Even though the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff and several of their players are participating in the Pro Bowl this weekend, it's not the event they are most looking forward to. That would be the 2019 Senior Bowl, especially after the kind of success they've had drafting players who have participated in this event the past several years.
You may not be aware of it, but the Dallas Cowboys have found some of their best players at the Senior Bowl over the past five years. They obviously value the collective talent accumulated to participate in this game and this year should be no exception. Just look at some of the past Senior Bowl participants the Cowboys have drafted…
I don't know about you, but I think those are some pretty impressive names on that list. The only thing the Cowboys have to do now is to make it six years in a row. That is why today I thought I'd share with you a few of the players to keep an eye on, some of which Dallas has met with already.
Let's get started…
DT, Demarcus Christmas, Florida State (South Team)
The Dallas Cowboys seem to be drawn to players with the first name "Demarcus" for some reason, which is why it should come no surprise they've supposedly met with Demarcus Christmas at the 2019 Senior Bowl. This Demarcus though isn't a pass rusher like the Cowboys are used to, he's a 6'4", 305 pound defensive tackle.
Christmas projects to be a mid-round pick in the upcoming 2019 NFL Draft, which is about right considering Dallas hasn't valued his position very highly in the past. His best trait as a DT is probably his ability to anchor down against the run. He is difficult to move at the point of attack, but needs to do a better job of disengaging when being blocked. He has some ability as an interior pass rusher as well.
OLB, Sione Takitaki, Brigham Young (South Team)
I can't say I know very much about Sione Takitaki, but he's supposedly on the Dallas Cowboys radar already. They met with him at the East-West Shrine game a week ago according to WalterFootball.com, which is really the only reason he landed on this list. The Cowboys are clearly intrigued with his game, but I want to see for myself what has piqued their interest.
At Brigham Young, Takitaki played more of a 3-4 outside linebacker and pass rush specialist. The Cowboys may be looking at moving him to strong side linebacker to replace Damien Wilson in their 4-3 defense. I'm interested in seeing how he is utilized in the Senior Bowl, because at 6'2", 230 pounds he projects as more as an off the ball linebacker in the NFL.
RB, Bruce Anderson, North Dakota State (South Team)
Like Demarcus Christmas and Sione Takitaki, Running Back Bruce Anderson is someone else the Dallas Cowboys have met with and shown an interest in at the 2019 Senior Bowl. I'm really looking forward to seeing Anderson in action. I've already studied him pretty extensively and like how his game translates to the NFL, especially as Ezekiel Elliott's backup.
At 5'11", 209 pounds, Anderson would be more of a change of pace back with the Cowboys. He's a little under the radar right now, but don't expect that to last long. Despite his size, he runs with power between the tackles and has the speed to capture the edge in the running game. He's also an excellent receiver out of the backfield and has the added value to contribute on special teams as a punt and kick returner.
S, Juan Thornhill, Virginia (South Team)
As of yet, there hasn't been any news of the Dallas Cowboys showing any interest in Safety Juan Thornhill, but he does just so happen to play a position they plan on upgrading. It's one of the reasons why a lot of "draft analysts" have mocked him to the Cowboys in the second-round in the upcoming 2019 NFL Draft.
I'm personally not as high on Thornhill as a lot of people are. I think he's mostly gotten by because of his high football IQ to this point, but I think his lack of athletic ability and instincts will end up being exposed in the NFL. I may be wrong, but I just don't see the upside. I think he is who he is as a player, but I'm still going to keep a close watchful eye on him to see if I have to eat my words or not.
WR, Penny Hart, Georgia State (North Team)
This is a guy I'm really looking forward to watching participate in this year's Senior Bowl, especially as far as the Dallas Cowboys are concerned. If they do indeed decide to move on from Cole Beasley, Penny Hart could be someone they target to take over in the slot. He doesn't have the same kind of name recognition as Hunter Renfrow or Andy Isabella, who are also playing in the Senior Bowl, but that may change after this weekend.
Hart has pretty much been the go to WR at Georgia State throughout his time in college. They lined him up all over the field, but because of his size (5'8", 180) he'll more than likely be regulated to playing in the slot in the NFL. He runs clean/crisp routes, easily creating separation from the defender. He also showcases a pretty wide catching radius for a WR his size and brings special teams ability as a returner to the table as well. He would be a good mid-round option for the Cowboys if Beasley leaves via free agency.
Potential RB Prospects Dallas Cowboys Could Target in Each Round
The Dallas Cowboys have been pretty forthcoming about their desire to add another starting caliber running back to pair with Ezekiel Elliott at some point in the 2019 NFL Draft. That would suggest they are prepared to take one as early at 58th overall in the second-round, or at some point in the rounds in which they hold a draft pick beyond that.
