Cowboys skip need for pass rusher, select WR CeeDee Lamb

The Dallas Cowboys selected Oklahoma receiver CeeDee Lamb with the 17th pick in the first round of the NFL draft Thursday night, giving Dak Prescott another weapon not long after handing Amari Cooper a $100 million contract.

Receiver wasn't the biggest need for the Cowboys, but they went with the breakaway threat from the Sooners when they also could have taken LSU edge rusher K'Lavon Chaisson.

Lamb was projected to go slightly higher, so his availability was a bit of a surprise. The Cowboys appeared to go best available over biggest need in their first draft with new coach Mike McCarthy. They have the 51st overall pick in the second round and the 82nd choice in the third round Friday night.

An All-American at OU, Lamb 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.

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 five-year contract. Cooper is second in annual compensation average for receivers behind Atlanta’s Julio Jones.

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.

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, although 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.

The sudden retirement of 29-year-old center Travis Frederick raised questions of whether Dallas would target his position again. The Cowboys were in almost the same spot seven years ago with the 18th choice when they traded back and drafted Frederick at No. 31.

But Dallas is in better shape at center than it was in 2013 after getting Connor McGovern in the third round last year. Although McGovern missed his rookie season after tearing an arm muscle, the Cowboys were high on the former Penn State lineman who played some center in college.

Dallas also re-signed Joe Looney, who replaced Frederick and helped Dallas make the playoffs when Frederick missed the 2018 season with a nerve disorder.