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.
Cowboys Draft: Will A Quarterback Be Considered?
Dak Prescott is the current and future starting quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys. Let's make that clear.
Prescott has done more than enough over the first three years of his career to earn this "franchise quarterback" title, and the contract he will eventually receive from the Cowboys' front office.
But that doesn't mean the Cowboys shouldn't consider drafting a quarterback this year. Or next year. Or the year after that.
Quarterback is the game's most important, and highest paid, position. It's the position where a player can most greatly effect a game individually, both positively and negatively.
And it's the position you must make sure is accounted for heading into any new season. Yes, the Cowboys clearly trust now fourth-year quarterback Dak Prescott, but adding talent to your QB room is never a bad thing. In fact, it's typically a great thing.
Behind Prescott are Cooper Rush and Mike White. Rush beat out now-offensive coordinator Kellen Moore for the backup job during the 2017 preseason, and then held off rookie Mike White in 2018 to maintain the job.
When the Cowboys drafted White, however, they had dreams of a new backup quarterback in mind. White didn't perform as well, or progress as quickly, as some had hoped leaving Cooper Rush as the unquestioned QB2, however.
Is Cooper Rush good enough, though?
This is a question which really is yet to be answered. And if the Cowboys have it their way, it will never be truly answered. He was excellent during the 2017 preseason, no doubt about it. But he was, well, bad last year. Rush and the offense struggled mightily during the preseason, and while lack of offensive line depth didn't help him, Rush's play didn't spark much optimism or excitement either.
The Cowboys would be wise to consider drafting a quarterback later in the 2019 NFL Draft, but they shouldn't spend too much time worrying about it either way. The backup quarterback, especially behind Dak Prescott, will bring his value in terms of game-planning and aiding Prescott, rather than with his actual arm talent.
Can Dallas Cowboys Find a “Plug In Starter” in Round 2 of the NFL Draft?
The Dallas Cowboys second round draft exploits have been well documented. From Gavin Escobar to Jaylon Smith, the Dallas Cowboys took calculated risks on players that might not play right away, but could be impact players when given the opportunity. Some have worked out, like Jaylon Smith, though it took two years for Smith to make a significant impact. DeMarcus Lawrence was slowed by injuries early in his career, but caught on in 2017 and 2018, which led to a big contract extension. Like Lawrence, injuries early on kept Sean Lee from breaking out or having the career he could have. Randy Gregory was the risk that has only paid out in small dividends.
Prior to 2018, most of those second round risks really didn't pay off. Jaylon was good as a blitzer in 2017, but was a liability in coverage, Randy Gregory couldn't see the field, Gavin Escobar flamed out in the NFL, leaving DeMarcus Lawrence as the only second round player that had paid off prior to 2018 and he wasn't really a risk. When they moved up in the second round to draft him, he was viewed by the front office as the last potentially elite pass rusher available in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Since the high risk-high reward second round drafts of 2011-2016, things have taken a turn, arguably for the better.
Over the last two NFL Drafts, the Dallas Cowboys front office has taken a more conservative approach to the draft, looking for players who were going to have impacts right away in Chidobe Awuzie and Connor Williams. Unlike those two players, Jaylon Smith and Randy Gregory had top 10 film but slid to the second round because of Smith's injury and Gregory's substance abuse issue.
At the Dallas Cowboys pre-NFL Draft press conference, Vice President Stephen Jones spoke of the team's desire to find a day-one impact player in the second round when they draft in the second round in nine days.
Stephen Jones said the Cowboys hope to find a plug-in starter at No. 58 pick. Recent 2nd rounders: Connor Williams, Chidobe Awuzie, Jaylon Smith, Randy Gregory, DeMarcus Lawrence, Gavin Escobar.
