I know what you're thinking, the Cowboys get blown out on the road at Atlanta and I'm giving up on the season and moving on to the draft. That is NOT what I'm doing. We are more than halfway through the regular season and the draft is creeping right around the corner (five months to be exact).
I'm here today, to (hopefully) educate you on a few prospects and highlight some of the Dallas Cowboys biggest needs heading into April.
If the season ended tomorrow, the Dallas Cowboys would be picking 17th overall, so highlight players who will realistically be around for the Cowboys to draft in that range and throughout the first few rounds.
Top Five Team Needs
- Wide Receiver
- Defensive End
Linebacker is one of the biggest positions that NEEDS to be addressed in April's Draft.
Outside of Sean Lee there isn't a single linebacker on the team that plays at a consistently high level. And unfortunately for the Cowboys (and Sean Lee), he has struggled to stay on the field his entire career.
Jaylon Smith and Damien Wilson are really the only two other options the Cowboys have as full-time linebackers and neither of the two are consistent in their level of play.
Damien Wilson has shown flashes of being a very good player, but he has struggled in coverage and misses tackles in the open field far too often.
As far as Jaylon Smith goes, I don't think he should be on the field at all right now. As bad as that sounds, Smith is currently hurting this defense. To make matters worse it doesn't seem that Jaylon Smith is being limited athletically, but the mental aspect of the game has let the former second round pick down big time.
Interesting plan by Jaylon. https://t.co/z8eL80yYlh
Linebacker Options in the 2018 NFL Draft
- Rashaan Evans - Alabama - 6'3", 235lbs
Rashaan Evans is a thumper in the middle of one of the most talented defenses in the nation. Evans does an excellent job taking on and disengaging from blocks to get to ball carriers in all depths of the field.
Evans shows glimpses of a familiar face in Sean Lee. His instincts may be his best trait.
Rashaan Evans is a little undersized, but he uses his smaller size to his strength. The Cowboys desperately need a linebacker who can contribute, but more importantly take over if Sean Lee's injuries continue to keep him sidelined.
Rashaan Evans would be a great option for the Cowboys in the middle of the first round.
- Roquan Smith - Georgia - 6'1" 225lbs
Similar to Rashaan Evans, Roquan Smith is an undersized linebacker who flies all over the field. Smith's ability to diagnose plays and get to the football in a hurry is one of his biggest strengths.
The Cowboys linebackers corp currently lacks a player that can play sideline to sideline and that is the Georgia linebacker's best trait.
- Tremaine Edmunds - Virginia Tech - 6'5" 235lbs
Tremaine Edmunds would fit in wonderfully in the Dallas Cowboys defense. Edmunds is a consistent tackler, who knows where to be and when to be there. The Virginia Tech junior plays both the run and the pass well and looks very athletic on tape for being 6'5" 235 lbs.
Chaz Green was absolutely terrible in Sunday's matchup against the Atlanta Falcons, but the receivers weren't much better. While some of the blame should be given to the play-calling, the receivers didn't get any separation for Dak Prescott.
Dez Bryant is still a huge weapon in the red zone, but in between the 20s Dez has struggled the last few seasons. Dez Bryant wins with his size and physicality, but lacks the quickness to get separation against quicker cornerbacks.
Cole Beasley is great at gaining separation, but teams are scheming to bracket Beasley with a corner and a linebacker/safety.
The Cowboys need to target a wide receiver in this year's draft, and the first round may be the time to do it.
Wide Receiver Options in the 2018 NFL Draft
- Calvin Ridley - Alabama - 6'1" 190lbs
The wide receiver depth in this year's draft class isn't great, but Calvin Ridley is.
Ridley uses his speed, route running ability, and smarts to create separation, off the ball, in the middle of his routes, and at the top of his routes. Ridley is the type of player that can get open and make plays in all depths of the field.
