The release of Dez Bryant has opened up a significant pre-draft need at wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys, who would be relying purely on potential and unproven upside if they had to play a game with their current group of pass catchers tomorrow.
Fortunately for them, the 2018 NFL Draft presents a great opportunity for the Cowboys to improve with young talent at WR. This certainly had a factor in the Cowboys decision to move on from Bryant, and now they must hit on the receiver they seem prepared to take as early as 19th overall.
In our last full week prior to AT&T Stadium and the Cowboys hosting this year's draft, here is a look at my top ten wide receivers available.
1. Calvin Ridley - Alabama
Round Grade: 1st
Even with Dez Bryant in their plans for 2018, the Cowboys have been linked to this year's consensus WR1 in Alabama's Calvin Ridley for some time now. The fit makes a ton of sense, as Ridley is ready to contribute at the next level right away - something he needs to do as an older prospect (23 years old).
Ridley can play anywhere on the field, winning in a variety of ways to create separation with his lanky and athletic frame. After the catch, Ridley is tough to corral in the open field.
Held back by inconsistent quarterback play at Alabama, the expectation is that a quarterback like Dak Prescott will turn Ridley into a consistent threat in the NFL.
2. D.J. Moore - Maryland
Round Grade: 1st
Of all the receivers available in this draft, Maryland's D.J. Moore may be most ready to provide the Cowboys with the play making ability they need out wide.
Getting the ball into the hands of Moore should be no problem for his next team, and this is a player that absolutely knows what to do with it when given the chance. Somewhat of a smaller target, Moore does not shy away from contact in any phase of his game.
Winning with long speed and exceptional quick-twitch in tight spaces, Moore will track the ball downfield for vertical plays or elude defenders on a short pass to spark any offense.
D.J. Moore likely has a better chance of reaching the Cowboys' first pick than Calvin Ridley does. If Dallas is set on drafting a WR at 19th overall, they should be ecstatic at the chance to grab Moore.
3. James Washington - Oklahoma State
Round Grade: 1st
Is another Oklahoma State receiver in the first round exactly what the Dallas Cowboys need?
With James Washington, who was a late 30 visit for the Cowboys, the answer may very well be yes. Washington has been criticized as a prospect because of the league he played in, benefiting from the gaudy numbers that the Big 12 is known for putting up through the air.
Washington still projects as a reliable target in the NFL however, proving at this year's Senior Bowl that he is a nuanced route runner with soft hands. Moving through his routes and taking the top off of defenses comes easy for Washington.
These are both traits that the Cowboys should be in the market for at WR, putting James Washington on their radar as my third ranked player at the position.
4. Anthony Miller - Memphis
Round Grade: 2nd
Anthony Miller may be the best "bad ball" receiver in this draft, making a name for himself out of Memphis by producing circus catches and improbable plays regularly. The hype for Miller has been transferred to other receivers ever since it was announced that he was dealing with a foot injury leading up to this draft, but Miller's next team is still getting a great football player.
If the Cowboys pass on a WR at 19th overall, Anthony Miller has to be directly in their sites for the 50th overall pick. Miller explodes off of the line of scrimmage to quickly beat the cushion that even the quickest defensive backs give him, separating at full speed to make contested catches.
Miller played all over the field for the Memphis Tigers, meaning the Cowboys could find an ideal spot for him without worrying much about Miller adjusting to the position.
5. Courtland Sutton - Southern Methodist
Round Grade: 2nd
A local prospect for the Cowboys, SMU's Courtland Sutton has been somewhat of a polarizing prospect in this year's WR class. Where some see a slower player that will struggle against the increase in competition level in the NFL, others view Sutton as a match up problem for any defense to handle thanks to his size and leaping ability.
As my fifth rated receiver, I see Sutton as a ready-made contributor at the X-WR position. With not many like him in this draft, Sutton may be in a tough position to grab for the Cowboys if they are not prepared to take him in the first round.
There may be more dynamic players than Sutton at WR in the 2018 Draft, but this is a player with physical traits and an overall ability to impact the game as a receiver and blocker that cannot be ignored.
6. Christian Kirk - Texas A&M
Round Grade: 2nd
Like Sutton, Kirk's value as a receiver at the next level has come into question - this time due to his size. Using his acceleration and burst to separate is not a problem for Kirk, who was a productive player for Texas A&M as both an outside and slot target.
