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.
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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