With the 2018 NFL Draft coming into focus more and more each day, and the new league year set to enter April and proceed towards April 26th-28th's event from AT&T Stadium, the realization that this 2018 Draft class is shallow compared to recent years has brought things full circle.
Typically, the prospects linked to a team by either their fans or reporters at the beginning of the offseason are washed away in the month actually leading up to the draft. In the Cowboys' case, their recent presence at some of the top schools in the nation for pro days links them to a number of exciting prospects that have been on Cowboys Nation's radar for a while now.
Inside The Star at Frisco, preparations for the draft will be constantly moving forward, though we can take the luxury here to look back at the importance the week so far has had on the Cowboys.
Alabama Crimson Tide Pro Day
Top Draft Eligible Prospects: WR Calvin Ridley, LB Rashaan Evans, DT Da'Ron Payne, CB/S Minkah Fitzpatrick, S Ronnie Harrison
In the aftermath of the Cowboys using their 28th overall pick on Taco Charlton a year ago, it was revealed that this "controversial" pick was mostly fought for by Head Coach Jason Garrett.
On Wednesday, Garrett and the Cowboys' staff departed from the annual NFL coaches meetings to attend Alabama's pro day - Garrett's first formal stop of the season.
Jason Garrett & a Cowboys contingent of coaches & scouts will be in Alabama on Wednesday for the school's 2nd Pro Day. It will Be Garrett's first campus trip leading up to April draft.
The possibilities are endless when it comes to Crimson Tide prospects that the Cowboys could be interested in. My most recent roundup of national mock drafts pegged both Linebacker Rashaan Evans and Defensive Tackle Da'Ron Payne to the Cowboys. Wide Receiver Calvin Ridley also remains in play for pick #19, even with the team adding Allen Hurns.
Though no formal interest has been announced between the Dallas Cowboys and DT Da'Ron Payne, they do have a 30 visit set with Rashaan Evans, and met with Ridley at the Scouting Combine.
Both defenders have the floor to make an immediate impact on this team's front seven, adding an overall toughness to the unit.
Payne fits the Cowboys' "box" for 1T DTs, with the ability to dip his shoulders and get up the field against the pass. Evans would be an ideal compliment to Jaylon Smith and Sean Lee, an instinctive linebacker with the upside to become one of the biggest steals in this draft.
Florida Gators Pro Day
Top Draft Eligible Prospects: DT Taven Bryan, CB Duke Dawson, WR Antonio Callaway, TE DeAndre Goolsby
Staying in the SEC, Cowboys Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli was spotted at the pro day of the Florida Gators.
Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli with #Gators DT Taven Bryan. https://t.co/u2vti68aWm
To nobody's surprise, Marinelli was taking special interest in Defensive Tackle Taven Bryan. A true Marinelli prospect all the way, Bryan is a budding prospect that's risen up draft boards given his incredibly high ceiling.
Profiled as a potential pick for the Cowboys here, Bryan is raw in his overall game as a 3T DT, but was disruptive enough against top college competition to warrant an early pick. Bryan would fill a need for the Cowboys, as the team did not address their defensive front at all in free agency.
Come draft night, it will be fascinating to see just how much pull Rod Marinelli will find in the Cowboys' war room. It is widely believed that 2018 will be his last season in Dallas, and a wealth of potential replacements - along with new coaches on offense - will all be fighting for "their guys".
Taven Bryan is going to be one of Rod Marinelli's guys.
Maryland Terrapins Pro Day
Top Draft Eligible Prospects: WR D.J. Moore, CB JC Jackson
The D.J. Moore train is full steam ahead! Even before the dynamic Maryland receiver blew up the Scouting Combine, the fit between Moore and the Cowboys has made a lot of sense.
As mentioned with Calvin Ridley, who should come off the board before Moore, the Cowboys should absolutely still be in the market for a WR with their first pick. Using this pick on Moore would fully upgrade Dak Prescott's stable of pass catchers, with the addition of a speedy rookie that can separate down the field and make defenders miss easily in the open field.
Eagles, Bills, Chiefs, Cowboys, 49ers, Texans, Seahawks, Vikings, Falcons, Jets, Dolphins, Saints, Redskins, Raiders, Giants, Bucs, and Colts are all here for Maryland pro day. WR DJ Moore is the featured prospect.
In watching D.J. Moore at his pro day, the Cowboys are doing their due diligence on a prospect that will also visit The Star for a pre-draft visit. Moore met with the Cowboys at the Combine as well.
Texas Longhorns Pro Day
Top Draft Eligible Prospects: S DeShon Elliott, DT Poona Ford, LB Malik Jefferson, CB Holton Hill, OT Connor Williams
Last but certainly not least on the Cowboys' recent flurry of activity is of course their stop at Texas' local pro day.