I believe that Christian Kirk projects best as a slot receiver in the NFL, but this is not to say that he won't earn snaps on the boundary. If the Cowboys believe he can do both effectively, Kirk could be the long threat that they've missed over recent seasons as a "home run hitter" that is perfectly Dak-friendly.
7. Equanimeous St. Brown - Notre Dame
Round Grade: 2nd
This is one of the most underrated players in the 2018 NFL Draft, with the chance to instantly outplay his draft position in year one. Notre Dame's Equanimeous St. Brown is an all-around skilled athlete with 13 career touchdowns for the Fighting Irish.
St. Brown is primed to take the league by storm in 2018 and well beyond, an absolute glider of a receiver with reliable hands and pro-ready size.
8. Auden Tate - Florida State
Round Grade: 2nd
If "EQ" St. Brown is a prototypical receiver for his next team to take full advantage of, the same goes for the physical specimen that is Auden Tate - although the Florida State product lacks the same refinement.
Tate projects best as a red zone target, but does find enough ways to use his build to create separation for contested catches.
This is likely the type of receiver the Cowboys are looking to pass on for more "twitched up" targets with polish to their route running, but Tate is still deserving of his top ten status here at eighth overall.
9. Dante Pettis - Washington
Round Grade: 2nd
The latest burner WR out of the Pac 12 is Washington's Dante Pettis, one of the best "Swiss Army Knife" prospects available for teams in need of a receiver and punt returner.
When Pettis is given space to work with, he is free to fly as an elite speed target that will track the ball through open areas. Lacking the build to make up for disruptions in his routes, Pettis will get pushed around some in the NFL.
A number of Pettis' touches will have to be scripted into his new offense, but there is enough to like about Pettis as a fluid receiver with experience both inside and out to land him in the second round.
10. D.J. Chark - Louisiana State
Round Grade: 2nd
Another recent pre-draft visitor of the Dallas Cowboys, LSU's D.J. Chark is an intriguing prospect to figure out. A late-bloomer when it comes to production in college, Chark put down a 4.34 second 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine. Doing so on the heels of a standout Senior Bowl week earlier in this draft process, the LSU receiver has done plenty to stand out to this point.
Chark is at his best when running dead straight, and there are immediate issues with his game when asked to do much else (besides return punts). It's clear on Chark's tape that he doesn't play with a great understanding of his own body, struggling to set up defenders at the line of scrimmage despite his length and quickness.
Chark also allows too many defenders to beat him to the catch point and take away receptions. Steady coaching against increased competition should only help D.J. Chark though, who will always be good for shot plays made easy as an NFL target.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
The Dallas Cowboys have their work cut out for them in rebuilding their receiving corps on the fly, but also have plenty of options in next week's draft to add rookie talent. As you'll notice in my round grades through the top ten, all of the players above are graded in the first two rounds (where the Cowboys hold the 19th and 50th overall pick).
The type of receiver the Cowboys target will say a lot about the direction this offense is going, with Calvin Ridley and Courtland Sutton projecting as the best 'X' players available.
Overall, the Cowboys should feel good about letting the board come to them as always in the first round - waiting until day two to land a receiver that will still fit Dak Prescott's offense nicely.
Is Defensive End a 2nd Round Need for Cowboys?
It seemed as if defensive end wouldn't be a concern for the Dallas Cowboys in 2019. DeMarcus Lawrence did an amazing job last season keeping up his level of play and making a statement on why he's one of the best defensive players in the NFL. Randy Gregory had a tremendous comeback season with six sacks in only 14 games. It felt like the Cowboys didn't have to worry about the position this offseason. Unfortunately, Randy Gregory received an indefinite suspension by the NFL for violating the league's Policy and and Program for Substance Abuse. The 26 year old defensive end had just been reinstated prior to the season after sitting out most of his career.
Now the Cowboys are in search of a defensive end to play opposite of DeMarcus Lawrence (who by the way, has yet to reach an agreement with the team for a long term deal), who's reached elite status after the last couple of seasons.
Often, the positions that come to mind when discussing the team's current needs are defensive tackle, safety and before the front office signed Randall Cobb, wide receiver. However, I'm convinced defensive end is right up there and I wouldn't be surprised if the Cowboys draft one in the second round with the 58th overall pick.
Of course, the focus right now seems to be in trading for Miami Dolphins' DE Robert Quinn. I honestly believe that'd be a great move by the Cowboys' front office. Quinn will be 29 years old when the season begins and he still has a ton of gas left in the tank. In the past two seasons he's racked up 15 sacks and four forced fumbles. He'll be a good pass rusher for whoever he plays with once the season begins.
