It's looking more and more as if the Dallas Cowboys draft a wide receiver early in the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft. They have already met with several of the top WRs in this draft class, whether formally or informally, which raises the question about exactly how early will they decide to draft a WR?
I have no doubts the Cowboys draft a wide receiver at some point, but there really is no way of knowing how early they will do so. They could decide to use their first-round draft pick on Day 1 to take a WR or they could wait until Day 2 or Day 3. It will ultimately come down to how the whole draft process plays out.
Opinions will certainly vary as to when the Cowboys should draft a receiver, but I think we can all agree there is a high possibility it will happen in the first three rounds. Luckily, the Cowboys actually sit in a pretty good position in each of the first three rounds to find an upgrade at the WR position, but again, when and where is still the ultimate unknown.
Since I believe the Dallas Cowboys draft a wide receiver in the first three rounds, I decided to share with you which WRs they seem to be targeting and where. I broke down the receivers mentioned below based on where I personally have them graded.
Calvin Ridley, Alabama
Calvin Ridley is the WR1 on nearly everybody's draft board, and for good reason. Ridley is the most Pro-ready WR in the 2018 draft class and should be able to make an immediate impact with whichever team who drafts him. The only real concerns about Ridley is his age, his slight frame, and the fact he might already be a finished product. But, he would immediately upgrade the receiving corps if the Cowboys draft him at 19.
D.J. Moore, Maryland
I personally have D.J. Moore ranked slightly behind Calvin Ridley and wouldn't be at all surprised if he was the Cowboys draft target at 19. I think he improved his draft stock the most with the way he performed at the combine and I believe he might have more upside than Ridley. He still needs to improve his route running, but he is dangerous anytime he gets the ball in his hands.
Courtland Sutton, SMU
Drafting Courtland Sutton 19th overall might be a little high for most people, but I personally like him more than most. The Cowboys should get to know Sutton pretty well when he is able to attend Dallas Day for local prospects. I think he is one of the few receivers in this draft class who has WR1 potential and could be Dez Bryant's eventual replacement. Taking him at 19 might be a little too high for the Cowboys, so he is probably more of a trade down target.
D.J. Chark, LSU
D.J. Chark has been one of my "pet cats" from the very beginning of the draft process. I really like the skill set he would bring to the offense and he fits the Cowboys draft criteria for a WR to a T. I initially had a third-round grade on him, but he continuously improves his draft stock when given the opportunity. He reminds me of Houston Texans WR Will Fuller, who was drafted in the first round a few seasons ago, which is where I have him ranked now.
James Washington, Oklahoma State
In order for the Dallas Cowboys to draft James Washington, they would probably have to move up in the second round because I think he gets drafted in between 19 and 50. I'm personally not as high on Washington as most, but I wouldn't hesitate taking him with the Cowboys second round pick. He is a tough/gritty WR, who is built like a RB and has the speed to take the top off of defenses.
Christian Kirk, Texas A&M
The Dallas Cowboys have already met with Christian Kirk informally, which indicates there is some interest there. Kirk is a dynamic playmaker as both a WR and a return specialist. He still needs to improve as a route runner, but he is dangerous anytime he touches the ball. He may still be there at 50 when the Cowboys are on the clock, but they might have to trade up in order to secure his services.
Equanimeous St. Brown, Notre Dame
I'm probably higher on Equanimeous St. Brown than most people, which is why I was ecstatic to see the Cowboys have already shown an interest in him. It's rare that a 6'5", 215 pound WR runs a 4.48 40 yard dash, but he did just that at the scouting combine. He is a solid route runner, although he could stand to improve in this area, and he has a wide catching radius. I think he'll be a better Pro than he was in college and he has WR1 potential.
Deon Cain, Clemson
Deon Cain is another WR the Dallas Cowboys have shown an interest in and someone who could help the offense from Day 1. Clemson has kind of become "WR U" these past several years, and Cain is the next one who should make his mark in the NFL. He is a good route runner who has the speed to take the top defenses, but unfortunately he shows lapses in his concentration from time to time.
Anthony Miller, Memphis
Anthony Miller was pretty much a one-man show during his time in Memphis. Opposing defenses always knew where he was located when he was in the game, but still had trouble containing him. I love how he plays with a chip on his shoulder, but he is somewhat inconsistent when catching the ball, which is a pretty big concern. But, he would still be a welcomed addition to the Cowboys wide receiver core.
