The Dallas Cowboys enter the 2018 NFL offseason with clear needs to fill at linebacker. Starting MIKE backer Anthony Hitchens will enter free agency, starting WILL Sean Lee has been riddled with injuries, and the now third-year Jaylon Smith is still somewhat of a question mark.
Considering all of the doubts surrounding the Cowboys linebackers, it would be wise to target one during the 2018 NFL Draft. Of course, Roquan Smith and Tremaine Edmunds have become fan favorites over the last few months.
Both of these guys are clearly first round players, however, and may both be gone by the time the Cowboys are on the clock. Dallas will probably need to find their linebacker starting on day two, so I have compiled a short list of some potential targets.
Josey Jewell, Iowa
With each NFL Draft cycle, scouts everywhere can typically feel good about their evaluations of Iowa Hawkeyes players. The BIG 10 school is known for producing solid, pro-ready talent that NFL teams absolutely need to fill out a roster. Enter Iowa Linebacker Josey Jewell, a three-year starter and captain on this Hawkeyes defense.
Iowa Hawkeye's linebacker Josey Jewell has been gaining traction within the draft community as of late. The three-year starter and collegiate captain has been discussed as one of the more pro-ready and consistent linebackers in this draft class.
Jewell earned a third round grade on my draft board, and fellow Inside The Star writer Sean Martin saw him in a similar light. Jewell possesses impressive instincts, plays with textbook technique, and is a solid run defender/tackler in the box.
His main weakness, however, is his athletic ability. He doesn't move laterally as well as someone like current Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith did in college. Jewell is a player with a solid floor, but not a very high ceiling. Drafting him would give the Cowboys another good piece on their defense, and a starting SAM backer.
Sean Martin believes he can play at either WILL or MIKE, and we both view him as a potential target for the Cowboys 81st overall.
Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State
Vander Esch reads it and attacks at 100 mph. Put this guy on my football team. https://t.co/RaTvP9sO7u
Boise State's Vander Esch is a linebacker garnering a lot of hype throughout Draft Twitter. At 6'4" and 240 pounds, Vander Esch certainly looks the part of an NFL linebacker. His athleticism and ability to move laterally leaves much to be desired, however.
Vander Esch totaled 141 tackles and 3 interceptions during the 2017 season, breaking onto the scene as a Junior. Vander Esch is a three down linebacker who has been labeled a leader and hard worker by his Boise State teammates and coaches, making him an excellent "RKG" candidate for Jason Garrett. He is an instinctual player who reads, reacts, and attacks on a routine basis against the run. He is also consistently impressive in coverage, something the Cowboys could use from their linebackers.
Despite his positives, which there are many, I just can't convince myself to draft Vander Esch as early as he's being talked about. I believe he can be a solid professional linebacker, and fit in as an off ball WILL, but if I were running the Cowboys I wouldn't make that pick until the third round.
And the way things look, Vander Esch will be long gone by the 81st overall pick. Maybe Dallas will see things differently, and make the move in round two.
Rashaan Evans, Alabama
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My favorite of these three linebackers, Alabama's Rashaan Evans is an off ball/edge hybrid who was all over the field for Alabama.
At 'Bama, Evans had six sacks and 10 quarterback hits, ranking 16th in pass rushing productivity (Pro Football Focus) among all qualifying draft-eligible inside linebackers. Still, I believe his best plays came from when lined up as a traditional off ball linebacker.
In Dallas, Evans could be used as a WILL backer who also rushes as a defensive end in passing situations. The 6'3" 234 pound linebacker is exactly the type of player that NFL defenses are moving towards, and he would be a welcomed addition to this young Cowboys defense.
I believe Rashaan Evans is a top-30 type of player, making it tough to envision being able to draft him 50th overall. If completely wiped out, Evans could be a candidate at 19, though I wouldn't hold my breath. Evans is ILB3 on my draft board, and earned the highest grade of these three linebackers.