I really like Calvin Ridley's ability to make plays after the catch, but more importantly his ability to separate to allow his quarterback to get the ball out of his hands quickly.
First big Calvin Ridley play: MSU plays zone behind blitz. Ridley hits gap between underneath and McLaurin deep. Ridley runs good route and you can see McLaurin (top right) doesn't have time to get there. https://t.co/2KQeDypNyb
- Anthony Miller - Memphis - 5'11" 190lbs
To me, Anthony Miller is a poor man's Odell Beckham Jr.
Anthony Miller has extremely sticky hands, runs impressive routes, and has the quickness and smarts to create separation. Anthony Miller has elite traits, he just doesn't get the respect he deserves due to playing at a smaller school in Memphis. Miller may not be a clear-cut first rounder, but he could be an option in the second round.
What makes #Memphis WR Anthony Miller so special?...plays like this. He is a human highlight reel. He will be a top WR #devy pick, mark it. https://t.co/ZdfbppLbob
Oh man, where do I even begin? If the Cowboys could be promised that none of their starting five offensive lineman would ever get injured, then we wouldn't be talking about this at all.
Unfortunately, that is not the case.
Tyron Smith has been dealing with back problems for two years now, and was held out of the Atlanta game due to a strained groin. In his absence, Chaz Green and Byron Bell gave up 6.5 sacks (6 of which came from Adrian Clayborn). The swing-tackle position in Dallas is by far one of the weakest on the team.
Tackle Options in the 2018 NFL Draft
- Connor Williams - Texas - 6'6" 315lbs
If not for a knee injury that has kept Connor Williams out for a majority of the 2017 season, he would be looked as the best offensive lineman in this class.
Williams has the size, strength, and athletic ability to manhandle rushers off the edge. Williams is an excellent run blocker that still needs a little bit of refining as a pass blocker. If the Cowboys front office is extremely worried about Tyron Smith's health, drafting Connor Williams in the first round wouldn't surprise me one bit.
- Orlando Brown - Oklahoma - 6'8" 345lbs
As you see from his height and weight, Orlando Brown is a massive human being. While that does help him in some instances, it also hurts him when dealing with some of the smaller/quicker pass rushers.
For his size, Brown does do a nice job of keeping his technique clean when run blocking and not reaching or extending too early.
Where Brown needs work is in his pass blocking sets.
Brown is often a tick too slow to reach his landmarks which allows some rushers to beat him to the edge. If Brown can clean that aspect of his game up he would be an intriguing option for Dallas on day two.
The Cowboys spent two top-100 draft picks on corners last year. Chidobe Awuzie has spent a majority of his time on the sideline nursing a hamstring injury that he can't seem to shake. Jourdan Lewis, on the other hand, has been fantastic.
Outside of those two guys - Anthony Brown has had an up and down year. For the most part, it's safe to say that Anthony Brown's sophomore season has been a disappointment.
Orlando Scandrick is a veteran in the locker room and has played nicely for the Cowboys in 2017, though I'd be surprised to see him back in 2018. Drafting at least one corner in the top-100 is something I think the Cowboys NEED to do for the makeup of their roster in 2018.
Cornerback Options in the 2018 NFL Draft
- Tarvarus McFadden - Florida State - 6'2" 198lbs
Last draft season, McFadden was slated to be a top-five pick in 2017. I think McFadden's inconsistent play has pushed him down draft boards just a bit.
In 2016 McFadden finished the season with eight interceptions, making him one of the most intriguing prospects heading into his junior year.
In 2017, McFadden hasn't picked off a single pass yet, but he can still play at a really high level.
- Quenton Meeks - Stanford - 6'2" 200lbs
Quenton Meeks is another corner I think Dallas would really like to land in April's draft. Meeks is a long corner that has good speed and is an extremely smart player.
The Stanford junior plays a lot of off-coverage allowing him to watch and read the quarterback's eyes and body movements. Quenton Meeks isn't a guy you may be familiar with in November, but you'll start hearing his name a lot more the closer we get to April.