Michael Gallup, Colorado State
Michael Gallup possesses a good combination of height, weight, and speed to become a very solid WR2 in the NFL. He's what the Dallas Cowboys look for in their outside WRs and could be a steal if they can get him in the third round. He might struggle to create separation at the next level, but his game is based on physicality and could become a really good position WR in Dallas.
DaeSean Hamilton, Penn State
DaeSean Hamilton has been mocked to the Dallas Cowboys on more than one occasion already this draft season. He is arguably the best route runner in the entire 2018 draft class, but his lack of straight-line speed may hurt a little bit at the next level. I personally believe he would be better playing out of the slot in the NFL, which doesn't bode well for him getting drafted by the Cowboys. He will have to prove he can win consistently on the outside in order to end up in Dallas.
Which round do you think the Cowboys draft a wide receiver?
Cowboys Draft Target: Washington Safety Taylor Rapp
While most fans are hoping the Cowboys snag a different safety who played his football in the state of Washington, Huskies safety Taylor Rapp should be towards the top of their draft targets on day two.
The Cowboys have some decisions to make when it comes to their back-end, particularly at safety. Do they want to pursue a full time strong safety type who can play in the box, allowing Xavier Woods to play solely as the centerfield free safety? Or would they rather add a hybrid safety who can play in that deep third role, giving their defense more flexibility in how they utilize Woods moving forward?
If their answer to this question is to go with a more traditional strong safety, and slot Woods into one permanent role, then Washington's Taylor Rapp could be the right man in this draft class.
Taylor Rapp is not the single-high safety that I would typically value high in an NFL draft. He lacks the range to really play that centerfield role, and doesn't have the speed or agility to project to this role in the NFL. No one ever gets behind him, but that's more due to ridiculously deep alignment than excellent coverage skills.
Where Rapp does excel, though, is playing forward and downhill. Rapp is aggressive both in his pursuit of plays and in his tackling. He tackles with good technique as well, and can absolutely lay the wood when coming up to hit receivers over the middle. Rapp plays how you'd expect your old-school strong safety to play, and projects as a split-zone and box safety at the next level.
Rapp isn't anything special in man coverage, but he executes well at times. He's at his best when asked to cover tight ends in man coverage, something which would certainly be valued both in today's NFL and on this version of the Cowboys' defense. I wouldn't be as comfortable lining him up against shifty slot receivers over the middle, but he can match up well physically with tight ends in man.
Overall, Rapp is one of the best tacklers I've seen in this draft class so far, and with his instincts, size and physicality he will serve as a solid strong safety at the next level.
I don't see Taylor Rapp as the typical versatile chess-piece the Cowboys have valued when drafting defensive backs in recent years. He does what he does well, but they would be ill-advised to mess with his alignment too often or try to make him fit into a different role. He's not going to move all over the field like Xavier Woods can, but he can certainly fit the Cowboys' current need for a strong safety.
Many fans want the Cowboys to pursue Landon Collins in free agency, but if they strike out there, Rapp could be their consolation prize in the NFL draft.
No, he's not as good as Landon Collins. Let me make that perfectly clear. But for a day two pick Rapp could fit a similar role to what Collins would here in Dallas: a strong safety who will play primarily in the box and cover tight ends in man.
Should the Dallas Cowboys Make Offensive Tackle a Draft Priority?
The 2019 NFL Draft will be an interesting one for the Dallas Cowboys. From the outside looking in it doesn't seem as if they have any clear "needs" that need to be addressed. But, if you were to dive deeper into their roster you'd probably discover things might not be as stable as we'd like to believe.
The Dallas Cowboys could obviously stand to upgrade several positions. So far this offseason wide receiver, tight end, and safety have been at the forefront of the discussion, but one position not being mentioned is offensive tackle. Why?
There has to be growing concerns within the organization about Tyron Smith's inability to stay healthy for an entire season. He has a bothersome back and it has continued to make him unavailable for at least two or three games these past few seasons. How much longer can they afford to roll the dice with his back issues?