As we've seen with Williams and Awuzie, it's possible to find a player who can have week one impact, but the question becomes, at what position is there a potential opportunity for a rookie to make an impact early? If you look at the roster as it stands now, there aren't many holes on this squad. Obviously injuries can change things, but given what the roster looks like there are only two spots where a rookie could come in and be a "plug-in starter."
At safety, the Cowboys are sporting Xavier Woods, Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier, and the newly signed George Iloka. Aside from Woods, who had a really good 2018, the rest should be considered role players and good depth behind your starters. There's obvious opportunity to upgrade that position in this year's NFL Draft.
It's a position with a lot of depth in the second round. Taylor Rapp, Johnathan Abram, Juan Thornhill, Darnell Savage, and Deionte Thompson all have been projected in the second round. Where the Dallas Cowboys are picking at 58 is a perfect spot for them to grab one of those safeties.
Though Jeff Heath has been a mainstay in the Cowboys secondary, his play is better suited in a reserve role. If the Cowboys pull the trigger on a safety in the second round, it's not a stretch to think they could beat out Heath for snaps alongside Xavier Woods.
This year's secondary class is a really good group with diverse skill sets. From rangy athlete, to physical thumper, the Cowboys can select the guy they think pairs best with Woods. And Woods flexibility means it doesn't have to be primarily a strong safety type.
Now some, might say that defensive tackle is a place where a second round rookie could come in and play significant snaps right away. It's possible, but based on this team's history, it doesn't seem as likely for two reasons.
First, in the Jason Garrett era, the Cowboys haven't drafted a defensive tackle higher than the third round. Tyrone Crawford and Maliek Collins. They've opted to bargain hunt on other team's practice squads in attempt to find diamonds in the rough like David Irving and Antwaun Woods. They simply don't want to spend premium capital at the position.
Secondly, the Dallas Cowboys look loaded on the interior with Antwaun Woods and Christian Covington slated to be the primary 1-tech defensive tackles along with Maliek Collins, Tyrone Crawford, Kerry Hyder, and possibly Taco Charlton at 3-tech.
That's a lot of bodies on the inside of your defensive line. Given Jason Garrett's reluctance to play rookies, offensive line and Ezekiel Elliott aside, I don't see a rookie defensive tackle pushing Maliek Collins or Tyrone Crawford aside.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
If the Cowboys have their sights set on a player who can contribute a starter's snap distribution, then safety is the position they need to look in the second round. There aren't any players that could be available that would come in and start for them week one at any other position. They can certainly find impactful role players that would likely start at some point in 2019 or beyond, but a wide receiver, tight end, defensive tackle or defensive end isn't walking in day one and starting for the Dallas Cowboys.
The safety position, however, has room for some young talent and in this draft, there's a lot of talent that can make plays from the safety position.
Potential DT Prospects Dallas Cowboys Could Target in Each Round
Nearly all of the Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman are either under a one-year contract or entering the remaining year of their deal, so the 2019 NFL Draft might be a good time for them to start preparing for the future. It wouldn't surprise me to see the Cowboys draft a DT early, quite possibly with their first selection at 58th overall in the second-round.
With that in mind, I thought it would be a good idea to share with you some of the defensive tackle prospects in this year's draft class the Dallas Cowboys could be interested in in each round. Fortunately, this is a good year to draft a DT and there are several potential candidates in each round that makes sense.
Let's take a look…
Dexter Lawrence, Clemson
Dexter Lawrence has a chance to sneak into the first-round, but could slide right into the Dallas Cowboys lap just as easily. He would be a no-brainer pick and take over as the starting one-technique from Day 1. He moves surprisingly well for a player his size and flashes dominant qualities as a run defender. He needs to improve his pass rushing repertoire, but the skills are there. He would immediately upgrade the defense and help keep the Cowboys young, talented linebackers clean to make plays all over the field.