PickSix by Stanford True Freshman Quenton Meeks #RoseBowlGame #NerdNation #TheFarm https://t.co/ePkCUvOgUl
This may leave some scratching their heads as well. For years Cowboys Nation has been screaming for a dominant pass rush and they finally have one. DeMarcus Lawrence leads the NFL in sacks, but is also a free agent at the end of the year. David Irving is playing lights out as the defensive line's Swiss Army Knife, but is also a restricted-free-agent at the end of the season.
While I do think both players will be back, at least for 2018, the depth behind them is concerning.
Taco Charlton has had a dreadful year and is barely getting to see the field. Benson Mayowa has yet to register a sack and is getting a lot of reps at weak-side defensive end. Tyrone Crawford has probably had his best season yet, but has dealt with his fair share of injuries and isn't an ideal option at WDE (weak-side defensive end).
With the concerns of talent and depth at defensive end, I think WDE is a very important position the Cowboys must target in the draft.
Defensive End Options in the 2018 NFL Draft
- Harold Landry - Boston College - 6'3" 250lbs
Harold Landry is your prototypical WDE. At 250lbs, Landry has the speed, bend in his lower half, and explosiveness to win the edge on a high percentage of reps. Landry also has very polished hands that allow him to control blocker's arms and hands when they are able to get a hold of him.
Landry would certainly require more attention at the RDE position than any of the players the Cowboys are throwing out there right now. That opens up more opportunities for DeMarcus Lawrence and David Irving, if both players are re-signed like I imagine.
That dip RT @EricElizondo8: Harold Landry bending the corner https://t.co/zFzO7sqY7t
- Bradley Chubb - N.C. State - 6'4" 275lbs
While Harold Landry doesn't really fit the profile the Dallas Cowboys like out of their defensive ends, Bradley Chubb does. Chubb is a bigger body that could play either LDE or RDE, maybe even some three-technique in certain situations.
Chubb is extremely powerful and has a large arsenal of pass-rush moves that he uses to get after the quarterback. If Chubb can hang around until the 17th overall pick, don't be surprised if his card gets turned in.
- Marcus Davenport - University of Texas San Antonio - 6'7" 255lbs
Knowing it's hard to believe the Cowboys spend back to back first round picks on defensive ends, I added Marcus Davenport to my list.
Davenport is a freak athlete that is still learning how to rush with good technique. At 6'7" 255lbs, Davenport runs like a running back but has the strength of a defensive tackle.
The UTSA senior has the speed to excel at RDE, but also the strength and ability to play the run as a LDE in the Cowboys' 4-3 scheme. If the Cowboys do go elsewhere in the first round, Marcus Davenport may be a great option in the second round to help bolster the Dallas Cowboys pass rush.
UTSA DE Marcus Davenport #93 was dominant vs. UNT: 4 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 FF...6-6, 255 athlete w/ hoops background. NFL excited about him. https://t.co/EJVzXiSqZQ
There is still a lot of football left in the 2017-2018 NFL Season, but it's never too early to start talking about some guys who could potentially help the Dallas Cowboys get to the Super Bowl in 2018. We're only a few months away from hearing who your Dallas Cowboys select in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft!
Who do you think the Cowboys should draft in April?
Why The Cowboys Shouldn’t Draft a Guard in the First Round
With the 19th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys are in what some call an "awkward spot" to choose a player. As a team with both offensive and defensive needs, it'll all depend on how the board falls and who's still available once they're on the clock.
They can go ahead and find this team's next number one wide receiver, look for a young linebacker for the future, draft a defensive tackle to upgrade the front seven or they can use their first-round pick to continue to build on their already elite offensive line.
Recently, my colleague Brian Martin wrote about how upgrading the left guard position should be the Cowboys' top priority in this Draft. A large amount of fans, writers and analysts feel the same way. Even still, I truly believe that Dallas may be better off addressing a different position in the first round this time around.
