The 2017 NFL Draft is now just about three weeks away, and as time winds down, so does the list of expected targets for the Dallas Cowboys in the first round.
After months of watching film, analyzing talent, and laboring over combine numbers and measurables, I believe I have narrowed down the Cowboys’ first round options at defensive end to three players.
Now, this doesn’t mean that the Cowboys will definitely pick one of these players. They could, of course, select a cornerback or safety in round one, or maybe even shock the world and draft an offensive player if a top one falls.
But if Dallas decides to take an edge rusher at 28, it will most likely be one of these three players.
TJ Watt, Wisconsin
Though many see TJ Watt as a 3-4 outside linebacker, or maybe even a 4-3 SAM, I do believe that he could be a 4-3 RDE for the Cowboys, especially in pass-rush situations. With his athletic profile and pass rushing traits, I would be willing to bet on his ability to develop under Rod Marinelli and make his living as a defensive end in Dallas.
At 6’4 252 pounds, Watt is the prototypical speed rusher that the Cowboys lack on their current roster. The closest thing the Cowboys have to this “modern” edge player is Randy Gregory, and we all know what the problems with him currently are.
Adding Watt will give the Cowboys an explosive edge rusher on the opposite side of DeMarcus Lawrence, who can make his proper living at left defensive end.
Don’t be surprised whatsoever if Dallas adds the younger Watt to their d-line rotation in 2017.
Charles Harris, Missouri
One of the most controversial edge prospects in this year’s class, Charles Harris, may be just what the doctor ordered for the Cowboys in round one.
Like Watt, Harris looks the part of a modern day pass rusher. With his lean, athletic frame and explosive first step, Harris has a chance to develop into a solid pass rusher at the next level.
On top of his natural athletic traits, Harris also possesses some of the best counter moves of any defensive end in this draft class. Both his spin and inside rip moves are pretty to watch, as he keeps offensive tackles off balance by setting them up with speed rushes to the edge.
I’d like for him to be better around the edge, and for him to refine his hand play, but I wouldn’t be against taking Charles Harris 28th overall in this year’s draft.
Takkarist McKinley, UCLA
The NFL Draft is a unique thing. 32 teams sit through seven rounds in order to pick college athletes, kids relative to most, who are to come in and have an impact on their franchise. Sometimes, that impact is expected immediately. Other times, players are given the proper time to grow.
Like Charles Harris, UCLA defensive end Takkarist McKinley is extremely raw as a pass rusher, while having nearly all the athletic traits you could hope for when drafting a defensive end.
What makes me love McKinley, however, is how productive he was while still being so raw. If Takk can improve on his hand play, develop more pass rush moves, and learn to better use his length to his advantage, he may end up being damn near un-blockable at the next level.
Takk’s flashes are some of the best in this draft, and with his explosiveness and length he has the traits to become a more consistent force off the edge. It’s going to take some coaching, and probably some patience, but McKinley is probably my favorite of these three options with the 28th overall pick.
If I were to rank them, it’d go McKinley, Watt, and then Harris. And, to be honest, I think the Cowboys will see it similarly later this month.