If a trade for Quinn doesn't take place and the team fails to upgrade the position via free agency, defensive end should be considered a top priority in the 2019 NFL Draft. There's bound to be quality prospects when the Cowboys get in the clock for the first time in April.
Right now the defense counts with Dorance Armstrong, Taco Charlton, Tyrone Crawford (who is currently under investigation by the NFL after getting in trouble at a bar) to take care of the position. Add to the mix recently signed free agents Christian Covington and Kerry Hyder, two players who could end up playing in the interior as well. The team definitely needs some additional help. When push comes to shove, the team is deep along the defensive line. What the Cowboys are missing are guys who can be unquestioned starters instead of rotational players.
As all eyes lay on a possible trade for Robert Quinn, keep an eye out for a defensive end's name being called by the commissioner when the Cowboys make the 58th pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Dallas Cowboys Trade Back in this 7-Round Mock Draft
Last week we took a gander at one potential scenario that could come to pass during the 2019 NFL Draft for the Dallas Cowboys. It involved trades, and we explored the idea that trading back is probably the best course of action for the Dallas Cowboys unless there is a player that they love that is sitting there at 58.
With so much depth in this draft at positions where the Dallas Cowboys could use some reinforcements, it makes sense for them to look to add to their cache of draft picks. Sitting with six picks and no first rounder gives them little leeway unless someone wants to trade up into pick 58.
Using Fanspeak.com's On The Clock Premium simulator, I selected Matt Miller's big board, from Bleacher Report, while allowing the computer to use multiple big boards to better simulate the variations that can take place from team to team.
Today, we're going to look at another mock draft scenario that involves two trade downs from the Dallas Cowboys.
58 - TRADE
The New York Jets call Jerry Jones in the Dallas Cowboys war room and offer picks 68 and 93 for the Cowboys pick in the second round.
Sure it’s a 10 pick trade back, but the value they’re offering is too good to pass up. Per the Trade Value Chart, Dallas earns a net of 76 points, which would be the equivalent of pick 109. This draft is deep at defensive line, safety, and wide receiver so with options on the board that I really like, I’m moving back and picking up an extra third rounder in the process.
New York Jets get pick 58.
Dallas Cowboys get picks 68 and 93 (two third round picks).
68 - TRADE
Sensing that Jerry is in the wheeling and dealing mood, the Washington Redskins come calling and offer picks 76 and 96 for the Cowboys pick -- acquired from the New York Jets -- at 68. Again the Cowboys pick up a net value of 76 points here and there are still several players on the board well liked by the team.
Washington Redskins get pick 68.
Dallas Cowboys get picks 76 and 96 (two third round picks).
Through the two trade backs that the Cowboys accepted, the Cowboys now have four 3rd round picks to work with.
76 - Gerald Willis III, DL, Miami
Via Trade with the Washington Redskins
This year's edition of the NFL Draft features a really deep class of defensive lineman. The Dallas Cowboys, though they've shored up their defensive interior with the signings of Christian Covington and Kerry Hyder (who can play on the edge or inside), the Cowboys will still look for long-term answers at the 3-tech position on the defensive line.
Maliek Collins likely pencils in as the starter heading into 2019 at the 3-tech spot, but is only under contract through the 2019 season and has struggled with consistency while battling offseason injuries that have limited his preparation.
Gerald Willis III is a player that profiles as a 3-tech with his athleticism and strength. He had four sacks and 18 tackles for loss for the Miami Hurricanes. He's a raw player that only played one full season at division one, but under the wings of defensive line guru Rod Marinelli, could be the solution to the Cowboys interior pass rush.
Read Kevin Brady's scouting report on Gerald Willis III.
90 - Darnell Savage Jr., S, Maryland
The Dallas Cowboys have yet to truly address the safety position in free agency despite having visits with Clayton Geathers and Eric Berry. Darnell Savage is a very interesting player that reminds me a lot of Xavier Woods.
Like Woods, Savage is a versatile player who is physical and aggressive in run support and plays coverage very well. If there's something he lacks, it's size standing only 5-10 and weighing in at 198.
He plays the ball well in the air and is an aggressive down hill tackler. He would match well with Woods in that you could keep the offense off-balance with your safety looks. Savage has the speed, athleticism, toughness, and range to be a plug and play safety in the box or as the deep safety for the Dallas Cowboys.
