After last week's stunning release of Dez Bryant, the receiver position has become the primary focus of the Dallas Cowboys 2018 draft analysis. There is no guarantee that they will use their first-round pick there, but it's looking like a pretty safe bet.
Even if Dez had stayed in town, a young receiving talent was being targeted in the early rounds. Now the Cowboys may need this rookie to contribute immediately, which makes waiting even until the 50th pick (2nd round) a dangerous proposition.
You can read plenty of content about 2018 receiver prospects and how they may fit for the Cowboys elsewhere on our site. For this article, we're going to focus on the guys currently on the team and how their presence impacts the need for a receiver in the draft.
Here are the receivers currently signed to the Dallas roster:
- Terrance Williams (6th year)
- Allen Hurns (5th year, new to Cowboys)
- Cole Beasley (7th year)
- Deonte Thompson (7th year, new to Cowboys)
- Ryan Switzer (2nd year)
- Noah Brown (2nd year)
- Lance Lenior (2nd year)
- KD Cannon (2nd year)
Of these players, the only one who's ever come close to putting up numbers like Dez Bryant is Hurns. In 2015, Allen had 1,031 yards and 10 touchdowns for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
That said, Hurns was the second receiver in the Jags offense with Allen Robinson doing even bigger and better things. With Robinson missing nearly all of 2017 with an injury, Hurns' per-game production only saw a minor increase from the year before. The Jacksonville offense, despite their playoff success, was not its strong point.
Receivers who've proven unable to step into the lead role is the big issue for the Cowboys. For five years, Terrance Williams has shown he's nothing more than a secondary player. You can count as many blunders as highlights over his career, and even when Bryant's been injured he hasn't shown he can respond to more opportunities.
This is one of the reasons that Dallas let Brice Butler walk in free agency. Like Terrance, Brice showed he could make the occasional play but was not consistent enough to be trusted with more responsibility.
Cole Beasley was the Cowboys' leading receiver in 2016, when they went 13-3 and the future looked bright. He caught 75 balls on just 98 targets, a staggering level of efficiency, and has by far shown the most chemistry with Dak Prescott so far.
But Beasley isn't going to stretch the field or keep defenses honest. Last year, realizing that Cole had become the bigger concern than Dez Bryant, opponents took him out of the game and forced Prescott to go to his other guys.
Of course, this was helped by the absence of Ezekiel Elliott during his suspension. But even when Zeke was on the field, the Cowboys offense rarely looked the same as 2016. This had a lot to do with the strategic elimination of Beasley from the receiving game.
We can expect things to stay the same as the 2018 season opens. Until one of them proves otherwise, Allen Hurns or Terrance Williams aren't going to scare anybody. Teams will still focus on Beasley as Dak's favorite receiver until another receiver starts to take advantage of that.
Hurns is a far more proficient route runner than Bryant, and still just 26 years old, so there is hope that he could bring a little more juice to the offense. Perhaps that addition, plus Elliott's full-time return, will open things up for Beasley and Prescott to get back to their 2016 form.
But as we said before, Hurns hasn't shown he can play big without a true franchise receiver across the way.
Dallas also added veteran Deonte Thompson in free agency, but he's essentially a Brice Butler replacement. He won't be higher than fourth on the depth chart and bring a vertical threat, but isn't expected to take on a major role.
This is a key reason that Dallas will be looking at receivers early in this 2018 draft. There is no guarantee that any of their current players can command enough respect from defenses.
In that situation, what you hope is that you have enough talented guys out there to give your QB options. A rookie receiver isn't likely to step into leading role this season anyway, but he might provide enough spark that everyone benefits.
And even if 2018 concerns weren't enough, a long-term view also makes receiver a top priority. The Cowboys need to invest now to prepare for the future at the position.
Cole Beasley's contract expires in 2019. Depending on how next season goes, Terrance Williams and Allen Hurns could be released for salary cap savings. Deonte Thompson is on just a one-year deal.
