The ninth coach in the history of the Dallas Cowboys, Mike McCarthy, seemingly broke with recent organizational trends in Round 1 of the 2020 NFL Draft when he took Oklahoma receiver CeeDee Lamb.
While no one in the front office or scouting department anticipated Lamb to be there at No. 17, it was an easy decision for McCarthy to make: take the best player available. Never mind that quarterback Dak Prescott has two quality receivers to throw to in Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup, who both collected over 1,000 yards receiving in 2019. Give the two-time Pro Bowl quarterback a third dynamic wideout to find on drop backs.
McCarthy went for the best player available, not for a need.
In 2011, McCarthy's predecessor, Jason Garrett, was about to take part in his first draft since being promoted to full-time coach after a 5-3 finish as interim coach in 2010. The Cowboys offensive line was old and past its prime as a unit. The Cowboys needed to invest premium picks to fix a blocking unit that contributed to quarterback Tony Romo breaking his collarbone amid a 1-7 start.
On April 28, with the ninth overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Cowboys selected tackle Tyron Smith from USC.
Smith was part of a murderers row of Pro Bowlers and All-Pros drafted within the first 11 picks of that year's draft, which took place during the NFL lockout. The only player who was not meritorious during his career was Washington quarterback Jake Locker, taken a selection ahead of Smith.
Initially, the Cowboys moved Smith to right tackle to introduce the rookie to the NFL. The 20-year-old was taking over for Marc Colombo, who had manned the right bookend since 2006, the beginning of the Romo era. The next season, with new offensive line coach Bill Callahan taking over, the 6-5, 320-pound tackle, who had turned 21 years old during Week 14 of 2011, moved over to the left side to protect Romo's blindside.
Smith missed his first NFL game with an ankle injury as he prepped on a short week for the annual Thanksgiving game. Smith would make 57 straight starts after that 38-31 loss to Washington, including two playoff games.
In 2013, Smith earned his first of seven consecutive Pro Bowls. He also added a first-team All-Pro selection in 2014 and another in 2016 along with earning a spot on the NFL All-Decade team for the 2010s.
Smith was the beginning of a trend for the Cowboys. Two years after the club spent a first-rounder on an offensive lineman, they drafted center Travis Frederick in the first round. The former Wisconsin Badger would earn five Pro Bowls and the only first-team All Pro for a center in Cowboys history in 2016. A year after Frederick, Dallas would draft another offensive lineman in the first round with right guard Zack Martin, who has never missed a Pro Bowl since coming into the league and only failed to get first-team All-Pro in 2015 and 2017.
The solid first-round drafting in the Garrett era began with Smith, and it resulted in the second Great Wall of Dallas. From 2013-16, the line blocked for a 1,000-yard rusher four straight years, and had three different 1,000-yard rushers from 2014-16. It all started when Dallas picked for need, and chose wisely.
In 2020, the Cowboys went with the best player on their board, the sixth-best player on their board to be exact. Dallas is hopeful that Lamb will complete a receiving corps as productive and formidable as the second Great Wall of Dallas was in the mid to late 2010s.
Where were you nine years ago when the Dallas Cowboys began to rebuild their offensive line by selecting Tyron Smith? Share your memories with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.