"It is now the post-Witten era in Dallas and unless a tight end on the roster emerges this season, the position could be high on the wish list next offseason. His athleticism makes Fant an appealing up-and-coming prospect."
Over the last few months I have been watching, evaluating, and grading prospects in the 2018 NFL Draft class. I have about 60-70 players evaluated, and while I am a bit behind some of the internet's draft "experts," I feel like I have a good grasp on the positions of need for the Dallas Cowboys.
With the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine beginning this week, I thought it would be a good time to share my first top 25 "big board" of the draft season.
These are, regardless of position, the best 25 players in the draft class in my opinion. And of course, there are some familiar names I've discussed at length here at Inside The Star.
1. Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame OL
This one is easy. Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson is the best player in this draft class. He is a special talent, and the most complete offensive line prospect in years. If Nelson fails in the league, there's really no hope for draft evaluators, because he looks as sure as it gets.
2. Roquan Smith, Georgia LB
Though I believe Roquan Smith is clearly a top 5 player in this class, his evaluation has actually become a bit controversial recently. NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah dropped him out of his top 15 altogether, and others have wondered about his fit in the NFL due to size concerns. Smith is incredibly athletic and displays exceptional instincts as a linebacker. He should be a day one starter and a stud at WILL in the NFL.
3. Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama DB
Minkah Fitzpatrick is another high-profile defensive prospect which has caused much discussion. The Alabama defensive back possesses the versatility to play all over a defense, but was used primarily as a safety in college. A good rule of thumb: if Nick Saban plays you somewhere, that's probably your best position. Fitzpatrick is my top graded defensive back in this draft class.
4. Bradley Chubb, NC State EDGE
Bradley Chubb continues this run on defensive players, coming in as the top graded EDGE. While I don't think Chubb is the prospect that Joey Bosa or Myles Garrett were, he does warrant a top five pick this year and is far and away the best defensive end in his class.
5. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma QB
The 2018 draft class has been heralded for its quarterbacks for over a year. And while most seem to believe that USC's Sam Darnold, UCLA's Josh Rosen, or even Wyoming's Josh Allen is the top QB, I see Baker Mayfield as QB1. Mayfield has all of the intangibles you want to see in a QB - from his competitiveness to his leadership - and possess immense talent as well. Though knocked for his height, I believe Mayfield can be a top-tier quarterback down the road if drafted to the right situation.
6. Derwin James, FSU DB
Similar to Minkah Fitzpatrick, Derwin James faces questions about what position he will play in the NFL. To me, James is an athletic box safety that both challenge tight ends in the passing game and makes an impact against the run. He is going to kill the combine this week, and I doubt he makes it out of the top 15 picks.
7. Josh Rosen, UCLA QB
Talked about as a future NFL starter since he was in high school, quarterback Josh Rosen is the 7th best player on my board. The dream scenario for Rosen would be for the Browns to pass on him, and the Giants to snag him 2nd overall. Here he could develop behind the aging Eli Manning for the time being, and become their starting quarterback relatively quickly.
8. Denzel Ward, Ohio State CB
Though two defensive backs are ranked ahead of him, Ohio State's Denzel Ward is "CB1" on my board. Ward is an undersized, yet sticky coverage corner who wins with toughness, ball skills, and overall quickness. Ohio State has become "DBU" as of late, and Ward continues that tradition this year.
9. Maurice Hurst, Michigan DT
There has been a lot of disagreement within Cowboys Nation about Maurice Hurst, but all I see is a very good player and the best 3-technique in the class. Hurst's get-off, hands, quickness, and awareness make him a terror on the inside. Hurst is quick enough to penetrate and decimate the run game while also being a very impressive interior pass rusher.
10. Lamar Jackson, Louisville QB
Sorry Bill Polian, Louisville's Lamar Jackson is QB3 on my draft board, and there's a chance he's higher when it's all said and done. Lamar Jackson does have some room for improvement as a passer, but his flashes are as good as anyone in this class. He can certainly "handle" being a pocket passer in the NFL, and he is one of the most dynamic quarterback prospects in a long time.
11. Saquon Barkley, Penn State RB
Compared to consensus I'm low on Saquon Barkley, but I still believe he will be a good pro. Barkely's vision and decision-making are questionable at times, but his athleticism and overall talent level warrant him consideration in the top 15.
12. Isaiah Wynn, Georgia OL
Isaiah Wynn was the best offensive lineman on one of the best rushing offenses in the NFL at Georgia. Moving inside to guard, Wynn becomes my clear OL2 in the draft class, as I believe he possesses the traits needed to be a dominant interior offensive lineman.
13. Vita Vea, Washington DT
Vita Vea's traits are off the charts. Powerful enough to embarrass offensive linemen while also unbelievably athletic for his weight, Vea can be a really good pro if he can get his technique down and remain consistently productive.