2018 NFL Draft: Cowboys to Hold Visit with UCLA Tackle Kolton Miller
The Dallas Cowboys have been
frustratingly unsurprisingly quiet through the start of free agency, as their opportunity to improve at the AT&T Stadium hosted 2018 NFL Draft is rapidly approaching. Offensive line depth remains a team need for the Cowboys, one they're actively looking to address by visiting free agent Guard Marcus Martin while planning a pre-draft visit with UCLA Tackle Kolton Miller.
I'm told UTEP Guard Will Hernandez is another of Dallas' 30 pre-draft visitors. Hernandez joins Alabama WR Calvin Ridley and UCLA G/T Kolton Miller on the list of reported visitors for the #Cowboys. Since 2014, 14 of Dallas' 35 picks (40%) have been pre-draft visitors.
Protecting one of the top quarterbacks available in the draft in Josh Rosen through college, Kolton Miller absolutely blew up the Combine in Indianapolis - entering the draft as one of the most athletic available linemen.
It is this athleticism and versatility that the Dallas Cowboys should absolutely be looking for, if trying to add another "blue chip" player to an offensive line already featuring LT Tyron Smith, C Travis Frederick, RG Zack Martin, and RT La'el Collins.
Kolton Miller with the broad jump world record for an offensive lineman at 10 1 wow
Tyron Smith's health (along with the level of play the Cowboys received at his spot in his absence) and the FA status of Jonathan Cooper are both reasons the Cowboys should consider adding a new, controllable option to their dominant offensive line. Whether this is with the 19th overall pick, or later on with a prospect like Miller, will depend on how the board falls through the first 18 picks of the draft.
With ten total picks coming in, the Cowboys could be positioning themselves for a move up the board to land an impact defender, or an additional piece for Kris Richard to work with in the defensive backfield. Staying home at 19th overall and selecting a player capable of playing swing tackle would not only be a safe option for the Cowboys, but a smart one with Ezekiel Elliott returning full-time to the lineup in 2018.
Without Elliott for six games in 2017, the Cowboys still managed nine wins. This is a point lost to most of Cowboys Nation, especially those watching the entire playoffs without their team in it, only to watch the Eagles hoist the Lombardi. Elliott's impact on each's week game plan for Dallas is hard to understate, and the Cowboys' trust in him begins up front.
Testing as an elite athlete with the film to match at tackle in the Pac 12, Kolton Miller should be a welcome addition to America's Team - getting the opportunity to learn the Cowboys' way with a trip to The Star in his future.
Can Powers of Persuasion Help Make Will Hernandez a Cowboy?
There is no shortage of NFL hopefuls who would like to become a member of the Dallas Cowboys in the 2018 NFL Draft. But, not one of them have used their powers of persuasion to make their intentions known as much as former UTEP offensive guard Will Hernandez.
Throughout the entire draft process, Will Hernandez has done nothing but stand out when given the opportunity. He first started to make waves at the 2018 Senior Bowl, where he pretty much dominated his competition. Then, he improved his draft stock even more by putting on a show at the Scouting Combine.
The 6'2", 330 pound offensive guard has likely cemented himself as a surefire first-round draft pick and is arguably the second-ranked OG in the entire 2018 draft class. He is a plug-and-play prospect for any team who drafts him, but he has made his intentions well known that he would love to play for the Dallas Cowboys.
Back in February, Will Hernandez was spotted hanging out with the Cowboys bookend offensive tackles, Tyron Smith and La'el Collins, to see the premiere of the movie Death Wish, starring Bruce Willis.
@PujolsFive Cowboys fans will appreciate this post!! ⭐️ Movie Premiere #Deathwish Great movie!
To see Will Hernandez rubbing elbows with a few of the Dallas Cowboys talented offensive lineman only strengthened the connection for Hernandez becoming a draft pick by America's Team. But, this wasn't the only time the former UTEP offensive guard was seen out with a Cowboys player.
In March, he was once again seen out on the town with the Cowboys All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith.
All of this can probably be chalked up to a current player hanging out with an NFL hopeful, but as a Cowboys fan you want to believe it's more than just a coincidence.