Depending on what the Dallas Cowboys mean by "starting caliber", this year's RB draft class offers some pretty intriguing candidates. It's almost impossible to know at this point which RBs might have caught their eye, so I thought it would be a good idea to share with you some of these potential candidates they could target in each round. With maybe the exception of Josh Jacobs, every other running back could be in play for the Cowboys.
Let's take a look…
Damien Harris, Alabama
Damien Harris was a three-year starter during his time in Alabama and led the team in rushing in each of those three seasons. He is one of the more complete running back prospects in the 2019 draft class and the most pro-ready. He has excellent vision and instincts, allowing him to evade would be tacklers despite his lack of explosion. He actually reminds me of a slightly less explosive version of Ezekiel Elliott, and if paired with Zeke would give the Dallas Cowboys the best RB duo in the NFL.
David Montgomery, Iowa State
David Montgomery was a three-year starter and an every down back in a heavy zone-read offense at Iowa. He is an ultra-competitive back who broke a lot of tackles during his time in college. He is elusive in short areas with quick, active feet and is quicker rather than fast. He is a good receiver out of the backfield and solid as a pass protector. Overall, he is a starting quality RB capable of handling a heavy workload in the NFL. He would make a formidable 1-2 punch if paired with Zeke.
Darrell Henderson, Memphis
Darrell Henderson was a three-year starter at Memphis and was the lead running back in their zone heavy offensive scheme. He is built (5'8", 208) more like a complementary back in the NFL and is at his best when he can slash and weave through gaps. He's not a grinder and doesn't have the kind of long speed to be a home run threat, but his agility and instincts should make him an intriguing starter in the NFL. He would be a really good complement RB to Zeke with the Dallas Cowboys.
Trayveon Williams, Texas A&M
Trayveon Williams was a two-year starter at Texas A&M and thrived in the Aggies new coaching staff's zone blocking scheme in 2018. Much like Darrell Henderson, Williams is a bit undersize and projects best as a complementary back in the NFL. He is quicker rather than fast, and shows good vision and competitiveness in both the running and receiving game. Despite his size, he is also solid in pass protection, which should help him get on the field early as a rookie.
Justice Hill, Oklahoma State
Justice Hill was a three-year starter at Oklahoma State and led the team in rushing the last three seasons. He is another undersized running back who projects best as a complementary piece in the NFL. He is a shifty runner with good lateral agility and has shown the ability to be a threat in the passing game as well. His slight frame and small stature is a cause for durability concerns and could limit him as a pass protector as well.
Rodney Anderson, Oklahoma
Rodney Anderson was pretty much a one-year wonder after his breakout season in 2017 at Oklahoma. He has had a run of bad luck throughout his collegiate career due to some unfortunate injuries, but has the size and skill set to become an every down back in the NFL if he can stay healthy. He reminds me a lot of DeMarco Murray with his upright running style and talent as a runner and receiver, but he's not nearly as polished at this point in his career.
Alexander Mattison, Boise State
Alexander Mattison was a two-year starter at Boise State and became the first player in school history to earn the Mountain West rushing title in 2018. He is a crafty runner who runs with good patience and vision, which allows his blocks to develop. He is a big, physical back with only average burst, but his tenacious running style will wear down opposing defenses throughout the game. He is also a factor in the passing game, showing soft natural hands. He would be a solid RB2 and spot starter behind Zeke.
Devine Ozigbo, Nebraska
Devine Ozigbo was a one-year starter at Nebraska and played in a heavy zone read, option offense. He is a hard charging runner who plays with a good burst, but only average long-speed. He is mostly a straight-line athlete, but is surprisingly elusive for a back his size. He has every down versatility due to his skills as a receiver and in pass protection. Like Alexander Mattison, he would be a solid RB2 and potential spot starter behind Zeke.
Elijah Holyfield, Georgia
Elijah Holyfield was a one-year starter at Georgia, but split the workload with D'Andre Swift in 2018. He looks the part of an NFL RB and has pretty impressive film that should get him drafted, but his poor testing numbers at the NFL Combine and his Pro Day will take him off of a lot of teams boards altogether. He is a tough as nails runner, but needs to improve his decision-making and tempo to stick around at the next level. If he can develop his game further, he has workhorse potential.
Bruce Anderson, North Dakota State
Bruce Anderson had a really good four-year career at North Dakota State and was a triple threat as a runner, receiver, and special teams player for the Bisons the past four seasons. He runs with good contact balance and is elusive in the open field, but he doesn't have a real good feel for setting up blocks or choosing the optimal running lane. That could improve with better coaching in the NFL, but right now he's a work in progress. His ability as a runner, receiver, and kick returner is intriguing though and should get him drafted.
