and was told he’d be kicked off the team if it happened a third time. That history persuaded some clubs to remove the talented defensive end from their boards heading into the draft.

The Cowboys? Gregory ranked fourth on their board. They were elated to take him at No. 60.

Five years earlier, Dallas was elated to come away with Sean Lee in the second round. The club believed he was a first-round talent who would not have been available at No. 55 if it weren’t for his injury history.

A template? The Cowboys came back the next year and took another injured linebacker in Bruce Carter. Five years later, Dallas invested a second-round pick in Jaylon Smith, knowing the anterior cruciate ligament the Notre Dame star ripped in the Fiesta Bowl would wipe out his rookie season.

There are other second-round examples. But no anecdote better encapsulates the Jerry Jones approach than what happened in the first round of the ‘14 draft.

Johnny Manziel was the apple of the owner’s eye that year. Jones hoped to take the Texas A&M quarterback at No. 16. That ran counter to his closest advisers.

The thinking was that one of three defensive players — linebacker Anthony Barr, defensive tackle Aaron Donald or linebacker Ryan Shazier — could be on the board when the Cowboys went on the clock. The consensus was to take one of those players. Stephen Jones personally made the case to his father that if those three players were gone, Dallas should select offensive lineman Zack Martin over Manziel.

Barr went No. 9 to Minnesota. Donald went No. 13 to St. Louis. Shazier was taken the pick ahead of Dallas by Pittsburgh.

Stephen looked over and saw his father’s eyes light up.

“Who do you all want to take?’’ Jerry asked.

Martin was the top-rated player on the Cowboys’ board. McClay spoke up and said Martin. Then head coach Jason Garrett said he believed the team should take Martin.

“I don’t know about that,’’ Jerry said. “Let’s go over this quarterback thing one more time.’’

McClay and Garrett spoke again for Martin. Scott Linehan, the Cowboys offensive coordinator at the time, voiced his support for the Notre Dame offensive lineman. Jerry then turned to Stephen and asked what he thought the club should do.

“We need to take Martin,’’ Stephen said.

Less than a minute remained before the Cowboys had to submit their pick. They considered moving back but there was no trade to be made.

“OK, I guess that’s what we’ll do,’’ Jerry announced to the room.

As the Cowboys selected Martin, Jerry leaned over and whispered in Stephen’s ear.

“Son, if you want to do special things in life, you can’t keep picking and doing things down the middle,’’ he said. “What we just did was down the middle.’’

Martin has been named to the Pro Bowl eight times and is still regarded as one of the league’s most dominant guards.


He spent last season as a player/coach for the Zappers of an indoor league called Fan Controlled Football.

Jerry Jones was wrong in that instance. He’s been right in others. But this isn’t about assigning praise or blame for past picks.

The draft is about walking that fine line between risk and reward without falling off to one side. It’s about putting a process in place and finding the proper balance.

The consistent success of Dallas drafts in recent years suggests the club has found that balance. It will take a risk when appropriate. Any risk the Cowboys take in this draft will likely come in the second round.

A wildcatter has got to wildcat.

Taking a chance

The Cowboys have gambled with injury, character or upside in the second round more than they’ve played it safe over the last 13 years. A look.

— Risks or reaches

Year Position Player

2022 DE Sam Williams

2021 CB Kelvin Joseph

2019 DT Trysten Hill

2016 LB Jaylon Smith

2015 DE Randy Gregory

2013 TE Gavin Escobar

2011 LB Bruce Carter

2010 LB Sean Lee

— Solid choices

Year Position Player

2020 CB Trevon Diggs

2018 OG Connor Williams

2017 CB Chidobe Awuzie

2014 DE DeMarcus Lawrence

*Dallas did not have a second round pick in the 2012 draft.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones acknowledges the cheers from fans as he and his sons, Jerry Jones Jr., left, and Stephen Jones, join him on the field during warmups before a preseason game against the Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium on Aug. 13, 2022, in Denver. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News/TNS)

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones acknowledges the cheers from fans as he and his sons, Jerry Jones Jr., left, and Stephen Jones, join him on the field during warmups before a preseason game against the Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium on Aug. 13, 2022, in Denver. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News/TNS)

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