The Dallas Cowboys 2016 NFL Draft class was arguably their best ever, as it set up a 13-3 season with Jason Garrett's team finishing at the top of the NFC East. Now with just a few needs to address to advance further in the playoffs, the 2017 NFL Draft class could contain the depth at these positions of need to set the Cowboys up for a sustained run at the top of the league.
In this article from NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah, five NFL personnel executives weigh in on what they feel is the deepest position in the upcoming draft. Three of the five praised the cornerback class, while the other two mentioned safety and tight end.
Let's take a closer look at how this knowledge could help the Dallas Cowboys, who will be picking at the bottom of each round.
With Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr both set to hit free agency this offseason, the depth chart at cornerback for the Cowboys is looking rather thin. As a unit, Dallas' secondary performed admirably well under first year coach Greg Jackson in 2016, thanks in large part to rookie Anthony Brown.
Brown will now be expected to take another big step forward, after having the benefit of not dealing with opposing team's top wide receivers thanks to the play of Claiborne - and later Carr when Claiborne went down.
Veteran Orlando Scandrick will be 30 at the start of the 2017 season, and it took him almost all of 2016 to get into some rhythm off of the torn ACL that cost him the 2015 season.
Fortunately for the Cowboys, the cornerback class in the 2017 NFL Draft class is loaded with talent. As an advocate for the team drafting the best overall player in the first round, I've even mentioned early in this draft process that I expect a CB to likely be the best player on their board by the time the 28th overall pick comes around.
Even if they do not address the cornerback position in the first round, the Cowboys could find a Jourdan Lewis, Chidobe Awuzie, or Cameron Sutton available to them deep in the second round.
"There are some elite guys at the top of the draft, but I think there are some excellent value guys in the middle rounds and a bunch of sleepers I really like on Day 3 (Rounds 4-7)."
It is unlikely that this team can drastically fix their pass rush for next season (@ me), so it will be critical that the Cowboys maintain the back-end of their defense - something they could do with value throughout the 2017 NFL Draft according to personnel executives.
Sticking with this Cowboys' secondary, the safety position may not be one of the team's most pressing needs, but it is one with some uncertainty thanks to the pending free agency of Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox.
Byron Jones is a star at the free safety position for the Cowboys, and his versatility even covers up for deficiencies elsewhere in the secondary at times. With that said, Church has been the needed veteran presence next to Jones - excelling in a role closer to the line of scrimmage in run support.
Wilcox also came into his own this season for Dallas, improving his technique greatly while defending a career high six passes. Still truly learning the safety position after playing running back in college, Wilcox became a much-needed "enforcer" for Rod Marinelli's defense.
Staring down the possibility of losing both players to free agency, the Cowboys can feel comfortable with Jeff Heath as depth at safety along with second-year player Kavon Frazier.
As a NFL executive points out though, there will also be plenty of safety talent to evaluate in the draft - adding this quote anonymously:
"Specifically, I love the safety depth. I keep watching one good player after another."
Moving on to the Cowboys offense, tight end is quietly another one of this team's top needs. Considering again the BPA approach that has worked so well for the Cowboys in recent drafts, there is even a case to be made for tight ends like O.J. Howard and David Njoku to be taken in the first round despite the state of this defense.
Jason Witten's Hall of Fame career is slowly but surely coming to an end, and the depth behind him currently contains more questions than answers. Geoff Swaim may be a solid all-around player, but he is hardly the TE1 that this team would like to move forward with for Dak Prescott in the future. James Hanna is the best blocking tight end on this roster, but the injury that sidelined him this season could be much more of a long-term issue than we currently know.
That leaves the practice squad project Rico Gathers, who has reportedly made great strides in his transition to football as a sixth round Dallas draft pick. Even still, there is next to no established talent behind Jason Witten at tight end on the Cowboys' roster, which is concerning for an offense that failed to utilize the middle of the field enough in 2016.
Plenty of draft analysts will tell you that, if you feel your team is good enough at a certain position, go add another starting caliber player there. There are very few positional units in the NFL that can win games by themselves, and while this is certainly true about the Cowboys tight ends, it can in fact be said about their offense as a whole.
The missing piece for Prescott's offense could be one of the many athletic tight ends available in the 2017 NFL Draft.