If nothing else, the Cowboys are going to need more guys to play receiver in years to come. But bodies aren't enough; they need a young guy to form the complete the offensive nucleus of the team with Prescott and Elliott.
Nobody expects Ryan Switzer or Noah Brown to emerge as the next franchise receiver, and it would be foolish to do so. But if the Cowboys can land a Calvin Ridley or D.J. Moore now, that player might be ready to step into the top spot in 2019 and for future seasons.
Clearly, for both immediate and long-term reasons, Dallas will be focused on the WR position in this draft.
Still, it may not be the first round. Depending on who's available at the 19th pick, Dallas may decide they'd rather grab a new starting guard, defensive tackle, safety, or linebacker. The current front office is loath to draft solely for need.
But if all things are even on talent, there is an easy case to be made for receiving being the team's greatest need in this draft.
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Other 2018 Draft Needs articles:
Cowboys Draft: Reviewing Kansas DT Daniel Wise
Throughout the post draft media process, the Cowboys' decision makers have been adamant that they found multiple draft-able players in undrafted free agency this year. Each of which, of course, will have an opportunity to compete for a roster or practice squad spot this summer.
One of those players who almost certainly had a draft-able grade despite fall through all seven rounds, is Kansas defensive tackle Daniel Wise.
At 6'3" and 290 pounds, Wise projects as a 3-technique in the NFL, and should compete for that very role on the Cowboys defense. Wise is not an overly bendy or athletic player, but he has a good initial quickness which allows him to penetrate gaps well. Wise plays with excellent effort, having the type of motor that I'm sure Rod Marinelli valued highly during the pre-draft evaluations.
A strong and powerful interior presence, Wise can offer some upside as a pass rusher as well. He has quick, active, and heavy hands. When combining his hands with his get-off, Wise is a real threat as a pass rusher. Maybe his most impressive pass rushing quality, however, is the effort which he plays with. Never giving up on a play, you'll have to block Wise until the final whistle or he will threaten for effort sacks.
In college, Wise was often asked to be a two-gap defender from the 5-technique, but that's just not where he'll be at his best. Rather, he should be used in the role the Cowboys likely envision for him, allowing him to play with power at the point of attack and disrupt the running game.
But what are Daniel Wise's chances of even making the team?
The Cowboys made a concerted effort to improve their defensive line this offseason, specifically on the interior. By adding free agents like Kerry Hyder and drafting Trysten Hill 58th overall, Dallas has improved what was considered a weakness during the postseason a year ago.
Not all of these talented defensive tackles will make the team, though, it's simply a numbers a game. And cutting an undrafted free agent will certainly be easier to do than cutting someone who will be owed real money, or was acquired through premium draft capital.
Regardless, Daniel Wise will have the chance to prove his worth during training camp and the preseason. And based on how he projects through his college tape and physical attributes, he'll likely make those final decisions very difficult on the Cowboys' staff.
Pre-Draft Visitors Highlight Dallas Cowboys 2019 Rookie Class
The Dallas Cowboys are "officially" adding 21 rookies to their roster, eight of which they drafted and the remaining 13 are undrafted free agents. The number of rookies the Cowboys are bringing in isn't all that surprising, but what did surprise me was how many of them were pre-draft visitors.
You may or may not know, but the NFL allows 30 allotted pre-draft visits for each team around the league. Teams don't have to use all 30 visits of course, but the majority of them take advantage of the opportunity and generally use up all 30 visits. It's a chance to introduce these rookies into the atmosphere they could be playing in and work them out in more of a one-on-one basis.
The Dallas Cowboys of course are known as a team who take their 30 pre-draft visits very seriously. Over the past several years they've drafted several players who were brought in for pre-draft visits, and 2019 was no exception.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, paying attention to the Dallas Cowboys 30 pre-draft visits is a good idea because the odds of them drafting one or more of them is pretty high. That's why I decided to run a pre-draft tracker this year, and because of it I was able to confirm 27 of the possible 30 pre-draft visitors for the Cowboys.
