It's easy to forget there are three phases to the game in the NFL…offense, defense, and special teams. While offense and defense receives most of the attention, and rightfully so, special teams is usually the unit often overlooked and patchworked together, at least that's been the case for the Dallas Cowboys the past several years. Change seems to be in the air though.
After hiring a new head coach in Mike McCarthy, he and the Dallas Cowboys seem to be putting an emphasis on upgrading special teams. I think they proved that when they went out and hired one of the most proven and highly regarded special teams coaches in the NFL in John Fassel. He alone upgrades that part of the game, but getting him some more help is still needed.
With that in mind, I decided to identify a few prospects I believe the Dallas Cowboys should consider targeting in the latter part of the 2020 NFL Draft. Why the latter part of the draft? Well, I believe that's when special teams value starts to become more of a factor in a players resume.
Let's take a look at a few prospects I think John Fassel would like to add to his special teams units…
Lynn Bowden Jr., WR, Kentucky
If the Dallas Cowboys are looking for the next Randall Cobb, Lynn Bowden Jr. is there guy. He was a two-year starter at Kentucky and lined up at wide receiver and quarterback. He's a versatile playmaker and joins Cobb as the only other player in school history with over 1,000 yards receiving, rushing, and on kickoff returns.
Bowden will need further development as a WR, especially as a route runner, but should be able to immediately contribute on special teams. During his time at Kentucky he average 22.9 yards on 71 kickoff returns and 22.1 yards and two touchdowns on a total of just nine punt returns. New Cowboys Special Teams Coach John Fassel could definitely use this kind of playmaker.
Draft Projection: 4th-5th round
Blake Ferguson, LS, LSU
The Dallas Cowboys have tried on a number of occasions to find L.P. Ladouceur's eventual replacement, but have fallen short each time. They just re-signed Ladouceur to another one-year deal, however it may be time to get serious about finding his replacement. That's where former LSU Long Snapper Blake Ferguson comes in.
Ferguson was a top-ranked long snapper in high school and earned the Chris Rubio Award – given to the top long snapper in the country – during both his junior and senior year. He then followed his brother to LSU and redshirted in 2015 before taking over the snapping duties full-time. He was also one of two long snappers to participate in the 2020 Senior Bowl.
Draft Projection: 7th round – priority free agent
Braden Mann, P, Texas A&M
There's no denying Dallas Cowboys Punter Chris Jones is coming off an underwhelming 2019 season and with a new special teams coach, John Fassel, he will have to prove he's worthy of sticking around. The Cowboys could choose to go a different direction entirely, which is where Braden Mann could come into play.
Braden Mann would immediately be an upgrade over Chris Jones. He is a premier field-flipper and even won the Ray Guy Award given to the top collegiate punter his first season as a full-time starter. Not only is he excellent at pinning opponents inside the 20 yard line on punts, but he's also an excellent kickoff specialist (57 of 80 for touchbacks) which only adds to his value.
Draft Projection: 5th round
Joe Reed, WR, Virginia
Joe Reed was a three-year starter at Virginia and lined up on the outside and in the slot. He became QB Bryce Perkins favorite target as a senior, proving to be a dynamic weapon with the ball in his hands. He will need to improve his route running and technique before he can be relied upon as a receiver in the NFL, but he should immediately contribute in the return game as a rookie.
Reed is the first player in FBS history with 2,700 plus career kick return yards, with a career kick return average of 28.7 and five total touchdowns. His elusiveness, field vision, run balance, and strength make him difficult to bring down for would be tacklers. With the Dallas Cowboys he could be a “gadget” player as a rookie and their primary kick returner while he continues to develop.
Draft Projection: 6th round
Jeff Thomas, WR, Miami
Jeff Thomas was a three-year starter at Miami who was an inside/outside receiver for the Hurricanes. Due to his size (5'9″, 170), he will likely be a slot only option in the NFL. He is an explosive athlete who can challenge all three levels of the field from the slot and be the primary punt and kickoff returner for the Dallas Cowboys.
Thomas could be the return specialist the Cowboys looking are for. He averaged 22.6 yards in his career on kickoffs and 18.9 career yards on punt returns. His skill set actually compares favorably to Tavon Austin. He has some immaturity concerns that could cause teams to take him off their draft board altogether, but this is the kind of playmaker Dallas could be willing to take a chance on.
Draft Projection: 7th round – priority free agent