"There are 7 guys at the position that are going to come in and be major contributors in Year One."
Have the Dallas Cowboys Overcome Their 2nd-Round Curse?
You may not be aware or maybe you've simply forgotten, but the Dallas Cowboys have struggled drafting players in the 2nd-round who can come in and contribute. Typically players drafted this highly are not only immediate contributors as a rookie, but are cornerstone players for years to come. That hasn't been the case for the Cowboys.
I don't know where you stand, but I was beginning to think the Dallas Cowboys were cursed with their 2nd-round draft picks. I know this was an area where they would gamble on players for some reason or another, but unfortunately it never really paid off. Hopefully, things are changing for the better.
Let's take a look back at past drafts to see what I'm talking about.
Past 2nd-Round Draft Picks Dating Back to 2006:
2018 Connor Williams
2017 Chidobe Awuzie
2016 Jaylon Smith
2015 Randy Gregory
2014 DeMarcus Lawrence
2013 Gavin Escobar
2012 (no selection) used to trade for Morris Claiborne
2011 Bruce Carter
2010 Sean Lee
2009 (no selection) traded out of 2nd-round
2008 Martellus Bennett
2007 (no selection) used to trade back into 1st for Anthony Spencer
2006 Anthony Fasano
You may be wondering why I decided to start all the way back in 2006. Well, I believe that's when the 2nd-round draft picks curse started for the Dallas Cowboys.
Anthony Fasano ended up having a solid career in the NFL, but he never lived up to his draft status as a former 2nd-round draft pick. The same can be said for Martellus Bennett, Gavin Escobar, and Bruce Carter. Shed a tear for them if you want, but I'd put them in the "bust" category.
The sad truth is, Sean Lee is the only 2nd-round draft pick on this list to ever see a second contract with the Dallas Cowboys. Although, I guess you can include DeMarcus Lawrence since he will be playing under the franchise tag in 2018. But, that's still not a very good hit percentage in the 2nd-round for more than a decade. Luckily, it looks as if things are changing.
DeMarcus Lawrence might end up being another "hit" for the Cowboys. It may have taken him four years to reach his potential, but there's no denying how dominant he was last season. If he can maintain that dominance this season, he could be looking at a big payday from the Cowboys.
The Dallas Cowboys took a risk on the next two players they drafted after D-Law. They knew Randy Gregory had his off the field issues, but were willing to take a chance on his talent in the 2nd-round. That has yet to pay off, but Gregory has a chance to rebound now that it looks as if he has his life back in order.
The Cowboys took another risk in the following draft when they drafted Jaylon Smith. No one knew if he would ever be able to play again after the devastating knee injury he sustained in his final collegiate game, but it's looking as if he could make a full recovery and return to his pre-injury form. Year 3 will be big for him, but he could end up being an absolute steal.
Fortunately, the Cowboys 2017 and 2018 2nd-round draft picks (Chidobe Awuzie and Connor Williams) look to be cornerstone players for years to come. That's what you're looking for in players drafted this highly.
I say all of this because it's really looking like the Dallas Cowboys have finally broken their 2nd-round curse. Maybe it's a change in draft philosophy or maybe it's because Will McClay's voice carries more weight in the draft room, but it's definitely good news for the future of the franchise. Hopefully it continues.
Do you think the Dallas Cowboys 2nd-round curse has ended?
Cowboys Draft Class: How Many Will Be Starters In 2018?
The Dallas Cowboys have been showered with praise by most national NFL media outlets for their 2018 NFL Draft class. NFL.com graded the Cowboys as having the 2nd best class in the league, and most other analysts have agreed that the team had a strong showing.
But now, of course, it's time to see what these new players will actually do on the field. Some are hoping the team found 3-5 new starters for the 2018 roster, but history would suggest that is pretty rare.
Dallas' 2016 draft class has been lauded as one of the best in the last decade, especially considering they look to have found their franchise quarterback in round four. That strong class only features four full-time starters heading into 2018, but we have to wonder if that's the outlier and not the norm.
Still, as we look back and examine this 2018 draft class it really appears they have found three day one starters in the first three rounds.
First round pick Leighton Vander Esch is expected to be the starting MIKE linebacker this season, with former second round selection Jaylon Smith moving to SAM. Vander Esch wasn't my favorite option at 19, but he is certainly starter-worthy in this Cowboys LB corps.