Decent amount of draft-caliber dudes at Texas' pro day today. As far as the Cowboys are concerned, the guys that stick out to me are LB Malik Jefferson and S DeShon Elliott.
Most Texas Longhorns prospects will be eligible to participate in the Cowboys' "Dallas Day" - an opportunity to workout local players without burning valuable 30 visits.
This will be the case for Linebacker Malik Jefferson and Safety DeShon Elliott. In which rounds the Cowboys could target both players remains to be ironed out, but they have shown special interest in Elliott, meeting with the athletic safety already.
I would also add Longhorns' prospect Connor Williams to any list of potential Cowboys targets, as Williams was once considered a top OT (and overall) prospect in 2017. Returning to school off of an injury, Williams did struggle at times this season, and has been projected by some as an interior player now.
In the market for a starting left guard still, along with as much depth as possible up front, the Cowboys could see plenty of value in taking their chance on Connor Williams.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
Just in Texas alone today, three more pro days will take place at SMU, Houston, and Rice. With the full circuit of pro days concluding on April 6th, it is important to step back and check in with the Cowboys' decision makers this week.
Presented with the opportunity to put the Cowboys back in contention quickly, with ten total picks in their home draft, the brain trust of the Dallas Cowboys has been out in full force to - excitingly - look at prospects that even casual fans should have a handle on.
With plenty of work left to be done around the league before the Cleveland Browns go on the clock, do not be surprised when the latest rookie to earn his star as this team's first round pick is one mentioned above.
Cowboys Draft Class: How Many Will Be Starters In 2018?
The Dallas Cowboys have been showered with praise by most national NFL media outlets for their 2018 NFL Draft class. NFL.com graded the Cowboys as having the 2nd best class in the league, and most other analysts have agreed that the team had a strong showing.
But now, of course, it's time to see what these new players will actually do on the field. Some are hoping the team found 3-5 new starters for the 2018 roster, but history would suggest that is pretty rare.
Dallas' 2016 draft class has been lauded as one of the best in the last decade, especially considering they look to have found their franchise quarterback in round four. That strong class only features four full-time starters heading into 2018, but we have to wonder if that's the outlier and not the norm.
Still, as we look back and examine this 2018 draft class it really appears they have found three day one starters in the first three rounds.
First round pick Leighton Vander Esch is expected to be the starting MIKE linebacker this season, with former second round selection Jaylon Smith moving to SAM. Vander Esch wasn't my favorite option at 19, but he is certainly starter-worthy in this Cowboys LB corps.
On day two the Cowboys added OL Connor Williams and WR Michael Gallup, two of my personal favorite picks of their entire class. Williams should be the starting LG week 1 of the season, and Michael Gallup may overtake Allen Hurns as the most productive WR on the roster by year's end.
What about the rest of the class?
Dorance Armstrong will probably have too much competition to start at defensive end this season, but he should be an interesting rotational pass rusher. TE Dalton Schultz has the chance to surprise some people, but overtaking Geoff Swaim as the "starter" would be unexpected.
After that, the player with the best chance to make the team and contribute early on might be Boise State WR Cedrick Wilson. Wilson was a late day-two, early day-three pick to me so snagging him in the sixth round should provide incredible value to this roster. That wide out room is getting very crowded, though, so Wilson has his work cut out for him heading into camp.
How many of the Cowboys' 2018 draft picks will be starters in 2018? Let us know what you think in the comment section below.
Did the Dallas Cowboys Find 4 Starters in the 2018 NFL Draft?
One of the many winners of the 2018 NFL Draft were, without a doubt, the Dallas Cowboys. Not only did they addressed some of the team's most pressing needs, but they managed to draft very talented, capable players beyond the first round.
Cowboys Nation had to feel better about the rookie class the front office walked away with, specially after the second day of the Draft. Just like last year, they managed to find steals in the second and third rounds. In 2017, they did so with Cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis. Now, they stayed put at their original picks and walked away with OL Connor Williams and WR Michael Gallup.
But first things first. In the eyes of many, Leighton Vander Esch wasn't worth the 19th overall pick. While I do agree that Vander Esch was a questionable selection, the Cowboys fixed arguably their most concerning position of all. As much as it pains to admit it, Sean Lee has yet to play an entire NFL season and Jaylon Smith was pretty much the only other capable starter on the roster.
Although Vander Esch needs to develop a ton before reaching his full potential. he's a week 1 starter and an early contributor for this defense. Whether it felt like a "reach" or not, the Cowboys took a starter in the Boise State linebacker.
Later, the Cowboys managed to add an arguably first-round talent with pick #50 to plug-and-play along the offensive line. Texas OL Connor Williams was also seen as a tackle prospect, but he'll likely start at guard for Dallas as a rookie.
Since Ron Leary left for Denver, the left guard spot hasn't been as stable. Jonathan Cooper did a decent job filling that spot, but with Williams taking his place, the Cowboys dominance in the trenches will finally return. Playing next to All-Pros Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick, Connor Williams might become the best rookie in this class for the Cowboys.