The Dallas Cowboys without a doubt need a new starting left guard. It can be argued it's the team's biggest need this offseason and Will Hernandez fits the bill to a T. He would immediately upgrade the entire offensive line and solidify the unit for years to come.
The only problem is, the Dallas Cowboys have already invested quite a bit in their offensive line and taking Will Hernandez in the first round would be considered by some as overkill. I for one wouldn't be opposed to taking him at 19 if he is the top rated player when the Cowboys are on the clock.
It's hard to know if seeing Will Hernandez hanging out with Tyron Smith and La'el Collins improves his chances of being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys, but it definitely doesn't hurt. Offensive lines around the NFL perform at their best when they play as a cohesive unit, so developing a bond already could be viewed as a good thing.
Who knows, maybe Will Hernandez's powers of persuasion will pay off and end up being the deciding factor to help him become the next first-round offensive lineman drafted by the Dallas Cowboys.
Do you read anything into Will Hernandez hanging out with Cowboys players?
Keeping Dez Bryant Shouldn’t Stop Cowboys From Drafting Calvin Ridley
With NFL Free Agency buzz at full speed this week, Dez Bryant is one of the most intriguing names in the Dallas Cowboys world. We all know the story. We've been talking about it since last season. Bryant, who was once among the "Top WR of the league" conversation, doesn't look like an elite player anymore.
That doesn't mean he is a bad football player, but the problem is that he's getting paid big time.
The Dallas Cowboys, who have struggled with cap space for many years now, may want to avoid paying $16.5M to a player who isn't justifying his paychecks on the field. Big name and all, it certainly doesn't feel that way.
His lack of production on the field the last three years is concerning, even though he's played with quarterbacks not named "Tony Romo." There are other receivers around the league who have played with bad quarterbacks and have still been able to produce.
Even still, it wouldn't be easy to replace Bryant on the offense just like that. Right now, top free agents are already off the market, so if Dallas wants to replace him, it'd have to be via trade or via the NFL Draft.
ICYMI: A few things to consider as we wait on news about Dez Bryant's future with the Dallas Cowboys https://t.co/cCNpXmhARe
Right now, it seems that Dez is going to remain a Dallas Cowboy and after seeing the contracts other receivers in the league are about to get, who knows if a pay cut will even enter the equation.
Even if Dez keeps wearing the Star every week next season, wide receiver is still one of the team's top needs. Despite the fact that Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams and Jason Witten are some very well-known names, the truth is this offense needs a guy who can create separation and be harmful as a deep threat.
This is a draft class with a lot of depth at wide receiver, and the Cowboys could find contributors at the second or later rounds. Even still, if they're on the clock at 19 and Alabama's Calvin Ridley is available, the front office should pull the trigger.
Yes, even if Dez is still on the team.
Despite last year's struggles, we shouldn't lose faith on the Cowboys' offense when it has a lot of talent. We believed in this group to take us to the Super Bowl. What they are missing could just be a new, dynamic wide receiver.
Calvin Ridley is by far the best WR in the Draft this year and will be an impact player anywhere he goes. Despite a poor showing in the Combine, Ridley proves to be worthy of a first round pick on tape. Ideal route-running, great ability to separate and more than enough speed for the NFL.
This would certainly take a lot of pressure off Cole Beasley's shoulders, who was constantly double-teamed last year. Sure, he's still good, but if he continues to run into double-coverage, Dak Prescott and company will probably continue to struggle another year.
It's tough to imagine Calvin Ridley being available at 19, especially with the Baltimore Ravens holding the 16th overall pick. However, some people believe there's a 50/50 chance he's available once Dallas is on the clock. If that's the case, the Cowboys shouldn't pass on this prospect.
Ridley could very well end up being the most productive receiver for the Cowboys in 2018 becoming an essential "best friend" for Dak Prescott.
We've seen how other front offices have made friendly offenses for their young QBs and if Calvin Ridley is what it takes, why even think about it?
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