Here are 2019 pre-draft visitors currently on the Cowboys roster:
- DT, Trysten Hill
- RB, Tony Pollard
- RB, Mike Weber
- WR, Jon'Vea Johnson
- CB, Chris Westry
If you're doing the math, 5 out of 30 equates to 17% of the players the Dallas Cowboys brought in as pre-draft visitors. But, if Dallas only brought in 27 that percentage rises to 19%. To say that the Cowboys value these pre-draft visits would be an understatement, at least as far as 2019 is concerned.
The first three of Trysten Hill, Tony Pollard, and Mike Weber were of course all draft picks and have the best chance to stick around on the final 53-man roster, but I wouldn't rule out Jon'Vea Johnson and Chris Westry. Both were draftable players, but somehow fell through the cracks right into the lap of the Cowboys as UFAs.
I don't really know if it's a good idea the Dallas Cowboys are so transparent with how valuable the treat these 30 pre-draft visits. We've seen teams time and time again trade up right in front of them to draft a player the Cowboys could've possibly been eyeing, and this year was no exception.
After drafting Running Back/Wide Receiver Tony Pollard with the first of their fourth-round draft picks, it looked like the Dallas Cowboys had their sights set on small school Defensive End/Defensive Tackle John Cominsky out of Charleston with their second pick in the fourth. Unfortunately, the Atlanta Falcons traded up a spot ahead of them to draft Cominsky.
This of course isn't the first time the Falcons have done this, which begs the question as to how they knew the Cowboys could have possibly been targeting Cominsky. We can throw a conspiracy theory out there that Atlanta might have been inside source, but that's highly unlikely. More plausible theory is they were paying attention to Dallas' 30 pre-draft visitors as well.
It may be time for the Dallas Cowboys to deploy a little more smoke and mirrors when it comes to who they bring in for pre-draft visits in the future. But regardless, there's no denying the Cowboys pre-draft visitors highlight their 2019 rookie class.
Are you surprised the Dallas Cowboys added so many pre-draft visitors to the roster?
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Draft Grades
Another year, another draft come and gone. The difference was that this year the Dallas Cowboys were without a first-round pick thanks to their trade for Amari Cooper with Oakland. Their de facto first-round pick would obviously earn an A+ from how well he meshed with Dak Prescott and gave this Cowboys offense another dimension.
Given how well the Cowboys have done in the first round in recent history -- all but two of their first round picks since 2011 have been in the Pro Bowl, a trend that continued with last year’s pick, Leighton Vander Esch. This season, the Cowboys only had picks from round two and on. So this year was all about finding value and hoping it would fall into their laps.
Obviously time will tell if any of these players work out or not. For the time being, we can grade the picks based on what we do know. Some picks were worth it, while others raised questions, as well as eyebrows.
58 Overall: DT, Trysten Hill
In what has been considered the best defensive line draft in decades, the Cowboys took a bit of a risk with their first “official” pick. Trysten Hill is a first round talent out of UCF, but reports questioning his love for the game had some give him a third round grade.
Dallas has already had an off-season dealing with talented defensive linemen with questions around their passion for the game (i.e. David Irving) and so obviously people didn’t love this pick.
It’s a high risk, high reward move that we’ll have to wait and see how it turns out.
90 Overall: G, Connor McGovern
As far as value goes, McGovern was probably the team’s best pick. In my pre-draft rankings, Connor McGovern was my fourth overall interior lineman; a player who you can play anywhere in the interior and start immediately.
However, guard didn’t really seem like a need. This was obviously a “best player available” pick. What this pick has done instead is raise a bunch of questions.
Who’s job could be on the line?
Does this imply the team won’t re-sign La’el Collins?
Is Connor Williams going to play tackle like he did in college?
Is one of them going to get traded?
Is Travis Frederick really ready to go?
So many questions surround this pick, but there’s no questioning the player. Connor McGovern is likely a future starter on the line and Cowboys fans should be excited about that.
