Wednesday marks six days to the 2017 NFL Draft Combine, and preparations for the draft are about to hit full speed. Fans everywhere will begin to have a much better understanding of the names worthy of first round consideration - targeting a few specifically to land with their favorite teams.
For those in Cowboys Nation that have been studying this draft since the end of the 2016 season, a few names have already been circulating, mainly because of their position. It is a well-known story line that the Dallas Cowboys need to improve their pass rush heading into 2017 - doing so in the first round of the Draft would only make sense.
Specifically, you've likely seen Auburn EDGE Carl Lawson and UCLA EDGE Takk McKinley mocked to America's Team so far. In my first Pre-Combine mock draft over at Slant Sports, I had a hard time getting both talented defensive ends out of the top 20. The 2017 NFL Draft is loaded with talented pass rushers, but it is equally stacked with teams in need of their services (read: all of them) in prime position to grab some of the elite talents there.
So, will the days of seeing Carl Lawson and Takk McKinley mocked to the Cowboys be short-lived after the upcoming 2017 NFL Combine? The answer depends on a lot of factors.
2017 NFL Draft Combine: EDGE Carl Lawson - Auburn
While it is not the part of the NFL Combine that makes it onto television for draft nuts to admire on NFL Network, the medical evaluations are the most important part of this pre-draft process. Every year, talented players will slide down team's draft boards because of injury concerns discovered at the NFL Draft Combine - while others will get great news and rise.
This is going to be the case for Auburn's Carl Lawson, who was a stud on the field in the SEC as a freshmen in 2013 and Senior in 2016. Missing 2014 and most of 2015 with a shoulder injury though, Lawson is going to need to have to clear the Combine with no medical red flags.
Dominating the on-field drills shouldn't be much of a problem for Carl Lawson, who's tape also speaks for itself when it comes to being the type of disruptive RDE that every team covets.
For the Cowboys, regardless of what happens with Lawson at the Combine, there are a few scenarios to be weary of when it comes to hoping he's around at the bottom of the first round. In a recent example, Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson entered the 2016 NFL Draft with a shoulder concern - still landing in the top 20 at 19 overall to the Buffalo Bills.
An even steeper slide for Carl Lawson would not only mean that more and more teams are legitimately concerned about the injury potential, but that the Cowboys may not be able to afford adding another player like this to their defensive line. Availability is the greatest asset any NFL player can have, and even when the entirety of the Cowboys defensive line is on hand for Rod Marinelli their game day production is lacking.
Lingering concerns with linemen like DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford has made the need for the Cowboys to not only hit on a pro-ready pass rusher a dire one, but should potentially narrow this search to include prospects guaranteed to see the field and get to work.
You're going to be hearing plenty of talk about Carl Lawson in this 2017 NFL Draft over the coming weeks, with less and less of them potentially involving him landing with the silver and blue.
2017 NFL Draft Combine: EDGE Takk McKinley - UCLA
The NFL Draft is a unique thing. 32 teams sit through seven rounds in order to pick college athletes, kids relative to most, who are to come in and have an impact on their franchise. Sometimes, that impact is expected immediately. Other times, players are given the proper time to grow.
Just one pick separated Takk McKinley from coming off of my board after Carl Lawson in this first mock draft. The rawer prospect of the two, no one area of the NFL Draft Combine will be more important than the other for McKiney.
Instead, this incredibly explosive UCLA prospect will have a chance to not only clear all medicals but turn even more heads with his on-field workouts and measurements. Already known as a high-ceiling EDGE talent to many draft analysts, McKinley's Combine data will allow him to be compared to current defensive ends in the NFL.
Inside The Star Staff Writer Kevin Brady (a fellow Slant Sports draft scout as well) even mentioned in the above scouting report on Takk McKinley that the potential for him to fly up draft boards has been there all along:
Right now, Takk is projected to go in the late first round, most likely to the Dallas Cowboys or Pittsburgh Steelers. But I have a feeling that as this draft process moves along, Takk’s stock will rise greatly as he tests well, and he will be considered as a top 20 pick in the draft.
I'll personally be interested to see McKinley in short-range speed drills on the field from Indianapolis, and will also be keeping an eye on the final numbers for his height, weight, and arm length.