One can't simply say the team found a "replacement" for Dez Bryant since he's a special player and with a very specific skill set, but Michael Gallup from Colorado State has the potential to become the team's WR1 pretty soon.
In the team's effort to build a Dak-friendly offense, Gallup is a crafty and smooth route-runner who has what it takes to play in any spot of the offense. His skill-set will allow him to play anywhere on the field and become Dak's favorite target in a year in which Jason Witten and Dez Bryant will no longer be lining up on his squad.
Taken in the first three rounds, Vander Esch, Williams and Gallup will be unquestionable starters. The question, however, is who else could become a starter for the Cowboys? Who could line up and start in week 1?
Even though it definitely isn't as certain as the other three rookies, I'm betting on Dalton Schultz to be a more important starter than we imagine. Listen, maybe it's not an ideal scenario to have the TE from Stanford start in week 1, but it could be necessary.
The Rico Gathers Adventure might just be over before it starts and Geoff Swaim and Blake Jarwin may not be anything special. In college, Schultz was pretty good at run blocking. In the Cowboys' offense, led by one of the best running backs in the league, Ezekiel Elliott, Schultz may be able to find success earlier than expected.
Besides, he has what it takes to catch passes in the NFL and although he certainly won't be the flashiest, he could be enough to give Dak Prescott a reliable tight end.
Dalton Schultz could be the surprise of this Draft for Dallas. He'll probably become a starter at some point in the season and for a fourth-round pick, that's a very good thing to say.
For a front office that's constantly bashed by Cowboys Nation, their job at this year's NFL Draft was a pretty good one. Now it's just a matter of time to find out which picks were as good as we originally thought.
Why Cowboys Nation Should Feel Better About Leighton Vander Esch
A week ago, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell walked out to the stage at AT&T Stadium to announce the Dallas Cowboys first pick of the 2018 NFL Draft. For the second consecutive year, a large portion of Cowboys Nation was not pretty happy about the player America's Team had drafted in the first day of the Draft.
Boise State's Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch has become one of the main debates among Cowboys fans right now and will continue to be one at least until the season starts. Some are fine with the decision the front office made and some simply don't view Vander Esch as a first round talent.
Naturally, taking Leighton in the first round has been widely compared to the team's last first round pick: Taco Charlton.
Both of these selections resulted in fans all around the world complaining and criticizing the selections since they both seemed like a reach, arguing that they could've gotten better players at other positions.
But fans shouldn't be so quick to compare the Charlton and Vander Esch selections, because they really aren't that similar. Sure, most of the media and Draft fans didn't consider any of these players worthy of a first round pick, but that doesn't mean both players were ranked similarly in the Cowboys' draft board.
Defensive End Taco Charlton, despite showing some very promising flashes towards the end of the year, wasn't able to become a starter at any point during his rookie season. Hopefully he develops into one next season. But when you're talking about first-round picks, being a solid starter at the end of the season at the latest is a very usual expectation.
Possibly what made the Taco pick hurt even more, is the fact that the front office didn't even consider him a first-round talent. Although he was drafted to wear the Star with the 28th overall pick, he wasn't their guy.
The #Cowboys had three first-round grades on DEs, but Taco Charlton wasn't one of them.
With Leighton Vander Esch, the same can't be said. The Cowboys knew he was their guy and that they were going to take him, regardless of the situation. For many weeks we wondered about just every scenario the team might face when they were on the clock.
What if DE Harold Landry is available? What if Calvin Ridley is still on the board? What if Derwin James slides, would they trade up?
For the front office, there was quite a lot of talent to choose from at 19 (not to mention James did slide out of the top 15), but they still took Leighton Vander Esch, even with Landry and Ridley on the board. We might disagree with the pick. We might not think the Boise State's product should've been taken so early. That's completely fine.
But Cowboys Nation should be happy knowing that this was the guy they wanted all along. Maybe if Derwin James hadn't been drafted by the Los Angeles Chargers with the 17th pick, Dallas would have still taken Vander Esch.
"If the Cowboys traded up a few spots in the first round, I believe it would have been to ensure they got Vander Esch, not get James or Edmunds." Dane Brugler on the Cowboys' approach to the Draft.
For now, it's time to root for the Dallas Cowboys' new rookie. Vander Esch will provide a special factor to this defense and has the potential to become a very good starter down the road. Playing side by side with Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith will certainly help his development and turn him into an impact player soon.
At the end of the day, it takes years to properly evaluate how a draft pick turned out in the NFL. There are first round players who turn out to be complete busts just like there are sixth or seventh round players that go on to become superstars in the league.
The Dallas Cowboys did a hell of a job addressing their needs throughout the Draft this year and there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about this year's draft picks. Leighton Vander Esch is without a doubt, one of them.
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