On day two the Cowboys added OL Connor Williams and WR Michael Gallup, two of my personal favorite picks of their entire class. Williams should be the starting LG week 1 of the season, and Michael Gallup may overtake Allen Hurns as the most productive WR on the roster by year's end.
What about the rest of the class?
Dorance Armstrong will probably have too much competition to start at defensive end this season, but he should be an interesting rotational pass rusher. TE Dalton Schultz has the chance to surprise some people, but overtaking Geoff Swaim as the "starter" would be unexpected.
After that, the player with the best chance to make the team and contribute early on might be Boise State WR Cedrick Wilson. Wilson was a late day-two, early day-three pick to me so snagging him in the sixth round should provide incredible value to this roster. That wide out room is getting very crowded, though, so Wilson has his work cut out for him heading into camp.
How many of the Cowboys' 2018 draft picks will be starters in 2018? Let us know what you think in the comment section below.
Did the Dallas Cowboys Find 4 Starters in the 2018 NFL Draft?
One of the many winners of the 2018 NFL Draft were, without a doubt, the Dallas Cowboys. Not only did they addressed some of the team's most pressing needs, but they managed to draft very talented, capable players beyond the first round.
Cowboys Nation had to feel better about the rookie class the front office walked away with, specially after the second day of the Draft. Just like last year, they managed to find steals in the second and third rounds. In 2017, they did so with Cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis. Now, they stayed put at their original picks and walked away with OL Connor Williams and WR Michael Gallup.
But first things first. In the eyes of many, Leighton Vander Esch wasn't worth the 19th overall pick. While I do agree that Vander Esch was a questionable selection, the Cowboys fixed arguably their most concerning position of all. As much as it pains to admit it, Sean Lee has yet to play an entire NFL season and Jaylon Smith was pretty much the only other capable starter on the roster.
Although Vander Esch needs to develop a ton before reaching his full potential. he's a week 1 starter and an early contributor for this defense. Whether it felt like a "reach" or not, the Cowboys took a starter in the Boise State linebacker.
Later, the Cowboys managed to add an arguably first-round talent with pick #50 to plug-and-play along the offensive line. Texas OL Connor Williams was also seen as a tackle prospect, but he'll likely start at guard for Dallas as a rookie.
Since Ron Leary left for Denver, the left guard spot hasn't been as stable. Jonathan Cooper did a decent job filling that spot, but with Williams taking his place, the Cowboys dominance in the trenches will finally return. Playing next to All-Pros Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick, Connor Williams might become the best rookie in this class for the Cowboys.
One can't simply say the team found a "replacement" for Dez Bryant since he's a special player and with a very specific skill set, but Michael Gallup from Colorado State has the potential to become the team's WR1 pretty soon.
In the team's effort to build a Dak-friendly offense, Gallup is a crafty and smooth route-runner who has what it takes to play in any spot of the offense. His skill-set will allow him to play anywhere on the field and become Dak's favorite target in a year in which Jason Witten and Dez Bryant will no longer be lining up on his squad.
Taken in the first three rounds, Vander Esch, Williams and Gallup will be unquestionable starters. The question, however, is who else could become a starter for the Cowboys? Who could line up and start in week 1?
Even though it definitely isn't as certain as the other three rookies, I'm betting on Dalton Schultz to be a more important starter than we imagine. Listen, maybe it's not an ideal scenario to have the TE from Stanford start in week 1, but it could be necessary.
The Rico Gathers Adventure might just be over before it starts and Geoff Swaim and Blake Jarwin may not be anything special. In college, Schultz was pretty good at run blocking. In the Cowboys' offense, led by one of the best running backs in the league, Ezekiel Elliott, Schultz may be able to find success earlier than expected.
Besides, he has what it takes to catch passes in the NFL and although he certainly won't be the flashiest, he could be enough to give Dak Prescott a reliable tight end.
Dalton Schultz could be the surprise of this Draft for Dallas. He'll probably become a starter at some point in the season and for a fourth-round pick, that's a very good thing to say.
For a front office that's constantly bashed by Cowboys Nation, their job at this year's NFL Draft was a pretty good one. Now it's just a matter of time to find out which picks were as good as we originally thought.
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