We’re just a day away from the big night! Our Cowboys are in a position to land two significant players with the #4 and #34 picks in the 2016 draft, giving this draft a more exciting edge than in recent seasons.
After digesting all of the available reports and opinions, here is my final “big board” for the Cowboys. To hopefully both of our early picks, I am going to make it a 35-player list. Keep the following in mind:
These players are ranked based on a combination of their overall talent and their specific value to the Cowboys. Laremy Tunsil maybe be the #1 talent in the draft class but offensive tackle isn’t currently a big issue in Dallas, so that drops him below guys at other positions of greater need.
1. Jalen Ramsey, DB, Florida St.
Even if you think Ramsey is a better safety than cornerback, that doesn’t change the fact that he’d be an infusion of potentially elite talent into a secondary that needs it badly. Dallas hasn’t had a top-tier talent in the defensive backfield since Darren Woodson retired. They have the potential for two now if they pair Ramsey with last year’s first-rounder, Byron Jones. Best of all, both guys have position flexibility that allows you to put them wherever they’re best suited.
2. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio St.
I have been very vocal about my issues with spending too much money or too high a draft pick on a running back. The fact that they tend to be one-contract players is concerning and I think Dallas’ offensive line allows you to get high production (e.g. DeMarco Murray, Darren McFadden) without having premium RB talent. However, sometimes you have to work with what you’re given. Elliott’s potential is incredible and I think he gives Dallas the best chance to win of any of the remaining options.
3. Myles Jack, LB, UCLA
The knee issues scare me, for sure. However, I see only four “A+” talents in this class: Ramsey, Elliott, Laremy Tunsil, and Jack. Not only does Jack have an elite-level ceiling but his skill set fits perfectly with Dallas’ defensive scheme. The combination of Jack and Sean Lee would be the best pair of coverage linebackers in the NFL today and perhaps one of the best of all time.
There’s a reverse risk/reward philosophy that apples to Bosa. I don’t think he’s ever going to be the best pass rusher in the NFL. However, I think he will be an immediately productive and consistently solid defensive end. I would compare him to former Cowboy Greg Ellis. It’s not great upside for a top pick, but the low risk is also valuable.
5. Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Florida
I think Dallas should rate Hargreaves higher than many teams based on the scheme they play. Hargreaves reminds me a lot of Ronde Barber, who was a star in the very Cover 2 scheme that Rod Marinelli uses. Hargreaves is a smart player and a better athlete than Barber ever was. If they can’t get Ramsey, I think Hargreaves is a better consolation prize than others would.
6. Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota St.
The Cowboys do have to start thinking about the future at quarterback. Wentz has the most upside of the class and would be worth picking if you couldn’t get help at one of your more immediate needs.
Though not quite the outside rusher that Dallas really needs, Buckner is a major talent who would be a likely upgrade at either of our DT spots. Dallas would potentially have flexibility to play either him or Tyron Crawford at left defensive end.
8. Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss
As said at the outset, Tunsil may be the best player in the class but Dallas is currently covered at offensive tackle. However, that could change soon. Doug Free is 32 and the weakest link of the line. Dallas would not be foolish to take Tunsil and allow him to compete with Free now for a job, allowing the Cowboys to release Free next year for about $5 million in cap space.
9. Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson
There are some who think Lawson could be a better player than Bosa down the road. I’m not sure if that’s a positive for Lawson or more of an indictment of Bosa. Either way, Lawson was a productive college player on a national title contender. He also has the athleticism to be a true 4-3 defensive end.
10. Noah Spence, DE, Eastern Kentucky
There are a lot of things about Spence that remind you of Randy Gregory, both good and bad. He may be the best edge rusher in the class but personal issues have hurt his stock. He’s also a bit lean for being a full-time lineman and will need to develop his body. Will Dallas’ current issues with Gregory limit their interest in Spence, or could they see it as mitigating risk in the hope that at least one of the two would work out?
11. Jared Goff, QB, California
Because Dallas still has Tony Romo they should be more focused on upside over current ability, which is why I like Wentz over Goff. However, Goff is still a strong talent and would be a solid option for your succession plan.
12. Kendall Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
If Fuller had played last year he might be pushing Hargreaves for number-two cornerback status. His knee has checked out well from medical evaluations and the talent is high.
13. Reggie Ragland, LB, Alabama
Ragland is the classic 4-3 middle linebacker. You’d want to have a better option for your nickel scheme but he would be a solid eventual replacement for Rolando McClain in the base defense.
14. Leonard Floyd, DE, Georgia
Floyd is very comparable physically to Randy Gregory; tall and lean with a lot of athleticism. He would present the same need for physical maturation to become an every-down player, but could be an immediate help now in passing situations.
