With the start of the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine set to kickoff this Friday (March 2), I thought it would be a good time to share with you some of the hidden gems who could open a lot of eyes and be of interest to the Dallas Cowboys.
There are always a few participants at the combine who seem to come out of nowhere and make us all scramble for any kind of game film we can get our hands on. This is one of the reasons I enjoy watching the combine in the first place. I like researching players I didn't know too much about before hand.
Below I put together a list of five participants that could fit in with the Dallas Cowboys and should shine at this year's NFL Combine. Let me know what you think in the comments section located at the end of the article, whether you agree with me or not.
RB Nyheim Hines, NC State
Nyheim Hines is the first of two NC State players on this list. Hines is kind of the forgotten man in the Wolfpack's backfield and has been overshadowed by Jaylen Samuels. Samuels is a versatile hybrid running back/fullback/tight end, but Hines' skill set is just as versatile and translates better to the NFL.
In his first two years at NC State, Hines was mostly utilized as a receiver, before finally making the transition to running back full-time. In 2017 he rushed for 1,112 yards on the ground and added 152 yards through the air, finally getting to show his speed that earned him All-ACC and All-American honors in the 4 x 100 relay, the 100 m, and the 60 m as a member of the Wolfpack's track team.
Hines is exactly the type of complementary back the Cowboys could use to pair with Ezekiel Elliott and Rod Smith. His background as a receiver and speed could earn him the third-down role as a rookie, while also taking over the primary role of kick returner, something he did pretty well at NC State (2,171 career kick return yards and 2 TDs).
DE/DT Kentavius Street, NC State
Kentavius Street has been one of my "pet cats" in this draft class for a while now. He was overshadowed by DE Bradley Chubb, and DTs B.J. Hill and Justin Jones for that matter at NC State, but I think he will test like one of the best defensive ends in the entire draft class.
Street is predicted to run in the 4.6 range in the 40 yard dash and could run the 4.5's, which is simply amazing for a 285 pound player. He will likely be asked to kick inside and become an under tackle or 3-tech in the NFL due to his lack of length, but his strength and athleticism should serve him well there. I believe he can contribute as both a DT and DE in a 4-3 scheme and should absolutely be on the Cowboys radar.
DE Hercules Mata'afa, Washington State
I don't know about you, but every time I hear the name Hercules I think of the Nutty Professor movie starring Eddie Murphy. "Hercules… Hercules!" But, this Hercules isn't Eddie Murphy wearing a fat suit. Hercules Mata'afa is a hard-nosed football player who has a knack for getting after the QB.
Mata'afa mostly played a slanting DT during his time at Washington State, but he's undersized to do that the NFL at just 250 pounds. He projects to be a better edge player in the NFL and could be a perfect fit as a 4-3 DE. I think he's really going to show his athleticism at the combine and solidify himself as a Day 2 draft pick.
TE Ian Thomas, Indiana
This year's tight end draft class isn't the best we've seen in years past and there might not be one taken in the first round, but overall it's a pretty solid group. I think the Cowboys would be wise to draft one at some point, but I don't believe it will happen in one of the first few rounds. So, a hidden gem like Ian Thomas could be exactly the type prospect they are looking for.
If you look at Ian Thomas' collegiate statistics during his time at Indiana you probably wouldn't be overly impressed. In fact, Thomas only had eight receptions for 15 yards or more with the Hoosiers. That's why you can always go by statistics because I believe he will be a better professional and will open a lot of eyes with the way he performs at the combine. I think he will be one of the top performers in the 40 and run in the 4.6 range.
LB Darius Leonard, South Carolina State
There is no shortage of athletic linebackers in the 2018 draft class, which is good news considering the Dallas Cowboys could use some more depth at the position. There's no way of telling when or where the Cowboys will draft a LB, but they always seem to take someone who is completely off of anyone's radar, such as Anthony Hitchens a few years ago.
One player who I think they could show an interest in is former South Carolina State LB, Darius Leonard. Leonard is the type of LB NFL teams seem to be shifting to. He is a speedy sideline to sideline player who plays with excellent instincts and range. He is a bit undersized, but should test really well at the combine. He fits in both the 3-4 and 4-3 defensive scheme, but is probably best suited to play WILL in a 4-3.
Do you like any of these hidden gems for the Dallas Cowboys?
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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