Then there is La'el Collins, who is entering a contract year in 2019. Collins' best attribute during his time with the Cowboys is probably his availability. He's battled through some injuries himself these past couple years, but managed to play through it. Unfortunately though, his career has been up-and-down since taking over as the starting right tackle. It's probably time to find his successor.
Sadly, Dallas doesn't have much offensive tackle depth behind Smith and Collins. Cameron Fleming, the Cowboys swing tackle in 2018, is now a free agent and is probably looking to join a team where he can earn a little more playing time. The only other OT candidate on the roster might be Connor Williams, but even that's an unknown sense he's never played tackle in the NFL.
I don't know what the Cowboys brass thinks of all of this, but I find it more than a little concerning. We know all too well what happens when the OT play isn't up to par. Chaz Green anyone!? That game alone against the Falcons is one we would all like to forget, but serves as a reminder of just how important it is to have an emergency plan in place.
The Cowboys of course have one or two ways of solidifying their tackle position. They can use free agency once again to find a swing tackle like they did with Cameron Fleming last year, or they can use one of their draft picks this year. The latter seems to be the wiser move, especially with Collins' contract coming to an end.
The Dallas Cowboys may have Tyron Smith and La'el Collins as their starters for the upcoming 2019 season, but it's never too early to start preparing for the future. That's why it wouldn't surprise me at all if Dallas used one of their draft picks this year on an offensive tackle. In fact, I'd encourage it.
I really like the idea of providing some competition at the RT position. If La'el Collins wins out fine. The rookie OT can then serve as the swing tackle and take over next season when Collins' contract expires. But, if the rookie wins Collins could also be become a trade asset. Sounds like a win-win to me.
Do you think offensive tackle should be a Dallas Cowboys draft priority?
Cowboys Draft Target: Kentucky CB Lonnie Johnson Jr.
Since Kris Richard has taken over the back-end of the Dallas Cowboys defense, they have clearly shown a bias towards a "type" of cornerback. Richard, looking to build this Dallas unit in a similar form to his Seattle teams, has prioritized long corners both in height and arm length.
As his responsibilities within the organization increase, it's only fair to expect Kris Richard to have more say in who the Cowboys' defense acquires in terms of talent. This means we should anticipate more defensive backs who fit his type, such as Kentucky Wildcats cornerback Lonnie Johnson Jr.
So why does Lonnie Johnson fit the mold of what Kris Richard tends to look for? Well, for starters, he is 6'3" and 206 lbs with 32 1/4" arms. He's a long corner with excellent size and the trait profile which indicates he could be the perfect candidate to play cornerback in Dallas.
But while he might look great on paper, the tape is always the most important factor for evaluating and projecting talent. And, for Johnson, the tape isn't all-that great. Despite his length, Johnson struggled mightily in press-man coverage at Kentucky. Too often he is late or ineffective with his hands, leaving him susceptible to being blown by by the opposing receiver. He often loses balance due to poor footwork, and is rather average with his hips and quick change of direction.
Where Johnson was his best in college was in zone coverage, playing his deep third of Kentucky's cover-three look. Rarely did he allow receivers behind him in zone coverage, and displayed good instincts when deciding whether to jump routes or play more conservatively when playing in that deep third. He was not nearly as comfortable underneath, and Kentucky didn't ask him to play in that role too often. Because of how big he is, Johnson is able to contest at the catch point regularly, yet he only deflected 9 passes in 2 years.
What gives me the most hope for Lonnie Johnson as a prospect (besides his length) is his Senior Bowl performance. Johnson impressed daily at the Senior Bowl, looking more comfortable in man coverage and playing much better in his press technique.
Was this Johnson becoming more comfortable over time and a sign of things to come at the next level, or was it an anomaly that we shouldn't read too much into? The answer to that question is up to the individual teams, but his combine performance will play a huge role in how those teams answer.
As I've discussed already, Lonnie Johnson Jr. fits what Kris Richard tends to look for in his cornerbacks. He is long, tall, and relatively athletic, making him a clay piece for a coach like Richard to develop.
The question is, however, how much development can really occur? The highs for Johnson are rather high when he maximizes his natural abilities on the field. But too often he is sloppy in technique, or looks lost in man coverage. Whether or not Richard can "fix" Johnson completely may never be seen, but teams (especially this one) could fall in love with him as a prospect for what he can become if it all comes together.
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