14. Harold Landry, Boston College EDGE
If we were just drafting off 2016 tape, Harold Landry might be a top 10 pick. But after being plagued by injuries and inconsistent play, Landry may drop in the 2018 NFL Draft. He's still a top 15 player on my board, however, as I believe his pass rushing traits will translate well to the NFL.
15. Calvin Ridley, Alabama WR
The best receiver on my board, Calvin Ridley is a ready-made Z receiver at the next level. His speed, route running skills, and ability to create separation make him a sure-fire first round pick in this draft class.
16. Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech LB
Edmunds is not the polished football player that Roquan Smith is, but his athletic traits and ceiling make him a real top 10-15 target for NFL teams. Edmunds looks like he was made in a lab, and once his football ability matches his freakish gifts, he can be a fantastic player.
17. Mike Hughes, UCF CB
Though there are certainly questions about his off-field history, Mike Hughes is still graded as the second best cornerback on my board. Like Denzel Ward, Hughes is undersized, but he had no issues in coverage against bigger wide-outs in college. Hughes is the best press-man corner in this draft class, while Ward excels much more in off-coverage.
18. Jaire Alexander, Louisville CB
He's not the best cornerback in this draft, but Jaire Alexander is certainly my favorite corner in it. Alexander will bring a different attitude to your defense from day one, and with his toughness and coverage abilities I think Alexander is a first round prospect.
19. Da'Ron Payne, Alabama DT
If Da'Ron Payne is the player we saw during the College Football Playoff, 19 might be too low for him. But when you take a look at the totality of his play at Alabama, 19 feels about right. He's not nearly as consistent as you'd hope, but his flashes are as good as any defensive tackle in this loaded interior class.
20. James Daniels, Iowa OL
James Daniels is a plug and play starter on the interior, and will especially excel in a zone blocking scheme. Excellent on reach blocks and when executing outside zone, Daniels is a balanced and fluid athlete on the inside. He is also a rather powerful blocker, and is OL3 in this draft class.
21. Josh Jackson, Iowa CB
Daniels' teammate, cornerback Josh Jackson is almost everything you want in a first round corner. As of right now, he is too much of a liability as a tackler and against the run for me to put him above these other defensive backs, however. Even with that being said, I still believe he has the makings of a potential star corner in the NFL.
22. Sam Darnold, USC QB
I'm lower on Darnold than most seem to be, but I still think he has the chance to be a very good NFL starting quarterback. I think his decision-making is very questionable, and he was a bit too turnover prone for my liking, but I won't be mad at a time for taking him early in the draft.
23. Will Hernandez, UTEP OL
Will Hernandez is an absolute mauler as a run blocker, and with his powerful hands, quick feet, and strong base, Hernandez will be a quality guard for a long time in the NFL.
24. Ronald Jones, USC RB
How much better is Saquon Barkley than Ronald Jones? Yes, I really mean that question. I think both can be excellent pro running backs, but Jones' late first-early second round value could turn out to be sky-high.
25. DJ Moore, Maryland WR
DJ Moore is a short receiver, something teams tend to avoid, but with his route running ability, instincts, and overall speed, Moore is a late first round prospect on my board. Plus he is someone I'd love to see fall to the Cowboys in the second round.
Looking Ahead to 2019 NFL Mock Drafts, a Pass Catching Theme Persists
The Dallas Cowboys haven't played the 2018 NFL season yet, but that shouldn't stop us from looking ahead to the 2019 NFL Draft and seeing what players the team will have their eye on this fall.
With the NFL season fast approaching, that means the college football season is as well, and as we look through these mocks, perhaps you get an idea of whom to watch with a Cowboys perspective this fall.
I scoured the internet looking for the best and brightest minds and their "way too early 2019 mocks." As I perused the mocks, one thing was clear. Many of the national writers see the Dallas Cowboys going with an offensive pass catcher in the 2019 NFL Draft. Namely a TE.
TE Noah Fant, Iowa
Noah Fant, from the University of Iowa, will be a junior in his 2019 season and as a sophomore caught 30 passes for 494 yards (16.5 yards per reception) and 11 touchdowns. The receptions and yardage may not look all that impressive, but if we think about Iowa's offense in the Big 10, we can understand that he's not going to get many opportunities to catch the ball when the team is running it as often as they do.
In fact, the Hawkeyes ran the ball 10 more times per game than they threw it and their quarterback only completed - on average - 15 passes a game.
Fant accounted for 21% of the receiving yards on the season and 42% of the passing touchdowns. He was only 36 yards away from leading the team in receiving despite catching 21 fewer passes than leader Nick Easley. No other pass catcher for Iowa had more than four receiving touchdowns.
If there's something not to like at the moment about Fant, it's his size.
At the moment, College Football Reference has him listed at 232 pounds. There are running backs that weigh more than Fant does and he'll probably need to add about 10-20 pounds in the NFL to be an effective in-line blocker.
