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NFL Draft

5 Hidden Gems for Cowboys Who Will Shine at the Combine

Brian Martin

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5 Hidden Gems for Cowboys Who Will Shine at the Combine

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

NC State RB Nyheim Hines

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

NC State DL Kentavius Street

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

Hercules Mata'afa

Washington State DE Hercules Mata'afa

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

Ian Thomas

Indiana TE Ian Thomas

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

Darius Leonard

SC State LB Darius Leonard

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?



Level C2/C3 quadriplegic. College graduate with a bachelors degree in sports and health sciences-concentration sports management. Sports enthusiast. Dallas Cowboys fanatic. Lover of life with a glass half-full point of view.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Chuck Wright

    February 27, 2018 at 6:34 pm

    Reading more about Ian as a possible TE. . . ..been reading about Leonard for awhile. Not sure we don’t need 2 LBs in this draft.

    • Ervinlang318

      February 28, 2018 at 9:27 am

      Im not opposed to 2 LB’s. I cant help but remember the QB’s that constantly escape the pocket to pick up those First Downs. Also the Run Defense would benefit tremendously.

    • EverybodyTalks

      March 2, 2018 at 12:35 am

      I have to agree about drafting 2 LBs, especially since we have the 4 compensatory picks. We have Hitchens and Wilbur as FAs and Damien Wilson is on his last year. Even if we are able to keep Hitchens, there is also Sean Lee at 32 yrs of age, so present and future holes in the LB corp could easily happen.

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NFL Draft

Cowboys Draft Target: Kentucky CB Lonnie Johnson Jr.

Kevin Brady

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Cowboys Draft Target: Kentucky CB Lonnie Johnson Jr.

Since Kris Richard has taken over the back-end of the Dallas Cowboys defense, they have clearly shown a bias towards a "type" of cornerback. Richard, looking to build this Dallas unit in a similar form to his Seattle teams, has prioritized long corners both in height and arm length.

As his responsibilities within the organization increase, it's only fair to expect Kris Richard to have more say in who the Cowboys' defense acquires in terms of talent. This means we should anticipate more defensive backs who fit his type, such as Kentucky Wildcats cornerback Lonnie Johnson Jr.

The Player

So why does Lonnie Johnson fit the mold of what Kris Richard tends to look for? Well, for starters, he is 6'3" and 206 lbs with 32 1/4" arms. He's a long corner with excellent size and the trait profile which indicates he could be the perfect candidate to play cornerback in Dallas.

But while he might look great on paper, the tape is always the most important factor for evaluating and projecting talent. And, for Johnson, the tape isn't all-that great. Despite his length, Johnson struggled mightily in press-man coverage at Kentucky. Too often he is late or ineffective with his hands, leaving him susceptible to being blown by by the opposing receiver. He often loses balance due to poor footwork, and is rather average with his hips and quick change of direction.

Where Johnson was his best in college was in zone coverage, playing his deep third of Kentucky's cover-three look. Rarely did he allow receivers behind him in zone coverage, and displayed good instincts when deciding whether to jump routes or play more conservatively when playing in that deep third. He was not nearly as comfortable underneath, and Kentucky didn't ask him to play in that role too often. Because of how big he is, Johnson is able to contest at the catch point regularly, yet he only deflected 9 passes in 2 years.

What gives me the most hope for Lonnie Johnson as a prospect (besides his length) is his Senior Bowl performance. Johnson impressed daily at the Senior Bowl, looking more comfortable in man coverage and playing much better in his press technique.

Was this Johnson becoming more comfortable over time and a sign of things to come at the next level, or was it an anomaly that we shouldn't read too much into? The answer to that question is up to the individual teams, but his combine performance will play a huge role in how those teams answer.

The Fit

As I've discussed already, Lonnie Johnson Jr. fits what Kris Richard tends to look for in his cornerbacks. He is long, tall, and relatively athletic, making him a clay piece for a coach like Richard to develop.

The question is, however, how much development can really occur? The highs for Johnson are rather high when he maximizes his natural abilities on the field. But too often he is sloppy in technique, or looks lost in man coverage. Whether or not Richard can "fix" Johnson completely may never be seen, but teams (especially this one) could fall in love with him as a prospect for what he can become if it all comes together.



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NFL Draft

Cowboys Draft Target: Oklahoma Sooners RB Rodney Anderson

Brian Martin

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Cowboys Draft Target: Oklahoma Sooners RB Rodney Anderson

NAME: Rodney Anderson

SCHOOL: Oklahoma

CONFERENCE: Big 12

POSITION: Running Back

CLASS: RS Junior

JERSEY: No. 24

RECRUITMENT RATING: 4-star

HT: 6'1"

WT: 219

D.O.B.: 9/12/96

Highlights:

Rodney Anderson || 2017-18 Highlights ᴴᴰ || Oklahoma

Rodney Anderson || 2017-18 Highlights ᴴᴰ || Oklahoma Like, Comment, and Subscribe for More! Follow my Instagram: @szhighlights Songs: - "Don't Know Me" by Trae Tha Truth - "Better Days" by Trae Tha Truth I do not own any of these highlights or music clips.