128 Overall: RB, Tony Pollard
If you follow me on Twitter, you know my feelings about Tony Pollard already.
Tony Pollard might be my favorite #Cowboys pick. Has experience at both the RB and WR position, plus had 7 career kick return TDs in college. He addresses all 3 needs in 1. #NFLDraft
Returner has been a need for a year now. I never liked the team trading away Ryan Switzer because it created a huge hole on special teams, as well as the receiving core.
The team also needed a backup running back to take the load off Ezekiel Elliott a bit. With Tony Pollard, they get all three positions filled in the form of a player who's 6'0" 210 pounds, ran a 4.52 40 and compiled 25 total touchdowns. Terrific value in the fourth round.
158 Overall: CB, Michael Jackson
This is the type of corner Kris Richard loves; big and tall. At 6'1" 200 pounds, Michael Jackson fits the profile.
His 2017 tape was actually better than his 2018 tape, and all four of his career interceptions came in '17. However, the team is obviously betting on his potential, especially with corner being a serious need.
With the Cowboys' four primary corners coming into contract years the next three seasons, odds are that at least one will be gone. MJ doesn’t fill in day one as a difference maker but, given some time under Kris Richard, he could be a nice player.
165 Overall: DE, Joe Jackson
Take Joe Jackson, new Cowboy, as well as Michael and Darius Jackson, and the team is just two short of a Jackson 5 reunion.
The team has been very busy trying to rebuild the depth at edge and Joe Jackson is icing on an already stacked cake. In an off-season that saw the retirement of David Irving and another suspension for Randy Gregory, the team was able to extend DeMarcus Lawrence and trade for Robert Quinn.
The edge room was already full but you can never have too many.
Joe Jackson is a fun, productive player from The U, who was teammates with the previous pick, Michael Jackson. In his career, he totaled 24 sacks and 37.5 tackles for loss all in three seasons. He’s not the fastest edge rusher in the world but has plenty of power to make up for it. With the team only for sure having DeMarcus Lawrence guaranteed beyond 2019, it’s good to have as much talent as possible.
213 Overall: S, Donovan Wilson
The team really needed a safety and it enraged most people that they didn’t pick one earlier. Especially with Taylor Rapp, Juan Thornhill and Amani Hooker all available at different times.
Donovan Wilson is an interesting pick. His career has been a rollercoaster while at Texas A&M, with a highly productive 2015 season, a dip in 2016, a fractured foot in the 2017 opener, and a rebound 2018 season.
Had his career not been derailed by his injury, he’s likely gone way before the sixth round and the Cowboys are obviously betting on his potential. Meets a need, but not a plug-in right away type of pick.
218 Overall: RB, Mike Weber
Tony Pollard is going to get first crack at the backup running back spot. However, given that he’s also the team’s likely return man as well, it makes sense that they’d want to deepen the running back room to give the team a true RB2.
Mike Weber was Ezekiel Elliott’s teammate at Ohio State, but didn’t come close to the impact Elliott had. Only topping 1,000 yards once in college, Weber is likely in competition with Darius Jackson for the backup spot.
He’s not as flashy as Zeke but can pick up the slack when asked to and is a solid receiver out of the backfield. If Weber can’t beat Jackson for the backup spot, then Weber is a likely candidate for the practice squad.
241 Overall: DE, Jalen Jelks
Jalen Jelks falls into a similar boat that both Hurricanes players are in. Like Joe Jackson, he’s a good solid edge piece (fifth round draft grade), but like Michael Jackson, his prior season's tape was better than his final season.
It's interesting that the Cowboys would pick a player who seems to be better suited to play in a 3-4 as a OLB, but has plenty of starter potential. Otherwise he’s a player that’s likely headed to the practice squad that the Cowboys wanted to make sure they get first crack at. Still, a good value in terms of where he was picked.
Dallas Cowboys Overall 2019 Draft Grade: B
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