Mocked to the Dallas Cowboys by Dane Brugler of The Draft Show on DallasCowboys.com. In a mock draft he did for Sports Day DFW and the Dallas Morning News, he had this to say.
Dane Brugler - Sports Day DFW, Dallas Morning News
Eric Galko of The Sporting News selected the Iowa tight end to the Cowboys as well, seeing him as a special prospect that has the chance to fill the shoes of Jason Witten.
Ben Standig of NBC Sports Washington also had Noah Fant to the Cowboys, thinking they are in need of a Jason Witten replacement.
DE Austin Bryant, Clemson
Depending on what Dallas can get out of Right Defensive Ends Tyrone Crawford, Randy Gregory, Dorance Armstrong, and Charles Tapper, it could have the Cowboys taking a defensive end in the first round for the second time in three years.
Will Brinson's mock doesn't offer much analysis on Bryant, mostly saying that Clemson is going to be good. But here's what Draftek.com's Brett Clancy, who covers the 49ers, had to say about Bryant:
"Clemson's Austin Bryant is the 4th EDGE off the board in this mock and 2nd from his school, but he's still well worth a mid-round pick. Bryant broke out with 8.5 sacks as a junior last year and many thought he'd go pro. I like Bryant's move to stay in school and refine his game, specifically growing a repertoire of pass rush moves to complement his strong edge-setting ability."
Brett Clancy - Draftek.com
Bryant was amazingly disruptive for the Clemson Tigers as a junior, racking up 50 total tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, and 8.5 sacks. At 6-5 265, he could come in and play right defensive end for the Dallas Cowboys on day one.
DT Raekwon Davis, Alabama
We know that the Dallas Cowboys have an affinity for Power 5 prospects and Jason Garrett goes back with Nick Saban.
Despite that relationship, it hasn't led to many Alabama players being selected by the Dallas Cowboys. Perhaps, that should tell us something.
One other factor that could be in play with Davis is dependent upon who the defensive coordinator is in 2019. We all know that Rod Marinelli doesn't place premium draft value on defensive tackles, but prefers to find diamonds in the rough to develop.
If Kris Richard takes over as the defensive coordinator in 2019, the story could be a bit different. Seattle, with Richard at the defensive helm, selected defensive tackles in the second round of the 2016 and 2017 NFL Drafts.
If the Dallas Cowboys are going to spend a first on a defensive tackle, this is the guy to do it on.
He was highly productive as a sophomore for the Crimson Tide, racking up 69 total tackles, 10 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. He also had one interception that was returned for 19 yards. At 6-7 306 pounds, he has the size and frame to be an immediate impact player on the Dallas Cowboys interior.
If the Dallas Cowboys choose not to resign David Irving in the 2018 offseason and Maliek Collins doesn't take a step forward, then Davis becomes a real possibility.
Here's what Draftek's Cowboys analyst had to say about Raekwon Davis.
"Alabama's Raekwon Davis has played both DT and DE in the Crimson Tide's 3-man line. He can maintain his gaps against the run when needed, but his primary skill set is using his long arms and strong lower body to use a variety of pass rush moves to win with power and speed.
"One red flag on Davis happened 8/27/17: he was struck in the leg by a stray bullet during the wee hours of Sunday morning at a Tuscaloosa bar (Bar 17) where several shootings have occurred over the past few years. Despite HC Jason Garrett's affinity for Nick Saban coached players, this incident might remove him from the Dallas board."
Long Ball - Dratek.com
Interestingly, Draftek did a second round in this mock and they sent Boston College Safety Lukas Denis to the Dallas Cowboys.
S Jaquan Johnson, Miami
Speaking of safeties, Dan Kadar over at SBNation sent one to the Dallas Cowboys in the form of Jaquan Johnson.
Johnson, from the University of Miami, was very productive in his junior season for the Hurricanes, racking up 96 total tackles, three tackles for loss, a sack and four interceptions. He returned one of those interceptions for a touchdown.
Here are Kadar's thoughts on the second team All-ACC player:
"There was a lot of talk during the draft that the Cowboys were in talks to trade for Earl Thomas. If they want to address safety next draft, Johnson was a second-team all-conference player who some thought would go pro."
Dan Kadar - SB Nation
Obviously, this pick will depend on what happens with Earl Thomas over the next nine months and the development of Xavier Woods, but Johnson will be a name to watch for teams that need a safety.
WR Ahmmon Richards, Miami
Another Hurricane to have on your NFL Draft radars is Wide Receiver Ahmmon Richard, who is going into his junior season at Miami.
The Dallas Cowboys have begun the process of overhauling their wide receiver corp with the departures of Dez Bryant and Brice Butler in the 2018 offseason. In 2019, it's likely that Terrance Williams (contract) and Cole Beasley (age) could be next to go.