Dre'Mont Jones, Ohio State
Dre'Mont Jones unfortunately didn't test as well as many were expecting at the 2019 NFL Combine, but he possesses the skill set to become a disruptive force as a three-technique in a 4-3 defensive scheme like the Dallas Cowboys deploy. He has a quick first step and understands how to get skinny to be a force as a pass rusher. His work as a run defender leaves much to be desired though. He will really need to improve his strength and technique before he can be considered in every down player.
Trysten Hill, UCF
Trysten Hill is someone the Dallas Cowboys have shown a pretty strong interest in throughout the draft process. He was not only part of their 30 allotted pre-draft visitors, but Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli also personally put him through drills at his Pro Day. He also happens to be one of my "pet cats" in this year's draft class. He is exactly the kind of disruptive DT Marinelli likes and has the versatility to play it at the one or three-technique. He plays with reckless abandon right now and needs to clean up some things, but he is a moldable piece of clay worth developing.
Khalen Saunders, Western Illinois
Khalen Saunders is an athletic big-bodied DT who absolutely dominated lesser talent during his time at Western Illinois. He flashes dominance on tape in both the running and passing game, but is still pretty raw from a technical standpoint. He needs to improve his pass rush moves and technique because he has struggled at times getting off the blocks. His athletic ability and strength are all NFL ready though and he projects best as a 4-3 one-technique with three-tech upside.
Daniel Wise, Kansas
Daniel Wise was a four-year starter at Kansas and played up and down their defensive line in a variety of roles and fronts. He projects best as a three-technique in a 4-3 defensive scheme in the NFL due to his quick first step and relentless motor. He never quits on a play and gives it his all down after down. He played a high volume of snaps during his time with the Jayhawks and never seem to wear down, which is a testament to his endurance. He only has average athletic ability, but his relentlessness makes them difficult to block in both the running and passing game.
Gerald Willis III, Miami
Gerald Willis III was a one-year starter at Miami and unfortunately doesn't have the best track record on or off the field. He would come with plenty of red flags if he were to be drafted by the Dallas Cowboys, but he has the talent to become a starter in the NFL. He projects best as a three-technique and has the quick first step to be a disruptive force in both the running and passing game. He's a little undisciplined with this approach and will need to clean up his technique, but he has the skill set to have a long career in the league.
Keke Kingsley, Texas A&M
Keke Kingsley was a three-year starter at Texas A&M. He started his career as a nose tackle before dropping 20 pounds and moving to defensive end prior to his senior season. He is a smooth athlete for his size and has the versatility to play a variety of roles along the defensive line. He shows strength in his upper body, but needs to play with a better base and pad level at the next level. He would likely be a rotational player in a 4-3 defense his rookie season, but with more development he has started potential in a year or two.
Michael Dogbe, Temple
Michael Dogbe is one the strongest players in the entire 2019 draft class. In summer workouts he bench pressed 505 pounds, including 37 reps up to 25 and squatted 685 pounds. He played all across the defensive line during his time at Temple and has the versatility to do the same in the NFL in a four man front. He probably projects best as a three-technique where he can use his quick first step and strength to his advantage. He's probably a rotational player as a rookie, but has starting potential with more seasoning and development.
Terry Beckner Jr., Missouri
Terry Beckner Jr. was was a three-year starter at Missouri. He struggled with knee injuries early on in his career, but started all 26 games his last two seasons and finished with double digit tackles for loss both years. He had plenty of splash plays in his collegiate career, but really needs to improve his strength and mechanics to carve out a role in the NFL. He has the desired quick first step to become successful, but if he doesn't win with his initial burst he tends to get washed out of plays.
Demarcus Christmas, Florida State
Demarcus Christmas was a four-star recruit out of high school and a three-year starter at Florida State. He was a part of a heavy defensive line rotation with the Seminoles and played primarily over the A-gap. He looks the part of an NFL defensive lineman with his well proportioned 300 pound broad frame and uses his size effectively to stack and shed offensive lineman, but he hasn't developed like many believed he would. He has the power to play in the league, but needs to improve his instincts and technique if he wants to make an NFL roster.
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