I put Floyd and Dodd together because they are equally valuable in different ways. Floyd could have more upside but less immediate value. Dodd is NFL-ready and should be a solid strongside end for the next 10 years, but not a future star. Either one has a place, but it just depends on how much you need them to contribute right away.
16. Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis
There’s a huge drop off between Lynch and the other quarterback prospects. His upside is closer to Wentz and Goff and perhaps even equal, but he will take some work to get there. Dallas is a team that can afford to wait.
17. Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville
Rankins isn’t the biggest interior lineman you’ll see but the Rams’ Aaron Donald has helped to dispel some of that stigma. He doesn’t have Donald’s explosiveness but is technically sound and ready to contribute. Dallas has big questions marks behind Crawford and Cedric Thornton and could use some security.
18. William Jackson, CB, Houston
Like Hargreaves, Jackson’s value should be higher for the Cowboys because of how he’d fit into their scheme. He isn’t physical but has good size and great athleticism, plus has shown the read and react ability for strong zone play.
Lee is very much like Myles Jack on terms of playing style and may even be more athletic, but isn’t quite as skilled. He’d be a great backup to Sean Lee and could push McClain right away for the nickel job.
20. Josh Doctson, WR, TCU
Doctson has emerged as the best overall prospect in a weak receiver class. He has the size and route-running to be an immediate contributor and is probably the safest pick of the group.
21. Michael Thomas, WR, Ohio St.
If you’re more interested in upside than a safe pick at receiver then Thomas would be your guy. He’s big and fast and may be the only guy out of this class with the potential to eventually stand with the likes of Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, and other guys of the same build. He’s not as ready to contribute, though, and there’s plenty of risk.
22. Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Ole Miss
Speaking of risk…
Nkemdiche might be the best interior line prospect in the class and, at worst, would be second behind Buckner based on pure talent. His character issues, both legal and general work ethic questions, are the issue.
Though more of a 3-4 nose tackle than a 4-3 player now, Robinson could emerge as a great one-technique DT with some good coaching. Thankfully, Dallas has Rod Marinelli for that.
24. Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame
Stanley will probably go in the Top 10 tomorrow night but had to drop him down a bit because of the lack of need. I would make an exception for Tunsil because of the upside but am far more hesitant for a guy without the same elite potential.
25. Eli Apple, CB, Ohio St.
Apple is a bigger, more physical corner who has problems with drawing flags and isn’t great in zone. He’s not a great fit right away for Dallas’ scheme but has good material to work with.
26. Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
I’m worried about the lack of athleticism, as most people are based on Treadwall’s drop from being being a Top 10 talent to a mid or even late-round projection. The skills are there, though, and Treadwell could be a great number-two receiver for a long time. I would never count on him to be my primary receiver, though.
If you see Ramsey as a cornerback then Neal is, by far, the best safety prospect in the class. Similar size and athleticism to J.J. Wilcox and may already be a more polished player. He’s better in run support than coverage, though, and that’s been the issue with Wilcox and Barry Church the last few years.
28. Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma St.
Ogbah was near the top of the nation in sacks last year and had eye-popping numbers at the combine. He’s not higher on the board because of his lack of technique and questions about his work ethic. The raw material is great, though, if you’re confident about being able to coach him up.
29. Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor
He’s smaller than you’d like for an outside receiver and doesn’t have the route mastery yet for playing the slot. However, Coleman is a great athlete would could develop into a versatile weapon with time. Also provides some help with the return game if needed.
30. William Fuller, WR, Notre Dame
Fuller’s speed is certainly a weapon but Dallas offense doesn’t seem to reward that too often. You could take him for certain plays now with Romo and hope that your next quarterback has the arm and playing style to get even more use out of Fuller in a few years.
31. Jack Conklin, OL, Michigan St.
Some see Conklin as a better guard than tackle, but that versatility would be ideal for a guy who’d likely be a backup his rookie year. Dallas would have to see Conklin as Free’s eventual replacement to make the pick.
32. Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio St.
Decker has good upside but needs a little time to get there, which would make him a very solid grooming option for the right tackle position.
33. Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson
Some size and mental acumen concerns exist with Alexander but he has good athleticism for a zone cornerback. He’d be a good value pick in the second round.
The recent history of Crimson Tide running backs is a concern, as is Henry’s style as an upright runner. However, his size and athleticism are a rare combination. He could be the best short-yardage runner in the league and would make a great partner in a “thunder & lightning” running back duo.
35. Sterling Shepard, WR, Oklahoma
Has all of the skills you want but lacks size and elite athleticism. I’d be more interested if we didn’t already have Cole Beasley, but the talent merits consideration in the second round.