That would leave them with Michael Gallup, Allen Hurns, Tavon Austin, Deonte Thompson, Noah Brown, and Cedric Wilson as their WR depth chart. It's certainly a solid group, but adding a talent like Richards could help.
The Draft Wire's Luke Easterling believes, "Richards would be another great addition with impressive size and speed."
In two seasons at Miami, Richards has averaged 18.8 yards per reception, and 68.65 yards per game. He's got deep-threat ability which would combine well with Gallup and Hurns.
WR Collin Johnson, Texas
If Richards doesn't do it for you, then lets head a couple of hours south of Dallas to the University of Texas and Wide Receiver Collin Johnson.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller has the Dallas Cowboys going with the junior wide receiver and had this to say:
"The Dallas Cowboys made interesting moves at wide receiver in the 2018 draft—trading Ryan Switzer to Oakland, acquiring Tavon Austin from Los Angeles, not selecting a receiver early—and will head into the upcoming season with a need for a playmaker down the field. Texas' Collin Johnson at 6'6" can be the downfield weapon and red-zone nightmare the Cowboys so badly want.
"Johnson does need to improve upon his production from the last two seasons and prove to scouts he can run well enough to separate from NFL defenders, but his size and hands are already getting buzzed about as teams prepare for the upcoming college season."
Matt Miller - Bleacher Report
I'll agree with Miller that Johnson will need to increase upon his production. Some believe that the quarterback limitations in Austin have been a factor, but at the moment, I'm leery of taking a wide receiver from the Big 12 that doesn't have excellent production in the first round of the draft.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
It's obvious from these mock drafts that analysts see the Dallas Cowboys continuing to invest in pass catchers for their offense and that is a reasonable thought.
Obviously, a lot will change between now and next April when the Dallas Cowboys go on the clock, but this gives us a bit of insight on who to watch in this upcoming college football season.
What names will you be watching in college football this season?
Does Marquez White Assault Charge Alter Cowboys Plan in Supplemental Draft?
Last night, it was reported that Dallas Cowboys Cornerback Marquez White has been charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. The incident comes from a traffic confrontation that took place back in October, where White -- according to his camp -- was justified in drawing his weapon for self-defense.
A promising young player that stuck on the Cowboys practice squad in his rookie season, the sixth round pick doesn't need this case hanging over his head as training camp approaches. When considering the timing up against this week's supplemental draft, and the rare crop of defensive back talent available in it, White could soon be fighting for relevance on the Cowboys roster.
Becoming complacent in building one of the best young secondaries in the league won't be an issue for the Cowboys under new Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard. The Cowboys were relying on White to be a depth option behind projected starters Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, and Jourdan Lewis.
White's spot on the depth chart may very well hold up, but by the end of the week he could also have added competition in Adonis Alexander or Sam Beal.
Respectively, the former Virginia Tech and Western Michigan cornerbacks are two of the most talented supplemental prospects to enter the draft in years -- both likely to be the first players drafted since 2015.
Alexander and Beal are also joined by Mississippi State Safety Brandon Bryant as another backup option for Dallas.
A lengthy cornerback with the toughness to play on the boundary, Alexander is a similar player to White, and one that Richard should love for his physical traits. Whether or not this natural skill outweighs some maturity issues that saw Alexander fall from freshman starter to suspended at VT will determine if the Cowboys feel comfortable sending away a 2019 draft pick for his services.
Where Alexander's career leaves his arrow trending downward on the eve of the supplemental draft, Beal is a rising prospect that some are calling the best to ever enter this draft.
An all-conference cornerback as a Junior out of Western Michigan, Beal improved with each passing college season, determined to finish out his degree along the way. However, once Beal's eligibility for his Senior season was called into question, the feisty 6'1" CB decided to turn towards the NFL.
Beal's professional football faith is now in the hands of any team that's done their homework on him. Projected to be taken as early as the third round, teams impressed by Beal's tape could be giving away a premium pick in next year's draft to add him just before training camp.
Should this team be the Cowboys, Beal's presence would put more than just White on notice. The Cowboys are also expecting corners like Duke Thomas and Kam Kelly to fight for roster spots. In a perfect world, say the one the Cowboys were living in yesterday before this White news broke, Thomas or Kelly could replace White on the practice squad as the Florida State product took another jump in Oxnard.
As I've written before though, teams must be relentless in their search for talent. The Cowboys have drafted well, but passed on big name free agents in recent years. The result is a young roster full of potential and ready to compete.
If either Adonis Alexander, Sam Beal, or even Brandon Bryant help them do so this year, we could be right here talking about a new Cowboys rookie in the middle of July. Marquez White would be happy to see this talk overshadow his legal situation for the moment.
This won't be the case when he's competing against another player that will likely cost the Cowboys more than the sixth round pick they invested in him two years ago.
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?
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