There is no question that the Dallas Cowboys are in dire need of defensive line help with all of the injuries that happened to their front four. On top of the injuries they provided no help to a secondary that was torched to the tune of the worst seasonal performance in franchise history. The question remains as to where do the Cowboys turn to for help?
Many folks much like myself, who are NFL Draft enthusiast believe that the true path to the top of the NFL is built through the NFL Draft. It is near impossible for a team to become a perennial power stocking their team through free agency. With all the salary cap issues this team is going through, you can see that now they have no choice but to become a better team this way.
I wanted to start my scouting for the upcoming draft with the defensive line. I started with the school that produced my favorite prospect from a year ago, the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Sheldon Richardson. Many draft analysts that I speak with on almost a daily basis were very high on Michael Sam, so I wanted to start with him. However, while watching film the weak-side defensive end Kony Ealy kept flashing so I decided to start with him instead.
Kony Ealy - 6’5”, 275 lbs.Stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com
Cowboy fans should become very familiar with Kony Ealy, as he has been projected by many including CBS Sports’ Dane Bruglar to land in Dallas with the 16th or 17th pick in the first round. Ealy is the prototypical size for a 4-3 defensive end and he constantly makes plays on that side of the ball. Should the Cowboys keep DeMarcus Ware beyond next season Ealy could easily slide over to strong-side defensive end where he spent his sophomore season.
Pass Rushing: Kony Ealy is an extremely gifted freak at the defensive end position. Most offensive tackles have a hard time with trying to contain him. He mixes up his pass rush moves well. At times Ealy will use a speed rush to get around the tackle, or hand fight with him to gain inside leverage. This past season against the Florida Gators, Ealy beats the tackle inside with a swim move and the quarterback narrowly escapes him by getting rid of the ball. Ealy also uses stunts very well with getting in the backfield.
Strength: Ealy has shown that he can easily overpower the opposing tackle at times. During the game against Indiana, Ealy shows his strength by getting his hands inside and driving the tackle straight into the quarterback forcing him into a bad decision. He also flashes the ability to use his strength to shed blockers and other times he is unable to get rid of the blocker.
Athlete: His athletic ability is also something that will make your jaw drop. During the game against the Hoosiers, Ealy was unable to get to the quarterback but when he jumped to swat the ball he actually picked it out of the air. Once he had the ball Ealy knew exactly what to do with it 49 yards later celebrating a pick six. Also if you are looking for a guy who can play multiple spots on the defensive line, Ealy is your guy. He did at times play at the three technique with production to allow Michael Sam to be the edge rusher on known passing downs.
Inconsistent: As with any young player they need to be molded. Ealy has shown that his motor can come into question. Often times you will catch him giving up on a play when the running back is heading around the strong side but others he will chase down the back on the opposite sideline. This can be fixed with proper coaching, but there are moments where it was the blocking strategy that prevented him from making a play.
Technique: Along the same lines of being inconsistent Ealy does show poor technique at times. Doesn’t fire off the line with the quickness you would expect of a dominant pass rusher. Ealy also stands too upright when coming out of his stance. Much like a running back who runs upright can cause issues with performing at a high level.
Stopping the run: Ealy will need to work on setting the edge better if he expects to be a full-time starter at defensive end. Too often times he gets caught up in the middle of the defensive line due to not playing with gap discipline. This isn’t always the case but again these are all coachable weaknesses.
Kony Ealy should expect to be a top 15 selection in the upcoming draft. Ealy is the best 4-3 defensive end not named Jadeveon Clowney. He is versatile as far as which end he can play. This plays well into the Cowboys hand as they need to possibly fill both spots dependent upon what happens with Ware.
Grade - 89.5/100
This grade is only 1.5 points lower than I have Sheldon Richardson a season ago.
Upgrading LG Position Should be Cowboys Top Draft Priority
The Dallas Cowboys are quite proud about the offensive line they have put together over the years. Their OL is headlined by three former first-round draft picks who have turned into All-Pro players, and one player who should've been a first-round pick if not for an unfortunate situation that had nothing to do with him that took place during the draft.
This offensive unit is the backbone of the entire Dallas Cowboys team, but some changes need to be made. No, not the personnel per se. Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, and La'el Collins will all return to their starting roles, but that only makes up 80% of the unit. Who makes up the other 20% is probably the biggest question that needs to be answered before the 2018 season kicks off.
Yes, I'm talking about the vacancy at the left guard position.
Last season the Dallas Cowboys tried to plug the hole with Chaz Green and Jonathan Cooper. The Green experiment failed miserably and Cooper was serviceable at best. I don't know about you, but I think it's time to find a long-term solution and solidify the best offensive line for years to come.