However, it'd be foolish not to admit that once Draft Day arrives, if Dallas ends up taking someone to instantly solidify that great offensive line to keep Dak Prescott clean and make holes for Ezekiel Elliott, the pick would simply make sense.
It's hard to imagine how things will turn out, but it's very likely that once the Cowboys' turn comes, the best player available will be a guard. There will be a lot of talent there. Isaiah Wynn and Will Hernandez will probably still be on the board, for instance.
Also, the front office has done a very good job at drafting offensive linemen. In the past recent years, Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin have been one of the main reasons for this team's offensive success.
There are many reasons to believe that OG is the way to go, but I can't help wondering...
Drafting a guard at 19 is the safe pick... but is it the right one?
This is an important question. We all know that taking a guard is the safe pick, and that if that's the direction they choose to go, they won't miss and whoever they draft will contribute from Day 1 to this team's success.
Unfortunately, anyone who looks at the Cowboys' situation objectively knows that there are some other needs they have to attend to take another step.
They have at least three linemen playing at an elite level. Not to mention La'el Collins, who has the potential to become an elite player as well. Like it or not, we need to include the salary cap into the picture.
According to Over The Cap, Left Tackle Tyron Smith averages $12.2M per year and Center Travis Frederick $9.4M. Enter Zack Martin who is about to get paid the big bucks soon. He's still playing under his rookie contract after Dallas picked up his fifth-year option.
However, a contract extension is expected to arrive this offseason. If we're being honest with ourselves, he will ask for a big amount of money, because he deserves it. Browns' Kevin Zeitler, the highest paid RG right now, earns $12M a year. Martin's numbers will probably be even higher.
If the Cowboys draft a guard, it'll be in order to ensure that this offensive line will work at a high level.
But if you already have Smith, Martin and Frederick, shouldn't it already be working at a high level? Do you really need four first-round picks (La'el Collins would've been a first-round pick if it wasn't for a situation which had nothing to do with him) in your offensive line to be successful?
A guard at 19 makes sense. It's safe. But I'd rather see this team diversify. They did a great job at finding Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis to rebuild the secondary last year. Maybe they can find a DT or a LB who can help this defense go from "solid" to great.
Or maybe, if they're ready to make this a Dak-friendly offense, go get him a fresh wide receiver. Someone who can create separation and get this offense going.
You can bring back Jonathan Cooper, who did a nice job last season or bring in another free agent. They should definitely look for a guard in April, but not in the first round. Unless it's Quenton Nelson, who is arguable the best or second-best player available this year, I hope they go in a different direction.
Upgrading LG Position Should be Cowboys Top Draft Priority
The Dallas Cowboys are quite proud about the offensive line they have put together over the years. Their OL is headlined by three former first-round draft picks who have turned into All-Pro players, and one player who should've been a first-round pick if not for an unfortunate situation that had nothing to do with him that took place during the draft.
This offensive unit is the backbone of the entire Dallas Cowboys team, but some changes need to be made. No, not the personnel per se. Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, and La'el Collins will all return to their starting roles, but that only makes up 80% of the unit. Who makes up the other 20% is probably the biggest question that needs to be answered before the 2018 season kicks off.
Yes, I'm talking about the vacancy at the left guard position.
Last season the Dallas Cowboys tried to plug the hole with Chaz Green and Jonathan Cooper. The Green experiment failed miserably and Cooper was serviceable at best. I don't know about you, but I think it's time to find a long-term solution and solidify the best offensive line for years to come.
The best and cheapest way to address the LG position is with one of the Cowboys draft picks.
Sure, the Dallas Cowboys could re-sign Jonathan Cooper to another affordable contract, but I have zero faith he can remain healthy. That's been the knock against him his entire professional career. I was actually surprised he lasted as long as he did in 2017.