If all of these variables come in better than expected for Takk McKinley, it is a long shot that the Dallas Cowboys can sit home with the 28th overall pick and land this athletic stud. Even just on the assumption that McKinley will be fine through medical evaluations and interview well with teams, it is not unrealistic at all to expect any team drafting in the top 15 to fall in love with his upside and pull the trigger.
What do Cowboys fans have to be excited about at the 2017 NFL Combine?
While this is a question that we'll address in greater detail as the Combine gets closer, a final look at my Pre-Combine mock draft shows that Missouri's Charles Harris - another intriguing EDGE prospect - lands in Dallas.
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If you are set on the Cowboys using their first round pick this year on a pass rusher, there is going to still be talent available for them to do so at 28. Cowboys Nation should get excited about how players like Harris actually test out, along with Derek Rivers, Hasson Reddick, and other somewhat unpolished EDGE prospects with all of the traits to produce in the NFL - starting on the field at the 2017 Scouting Combine.
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.
Why Cowboys Nation Should Feel Better About Leighton Vander Esch
A week ago, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell walked out to the stage at AT&T Stadium to announce the Dallas Cowboys first pick of the 2018 NFL Draft. For the second consecutive year, a large portion of Cowboys Nation was not pretty happy about the player America's Team had drafted in the first day of the Draft.
Boise State's Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch has become one of the main debates among Cowboys fans right now and will continue to be one at least until the season starts. Some are fine with the decision the front office made and some simply don't view Vander Esch as a first round talent.
Naturally, taking Leighton in the first round has been widely compared to the team's last first round pick: Taco Charlton.
Both of these selections resulted in fans all around the world complaining and criticizing the selections since they both seemed like a reach, arguing that they could've gotten better players at other positions.
But fans shouldn't be so quick to compare the Charlton and Vander Esch selections, because they really aren't that similar. Sure, most of the media and Draft fans didn't consider any of these players worthy of a first round pick, but that doesn't mean both players were ranked similarly in the Cowboys' draft board.
Defensive End Taco Charlton, despite showing some very promising flashes towards the end of the year, wasn't able to become a starter at any point during his rookie season. Hopefully he develops into one next season. But when you're talking about first-round picks, being a solid starter at the end of the season at the latest is a very usual expectation.
Possibly what made the Taco pick hurt even more, is the fact that the front office didn't even consider him a first-round talent. Although he was drafted to wear the Star with the 28th overall pick, he wasn't their guy.
The #Cowboys had three first-round grades on DEs, but Taco Charlton wasn't one of them.
With Leighton Vander Esch, the same can't be said. The Cowboys knew he was their guy and that they were going to take him, regardless of the situation. For many weeks we wondered about just every scenario the team might face when they were on the clock.
What if DE Harold Landry is available? What if Calvin Ridley is still on the board? What if Derwin James slides, would they trade up?
For the front office, there was quite a lot of talent to choose from at 19 (not to mention James did slide out of the top 15), but they still took Leighton Vander Esch, even with Landry and Ridley on the board. We might disagree with the pick. We might not think the Boise State's product should've been taken so early. That's completely fine.
But Cowboys Nation should be happy knowing that this was the guy they wanted all along. Maybe if Derwin James hadn't been drafted by the Los Angeles Chargers with the 17th pick, Dallas would have still taken Vander Esch.
"If the Cowboys traded up a few spots in the first round, I believe it would have been to ensure they got Vander Esch, not get James or Edmunds." Dane Brugler on the Cowboys' approach to the Draft.
For now, it's time to root for the Dallas Cowboys' new rookie. Vander Esch will provide a special factor to this defense and has the potential to become a very good starter down the road. Playing side by side with Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith will certainly help his development and turn him into an impact player soon.
At the end of the day, it takes years to properly evaluate how a draft pick turned out in the NFL. There are first round players who turn out to be complete busts just like there are sixth or seventh round players that go on to become superstars in the league.
The Dallas Cowboys did a hell of a job addressing their needs throughout the Draft this year and there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about this year's draft picks. Leighton Vander Esch is without a doubt, one of them.
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