The best and cheapest way to address the LG position is with one of the Cowboys draft picks.
Sure, the Dallas Cowboys could re-sign Jonathan Cooper to another affordable contract, but I have zero faith he can remain healthy. That's been the knock against him his entire professional career. I was actually surprised he lasted as long as he did in 2017.
With the 19th pick overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys are in a good position to have their choice of the best offensive guards in this draft class. Isaiah Wynn of Georgia, Will Hernandez of UTEP, James Daniels of Iowa, and Billy Price of Ohio State are all players under consideration here.
All four of these players are excellent Cowboys draft targets, and they can't really go wrong with any of them. They all bring a little something different to the table, but each would be an upgrade who would help get this team back on track.
You see, I think finding a new LG is the top Cowboys draft priority. I don't know if there is another position that can be filled by a rookie and contribute more to the team success in 2018.
This is especially true considering what the Cowboys like to do offensively. They want to establish the running game and control the clock. They weren't really able to do that in 2017 due to Tyron Smith's injuries in the revolving door at left guard.
We all saw what happened when they were forced to get away from their bread and butter. This is not an offense that is currently equipped to rely on the passing game to put points on the board. It's just not who they are.
That is why finding a new LG is so important. Not only would it help upgrade the running game, but it would also help keep things going if Tyron Smith continues to struggle with injuries.
It's much easier to plug and play a backup left tackle who can block in the running game than it is to find one who can pass protect as well as Smith.
I know opinions will vary, but I truly believe that it's in everyone's best interest to draft a starting caliber left guard. And if you want to know my opinion, I would do it with their first-round draft pick by taking Will Hernandez.
Do you think LG is the Dallas Cowboys top draft priority?
Cowboys Draft Target: BYU LB Fred Warner
The 2018 NFL Draft class isn't exactly full of difference-making linebackers. At the top of the class sits Roquan Smith, the Georgia LB who many feel is a franchise changer. Then there is Virginia Tech's Tremaine Edmunds, the athletic freak who has risen up draft boards. After the top two, however, there is some confusion about the rest of the class.
My third linebacker would be Alabama's Rashaan Evans, but after watching more tape over the last couple of months, BYU's Fred Warner is LB4 on my board. I recently wrote up a full scouting report on Warner for Slant Sports, in which I detailed what exactly I like about Warner's game.
During his time at BYU Warner doubled as an EDGE defender and off ball linebacker. He often found himself in-line and defending the line of scrimmage, and did a good job when asked to do so. In my opinion, he projects to be a WILL in the NFL, an off-ball linebacker the Cowboys could certainly use.
At 6'3" 235 pounds Warner is a big and fluid athlete who looks extremely comfortable in space. Fred Warner possesses impressive processing ability and the closing speed to come down hill and make plays after reading and recognizing what the offense is doing.
Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.
"On this play we see an example of Fred Warner’s ability to read, react, and close on the ball carrier. Warner stays disciplined in his run fits at first, reading the hats of the linemen as the hole forms. As the runner bounces, Warner begins to break down hill to make the play."
Fred Warner is also rather solid in coverage. Considering his length and quickness, Warner can cover a lot of ground in zone coverage. Every now and then he made some splashy type plays in coverage as well, such as this one against UCLA.
Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.
"Warner gets into his drop smoothly here, reading his keys and processing the play in front of him. Then, as soon as the quarterback lets go of the ball, Warner jumps on the route and makes a great play on the ball. Considering his size, this is an outstanding rep from Fred Warner."
So where would the Cowboys have to take Warner? By my estimation, 81st overall is the sweet spot for Fred Warner. There are a lot of decent linebacker prospects bunched together late day two and early day three, but I think Warner has separated himself from the pack.
I believe Warner is a better prospect than a Josey Jewell or Leighton Vander Esch, despite the love they have been getting during this draft season. I understand those who would say someone like Jewell better fits what the Cowboys need in a MIKE linebacker, but Fred Warner's hybrid versatility and skills at WILL make him very valuable as well.
The Cowboys could use some depth at linebacker, and Fred Warner would immediately provide that for Dallas. And, depending on the health of Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith, Warner may be asked to play a lot during his rookie season.
Difference-Making Prospects Linked to Cowboys in Latest Mock Drafts
The next time we take a look at these mock drafts to see who various members of the media have landing with the Cowboys, it will be on the week of the NFL Scouting Combine. This 2018 Draft process is charging towards Dallas, and with it we have some new prospects to add to the radar this week.