Should Cowboys Avoid DL Jaylon Ferguson At 58?
First team All Conference three times. Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year in 2018. NCAA all time leader in sacks. 67.5 tackles for loss over four collegiate seasons.
This guy is a first round pick, right?
Not so fast.
Both in terms of the expression, and when speaking about the player and his ability.
These honors and stats are all held by Louisiana Tech's defensive end Jaylon Ferguson, who played himself into top 50-pick consideration during his college career. Everyone is looking for pass rushers that can get to the quarterback, and Ferguson's college production is second to none.
So why is he not talked about as a top tier edge rusher? For starters, people have questions about his level of competition in college. Playing mostly against offensive tackles who will work 9-5 jobs next year, it's sometimes difficult to evaluate just how good small school pass rushers are.
This is small concern, however, as Ferguson played well against bigger schools in college as well. The real problem scouts, and I, have with Jaylon Ferguson and the possibility of the Cowboys selecting him 58th overall, are his athletic traits.
Ferguson ran an 8.08 second three-cone at his Pro Day. According to Pro Football Reference's combine indexer, only two other defensive ends or edge rushers have ran an 8 second or greater three cone at the combine since 2000. Neither was even drafted.
8.08 seconds is downright horrible, and Ferguson's lack of bend and explosion is shown on his tape as well. Ferguson is a grinder. He's a very powerful rusher who uses his length and strength to his advantage to beat blockers and get to the quarterback. He's not going to show off an incredibly impressive get-off or really turn the corner.
But will this work consistently enough in the NFL to take Jaylon Ferguson with your first pick of the entire draft?
Personally, I wouldn't consider Jaylon Ferguson at 58. I'd start thinking about taking him in the third round, where the expectations for his future as a rusher will be tempered a bit more.
Jaylon Ferguson is too good a football player to flame out of the league or go undrafted, but his traits tell me his ceiling is nowhere near as high as the Cowboys should be looking for with their first draft pick.
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Draft Needs: Defensive End
We've been discussing the Dallas Cowboys' 2019 draft needs throughout the last week, working our way up to the most critical positions. Today we're going to look at defensive end, which could've been a major need if not for some of the Cowboys' recent free agent moves.
The biggest move was, of course, getting DeMarcus Lawrence signed to a long-term deal. Dallas avoided a holdout situation with its key defensive lineman, and hopefully soon enough that his shoulder surgery will be fully healed by Week One.
Before getting Lawrence's contract done, the Cowboys sent a 2020 sixth-round pick to the Miami Dolphins for veteran Robert Quinn. They've also signed Kerry Hyder, a hopeful reclamation project from the Detroit Lions.
These moves were partly necessary as insurance against a stalemate between Lawrence and the team over his contract. But more directly, they were needed after Randy Gregory wound up back in suspended status for another backwards step in the NFL's substance abuse program.
The team is hopeful that Gregory will return at some point in 2019, but they're too close to Super Bowl contention to count on it. And with 2017 first-rounder Taco Charlton having yet to emerge as a reliable player, Dallas knew it had to add some different options at defensive end. But with Gregory and Charlton still in the mix, the Cowboys are now about as loaded at DE as they've ever been.
In fact, we haven't even mentioned a few other options yet.
Last year, Dallas spent a fourth-round pick on pass rusher Dorance Armstrong from Kansas. He didn't get much playing time last year but flashed potential, and he may be in line for more snaps on passing down this year.
There's also versatile veteran Tyrone Crawford, who can help one the edges if needed. The Robert Quinn addition means we'll probably see Crawford more at defensive tackle this year, but he's also a factor in the Cowboys' overall security at DE.
As we can see, Dallas clearly has a stocked cupboard right now at defensive end. That allows them to not worry about the position in this week's 2019 NFL Draft, but it won't stop them from taking one either.
After all, Quinn and Hyder are only here on one-year contract. Crawford is likely going to be released next year to clear cap space. And again, we don't know how much we can rely on Gregory or Charlton now or in the future.
The Cowboys would be justified in drafting a DE if a good value pick falls to them somewhere in the middle rounds, particularly if they see that player as having more potential than Armstrong or Hyder.
Thankfully, though, Dallas' offseason activity so far has given them draft-day freedom. Their hand won't be forced at any position, and especially at defensive end thanks to their free agent moves. They can afford to wait for exceptional value this year, or until 2020 if needed.
Draft Likelihood: 20%
Projected Round: 5th-7th
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