Read my full scouting report on Darnell Savage Jr.
93 - Andy Isabella, WR, UMass
Via Trade with the New York Jets
Though the Dallas Cowboys have brought back Wide Receivers Allen Hurns and Tavon Austin along with signing Randall Cobb, none of those three players has a contract behind 2019. The Cowboys would be wise to continue to look at the NFL Draft to add talent to their wide receiver pool. Andy Isabella has elite production, speed, and athleticism to be an excellent slot receiver in the NFL.
Read Brian Martin's scouting report on Andy Isabella.
96 - Bobby Evans, OT, Oklahoma
Via Trade with the Washington Redskins
The Dallas Cowboys Offensive Line looks set for 2019 with the expected return of Travis Frederick, a full offseason of strength and conditioning for Connor Williams, the return of Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and La’el Collins, and excellent depth with Joe Looney, Cam Fleming, and Xavier Su’a-Filo.
The problem is that the Cowboys will probably let Collins walk in free agency next offseason and will look to replace him through the draft. Collins will likely demand a big pay-day as a right tackle who will have started three seasons at the position for one of the league’s best running games.
Enter Bobby Evans from the University of Oklahoma who was a member of one of the best offensive lines in college football. The Sooners offensive line provided Quarterback Kyler Murray with tons of time to drop back to pass and gave huge running lanes to running backs Trey Sermon and Kennedy Brooks.
Evans has good athleticism, strength, and arm length that could allow him to play either side of the offensive line. He would start out as a backup and potential swing tackle, but with development could be your replacement for La'el Collins at right tackle.
128 - Rodney Anderson, RB, Oklahoma
If you read this space on a regular basis, you know that I'm all about Rodney Anderson in the fourth round for the Dallas Cowboys. If he's available, the Cowboys have to think long and hard about selecting him.
Yes, he's had some injury issues during his career at OU, but he's a potential bell-cow running back if something were to happen to Ezekiel Elliott.
He's a smooth runner who is able to change direction quickly and has the physicality to run inside. He runs with patience and can make defenders miss while possessing enough speed to break away from the defense.
If the Dallas Cowboys are serious about extending Ezekiel Elliott, and it appears they are, they need to find a guy who can ease some of the burden that Elliott's carried through his first three seasons in the NFL. Elliott's a great back, but even the great ones need to be spelled from time-to-time.
Read Brian Martin's scouting report on Rodney Anderson.
136 - Jace Sternberger, TE, Texas A&M
The Cowboys tight end situation doesn't look nearly as serious today as it did a month ago. Prior to the return of Jason Witten, the Cowboys were looking like a team that would seriously attack the tight end position in the draft. With Witten's return, the Cowboys could look to go into the season as is hoping that Blake Jarwin and/or Dalton Schultz take a step forward in their development, making any snaps from Jason Witten icing on the cake.
But, that's hedging your bets a little. As much of a believer as I am in Blake Jarwin, hope is not a plan. If for some reason he's not the player you thought he'd be, then you need to grab one of the tight ends from this deep group of players.
Jace Sternberger is the guy that I like the best after the third round trio of Noah Fant, TJ Hockenson, and Irv Smith. Sternberger offers a ton of athleticism and is a downfield threat that the Cowboys haven't had in years from the tight end position.
165 - Khalen Saunders, DL, Western Illinois
As I mentioned earlier, though the Dallas Cowboys have addressed the defensive interior, but need to have to take into account that they won't have several of those guys after the 2019 season.
Khalen Saunders could be a nice fit in the 1-tech defensive tackle rotation despite being short relative to the position. His size, strength, and athleticism remind me of Poona Ford from last year's draft who dropped down draft boards because of his height. Ford had a very productive rookie season for the Seattle Seahawks in 2018.
Don't make the same mistake on Saunders.
241 - Jordan Brailford, EDGE, Oklahoma State
When you're looking at the seventh round of the draft, you're trying to find those diamonds in the rough. Jordan Brailford from Oklahoma State may just be that guy this season.
Brailford is a player that profiles as a weakside defensive end in a 4-3 or a 3-4 outside linebacker. For Oklahoma State, he had 10 sacks in 2018, though he tailed off toward the end of the season.
All 10 of his sacks came in his first eight games of the season, but he recorded three sack games against Boise State and Kansas. In addition to his 10 sacks, he recorded 17 tackles for loss and 55 total tackles.