After introducing you to two secondary players last week, along with a consensus top-10 player in Georgia's Roquan Smith, here is the latest crop of college talent to be mocked to America's Team.
CBS Sports: Calvin Ridley, WR - Alabama
This mock draft comes to us from Chris Trapasso, with the most complete receiver in the draft falling to the Cowboys.
"The Cowboys are thrilled with Ridley still being available. While he's not the biggest wideout and has a skinny frame, he's a dynamic route runner and has the deep speed Dallas has to inject into its offense."
Calvin Ridley may be the one WR in this draft too good for me to pass up on in the first round. As I've studied deeper into this class, the amount of talent available in the later rounds looks much more attractive for a Cowboys team that remains set on at least two starting receivers.
Should this WR depth deter the first 18 teams in the draft order from taking Alabama's Calvin Ridley though, this is a trigger that has to be pulled in Dallas.
Rotoworld: Maurice Hurst, DT - Michigan
Josh Norris' mock draft produces a familiar outcome for the Cowboys, but the talent he passes up on to mock Hurst to this team is certainly interesting.
"I know Vita Vea is on the board, but in Hurst the team is getting more of an upfield, disruptive lineman. He has special moments off the snap, creating instant penetration and totally destroying the offense’s plan."
Yawn. It feels inevitable that at least one mock draft each week will have the Cowboys doubling up on Michigan defensive linemen in the first round - upgrading the 3T position with Hurst. While I'm not dismissing Hurst's talent in any way, I don't see a consistent enough player (nor enough of a difference maker) to warrant the 19th overall pick.
Should the Cowboys lose RFA David Irving, there is no doubt they'll be in need of a disruptive defensive tackle. As the roster stands now though, the Cowboys' bigger need is at the 1T position - which Norris ignores despite the best player at that position (Vea) being available.
Bleacher Report: Tremaine Edmunds, LB - Virginia Tech
Like Chris Trapasso's mock, Mike Tanier's latest draft projection has another top player sliding the Cowboys' way.
"Tremaine Edmunds has been a tricky player to slot in this mock draft. He has limitless upside, but at a position (off-the-ball linebacker) that few teams prioritize in the first round anymore. He should be a Bobby Wagner/Luke Keuchly-caliber contributor by 2019, but whoever drafts him will experience some growing pains as the not-yet-20-year-old Edmunds learns not to get sucked into play action or get caught flat-footed in coverage."
An argument could be made for Tremaine Edmunds as the best LB in this draft. At the very least, he is in elite company atop the board with Roquan Smith. Both prospects play the WILL position, which Tanier correctly points out as one that is devalued currently.
This shouldn't stop Smith from having his name called early in the 2018 Draft, and I have my doubts about it doing the same for Edmunds. A freak athlete out of Virginia Tech, Edmunds will be just 19 years old at the time of April's draft.
This bodes exceptionally well for the Cowboys, who are of course preparing to start Sean Lee at WILL once again. Drafting Edmunds may go against this team's philosophy of drafting immediate starters, along with first round linebackers.
With all that said, Tremaine Edmunds is not a player I could pass up on with the 19th overall pick.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
The NFL Scouting Combine will give teams and draft analysts a much better evaluation of where all of these prospects truly belong. Through three weeks of doing this series, I can't say that any player mocked to the Cowboys has been a reach.
Instead, the likes of Smith, Edmunds, and Ridley could soon disappear entirely from the majority of Cowboys mock drafts moving forward. The bigger picture of who actually will be available to Dallas, and who they're targeting in the first round, is slowly coming into focus.
Want to help make Inside The Star better?
We’re collecting feedback from our readers about the site. It only takes <2 minutes to complete, and can be done from any device.
Don’t worry, your information will not be shared with anyone but me (Bryson T.).
Star Blog2 days ago
Should Cowboys Sign This RFA to a Contract Sheet?
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Dallas Cowboys Sign Converted QB Jason Thompson to Play Safety
NFL Draft2 weeks ago
Star Defensive Talent Falls to Cowboys in Latest Round of Mock Drafts
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Cowboys CB Marquez White Could Emerge in 2018
Star Blog5 days ago
Dallas Cowboys Wishlist: 2018 Free Agency Edition
NFL Draft1 week ago
The 1 Player Cowboys Should Consider Trading Up For
Star Blog6 days ago
Switzer and Beasley: A Dilemma for Cowboys’ 2018 Offseason
NFL Draft2 weeks ago
How Much Input Will Kris Richard Have in Cowboys Draft?