With the 19th pick overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys are in a good position to have their choice of the best offensive guards in this draft class. Isaiah Wynn of Georgia, Will Hernandez of UTEP, James Daniels of Iowa, and Billy Price of Ohio State are all players under consideration here.
All four of these players are excellent Cowboys draft targets, and they can't really go wrong with any of them. They all bring a little something different to the table, but each would be an upgrade who would help get this team back on track.
You see, I think finding a new LG is the top Cowboys draft priority. I don't know if there is another position that can be filled by a rookie and contribute more to the team success in 2018.
This is especially true considering what the Cowboys like to do offensively. They want to establish the running game and control the clock. They weren't really able to do that in 2017 due to Tyron Smith's injuries in the revolving door at left guard.
We all saw what happened when they were forced to get away from their bread and butter. This is not an offense that is currently equipped to rely on the passing game to put points on the board. It's just not who they are.
That is why finding a new LG is so important. Not only would it help upgrade the running game, but it would also help keep things going if Tyron Smith continues to struggle with injuries.
It's much easier to plug and play a backup left tackle who can block in the running game than it is to find one who can pass protect as well as Smith.
I know opinions will vary, but I truly believe that it's in everyone's best interest to draft a starting caliber left guard. And if you want to know my opinion, I would do it with their first-round draft pick by taking Will Hernandez.
Do you think LG is the Dallas Cowboys top draft priority?
Cowboys Draft Target: BYU LB Fred Warner
The 2018 NFL Draft class isn't exactly full of difference-making linebackers. At the top of the class sits Roquan Smith, the Georgia LB who many feel is a franchise changer. Then there is Virginia Tech's Tremaine Edmunds, the athletic freak who has risen up draft boards. After the top two, however, there is some confusion about the rest of the class.
My third linebacker would be Alabama's Rashaan Evans, but after watching more tape over the last couple of months, BYU's Fred Warner is LB4 on my board. I recently wrote up a full scouting report on Warner for Slant Sports, in which I detailed what exactly I like about Warner's game.
During his time at BYU Warner doubled as an EDGE defender and off ball linebacker. He often found himself in-line and defending the line of scrimmage, and did a good job when asked to do so. In my opinion, he projects to be a WILL in the NFL, an off-ball linebacker the Cowboys could certainly use.
At 6'3" 235 pounds Warner is a big and fluid athlete who looks extremely comfortable in space. Fred Warner possesses impressive processing ability and the closing speed to come down hill and make plays after reading and recognizing what the offense is doing.
Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.
"On this play we see an example of Fred Warner’s ability to read, react, and close on the ball carrier. Warner stays disciplined in his run fits at first, reading the hats of the linemen as the hole forms. As the runner bounces, Warner begins to break down hill to make the play."
Fred Warner is also rather solid in coverage. Considering his length and quickness, Warner can cover a lot of ground in zone coverage. Every now and then he made some splashy type plays in coverage as well, such as this one against UCLA.
Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.
"Warner gets into his drop smoothly here, reading his keys and processing the play in front of him. Then, as soon as the quarterback lets go of the ball, Warner jumps on the route and makes a great play on the ball. Considering his size, this is an outstanding rep from Fred Warner."
So where would the Cowboys have to take Warner? By my estimation, 81st overall is the sweet spot for Fred Warner. There are a lot of decent linebacker prospects bunched together late day two and early day three, but I think Warner has separated himself from the pack.
I believe Warner is a better prospect than a Josey Jewell or Leighton Vander Esch, despite the love they have been getting during this draft season. I understand those who would say someone like Jewell better fits what the Cowboys need in a MIKE linebacker, but Fred Warner's hybrid versatility and skills at WILL make him very valuable as well.
The Cowboys could use some depth at linebacker, and Fred Warner would immediately provide that for Dallas. And, depending on the health of Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith, Warner may be asked to play a lot during his rookie season.
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