He's a plus athlete that could contribute on special teams and provide depth on the edge. Both of those things are worth taking a chance on in the seventh round.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
We are now only a little more than a month away from the 2019 NFL Draft and you know the Dallas Cowboys will find some players to add to their roster for this season. They've become one of the better teams in the league at drafting. Not only do they hit on their first rounders (Taco Charlton, TBD), they've found starters and valuable depth pieces throughout the draft.
This is just another scenario that could take place come draft weekend.
Cowboys Draft: Film Notes on Iowa State Cyclones WR Hakeem Butler
The 2019 NFL Draft is light on a lot of the offensive skill position players at the top of the draft. There are a couple of wide receivers that are making noise in the first round, but I'm surprised to see that Iowa State Cyclones Wide Receiver Hakeem Butler isn't one of them.
Is he a perfect NFL prospect coming out of the Big 12? No. But this year, there isn't a perfect NFL wide receiver prospect, in my opinion.
Hakeem Butler measured in at 6-5, 225 with 35 1/4 inch wingspan, and 10 3/4 inch hands. He's a big receiver and generally, the type of wide receiver that the NFL looks for when they're attempting to build their receiver corp.
Here are his measurements, courtesy of Mockdraftable.com.
And here is his Spider Graph, if you're into that sort of thing.
As you can see, Butler moves the needle on the spider graph in the strength and athletic testing. He didn't run the short shuttle or the 3-cone drill at the NFL combine, which isn't surprising as those would be lesser traits to his game.
For his size, Butler runs an excellent 40-yard dash at 4.48 seconds. That puts him at the same time as Carolina Panthers Running Back Christian McCaffrey. Former Dallas Cowboys great, Dez Bryant ran a 4.52. The 40-yard dash helps measure straight line speed and it's helpful, it just isn't the be all-end all. Sure, you'd like a receiver to be faster, but Butler's size-speed combination makes up for being a touch slower than the guys running in the 4.3's.
In order to get a handle on Hakeem Butler, I watched his games against Iowa, Oklahoma, West Virginia, TCU, Baylor, and Washington State. Believe me, watching the Iowa State offense was no small task. Quarterback much?
Here's what I saw from Hakeem Butler.
- Is able to create separation on a variety of routes and against press coverage. Ran posts, slants, ins, outs, curls (both in and out breaking), double moves off of slants (sluggo and hitch and go), and nine or go routes.
- Moves well for size, could use some more quickness.
- Hakeem Butler is at his best when thrown back-shoulder fade routes. He's an excellent ball tracker and shows great anticipation for the ball being thrown under the route for him to come back to the ball.
- Quarterback play at Iowa State was an issue. I counted three, maybe four different quarterbacks that he had to work with throughout the 2018 season. Though Butler was able to bail them out at times, he and the rest of the Cyclones receiving corp dealt with poor ball placement.
- Butler is a physical blocker at the point of attack and away from the ball. He uses route feints to set up the defender so he can get square on them and uses good technique to secure his man and plays till the whistle.
- Was lined up all over the field in the games watched including the slot, the middle receiver in bunch formations, and in tight sets as a single receiver to one side.
- Is very physical against press coverage and fights to get free throughout the route.
- The two games he struggled the most were against TCU and Iowa where they used more zone coverage than Iowa State's other opponents. Those teams kept him bracketed, which left him little room to work in the zone and forced him into more contested catch situations.
- He had bad drops in both the Iowa and TCU games, but also came up with excellent catches.
- Butler is very physical after the catch and uses his size and agility to break tackles and create yards after the catch. Against the Sooners, he broke three or four tackles after the catch to take one the distance for the touchdown.
I like Hakeem Butler as a pro prospect. He has some nuanced route running to him and is more than just a jump-ball specialist, red zone threat. He has the skills to be a lead receiver for a team in the NFL and could even be used as a big-slot receiver much like the New Orleans Saints use Michael Thomas. Despite some drops, I think he has really good hands and with his size and physicality would be an excellent addition for the Dallas Cowboys.
I'd be surprised if he was available for the Cowboys at pick 58 of the second round, but if for some reason he was there, I wouldn't hesitate to select him. You can use him on the outside and move Amari Cooper to the slot or put Butler in the slot and use Cooper on the outside. His ability to run routes from all over the formation is an asset that a smart team will take advantage of.
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