Before we get into the player, we should really try to get to know Rodney Anderson the person. He attended Katy High School in Katy, Texas, one of the powerhouse HS football programs in the state. He was a four-star recruit who received offers from Auburn, Baylor, Texas A&M, and Oklahoma. He originally committed to Texas A&M, but changed his mind and decided to go to Oklahoma instead. He had an up-and-down career on the football field at Oklahoma because of injuries, but did graduate with a degree in Arts and Sciences in May 2018 and is pursuing his Master's in Human Relations.

Pros:

Rodney Anderson has the ideal size and athleticism to become a featured back in the NFL. He shows good patience and vision on film to allow his offensive lineman to secure their blocks before sticking his foot in the ground and exploding through the hole. He runs behind his pads and shows good strength, loose hips, and balance to run through arm tackles. More than capable of picking up those "dirty yards" and is surprisingly slippery as a runner in the open field.

Anderson is capable of playing in a power scheme or a zone heavy scheme like the Dallas Cowboys deploy. He has been featured in a number of rushing concepts including gap/power, read action, and power sweeps. His talent also carries over to the passing game. He possesses soft hands and looks natural catching the ball both out of the backfield and down the field as a receiver. Solid in pass protection, but this is an area of his game where he can improve.

Cons:

The biggest negative about Rodney Anderson is his injury history at Oklahoma. He is basically a one-year wonder because of three separate season-ending injuries, but bad things happen in three so maybe that's behind him. Durability will be a question mark entering the NFL though.

His vision is sometimes questionable, especially on inside and outside zone reads. Has a tendency to to try to bounce runs to the outside too often or cut back too quickly. Shows good explosiveness, but only average burst through the hole. Seems to have adequate long speed on tape, but is 40 yard dash time will be heavily scrutinized if he's able to run at the NFL Scouting Combine.

In the passing game he needs to improve his route running and pass protection if he wants to be a three-down back in the NFL. The talent is there, just not the production and consistency. Will also have to prove he can be productive against stacked boxes at the next level since he rarely saw any in college due to Oklahoma's spread offense.

Cowboys Fit:

If the Dallas Cowboys are looking for a running back capable of being a featured back in the NFL, while also spelling Ezekiel Elliott from time to time, then Rodney Anderson is there guy. His combination of power, balance, explosiveness, and scheme diversity could come in handy as their RB2. Not only would he provide a good insurance policy if the unthinkable were to happen to Zeke, but he could take over if they decide not to give No. 21 a contract extension.

There is a lot to like about Rodney Anderson's game and his ability to contribute in the running and passing game, but he is not by any means a clean prospect. Despite his immense talent, his injury history and lack of consistency in college is bothersome. But, as a mid-round pick the reward far outweighs the risks. Paired with Elliott, the Cowboys could have a formidable one-two punch in their backfield and could pound opposing defenses into submission.



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NFL Draft

Cowboys Draft Target: South Carolina WR Deebo Samuel

Kevin Brady

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Cowboys Draft Target: South Carolina WR Deebo Samuel

Our search for a new pass catcher for the Cowboys in this years' draft class continues, this time with a wide receiver.

South Carolina's Deebo Samuel put himself on the map with a strong Sophomore season, but fell off a bit due to a severe leg injury early in 2017. After a strong 2018 campaign, and an impressive performance at the Senior Bowl, Samuel has played himself back into early Day Two draft discussions.

The Player

I don't know that anyone "won" Senior Bowl week more than Deebo Samuel did this January. Samuel, who had to deal with some poor quarterback play throughout his college career, didn't get much of a break in that department either at the Senior Bowl. But, he did show out every day at practice, and seemed to go viral on Twitter at least once a day.

During his actual collegiate season, Samuel finished with 882 yards and 11 touchdowns on 62 catches, solid production especially coming off an injury and playing in a limited offense. Initially in the NFL, Samuel is going to make his money in the slot. He's a shifty yet explosive receiver type than can quickly beat defenders with his speed. He's not the speedster than someone like Marquise Brown is, but he is explosive enough in his own right, especially in terms of short-area quickness.

Samuel isn't someone who will go up and grab the ball consistently, or even make up for inaccurate throws as often as some others might be able to. But he does have reliable hands, and his ability to get open quickly and create separation should give someone like Dak Prescott easy windows to find him in for completions.

What makes Deebo Samuel so fun for me to watch, though, is his ability after the catch. Despite his lack of size, Samuel is tough as nails, and rarely defers out of bounds or avoids contact. He's built well enough to withstand that contact as well, and when he gets free, he's hard to catch and bring down.

The Fit

Drafting Deebo Samuel 58th overall would be a heck of a haul for the Dallas Cowboys. In need of another playmaker in the passing game, the Cowboys could make immediate use of Samuel's talents in 2019, specifically as a slot receiver.

As has been mentioned ad nauseam, it seems unlikely that Cole Beasley will be returning to the team this season, which makes the need for a slot wide-out that much greater. Samuel has big play ability from the slot already, and has traits which project him to potentially work outside as well. If he tests well enough at the combine, reps on the outside could very well be in his future.

Samuel should be on every Cowboys fans' shortlist of draft targets in the second round this year.



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