If you're cramming for the 2017 NFL Draft like I am for finals, you likely already know that you can sound smart in any Cowboys circle by simply bringing up Dallas' need at defensive end. Some of the top names in this draft class are pass rushers, with Texas A&M DE Myles Garrett expected to be the first overall pick.
Our Staff Writer Kevin Brady has done a great job breaking down the defensive end talent that could be available for the Cowboys with the 28th overall pick, first by hypothetically constructing their board at the position and more recently narrowing the talent pool at DE down to four players.
While this ranking will cover more than four players, it will not include defensive ends that the Cowboys have not had pre-draft visits with - a solid indication of their interest in a prospect.
It's not just draft season, it is the week of Football Christmas. Let's rank some players.
1. Charles Harris, Missouri
The Dallas Cowboys' connection to Charles Harris has been one of the more sustained team-prospect links over this draft process. Missouri has produced waves of talented pass rushers at the next level, and their latest in Charles Harris is almost perfectly built for Rod Marinelli's scheme at RDE.
With a go-to spin move that Harris can win on day one with along with a violent inside counter, the impact Charles Harris can have off the weak side edge in Dallas is clear-cut - with room to grow as an all-around defender.
Harris' ability to be a feared pass rusher with the Cowboys at the position they'll need him the most puts him at the top of my pre-draft DE rankings.
2. Malik McDowell, Michigan State
When he wants to be, Malik McDowell is a top player in this class that has no business even being discussed with the 28th overall pick. His inconsistent effort at Michigan State however - which has been tied to the team's overall lack of success, injuries to McDowell, and even reports that he played through late growing pains in 2016 - has put him right in the middle of the Cowboys' consideration.
McDowell, if motivated the right way by defensive line guru Rod Marinelli, could quickly become the steal of this draft for the Cowboys. From the moment he steps on the field, Malik can play as an athletic RDE, disruptive 3T DT, and immensely strong LDE.
Part of the reason I also think the Cowboys are in a good position to tap into McDowell's elite potential is that their current starter at 3T DT, second-year player Maliek Collins, appears to already be slotted in to McDowell's best position for some time. Malik would have to earn his snaps in Dallas, but if he does, you'll never see him leave the field.
3. T.J. Watt, Wisconsin
While Harris' buzz with America's Team has been ongoing, the recent push for T.J. Watt by Cowboys Nation has been deafening. First and foremost, yes, Watt is the younger brother of Houston Texans DE J.J. Watt.
In only one full-year on the defensive side of the ball, Watt flashed all the traits to be a quick-developing sack master in the NFL at Wisconsin - recruited originally by the Badgers as a TE and missing all of 2014 and parts of 2015 with separate knee surgeries.
If the Cowboys can put his injury history behind them, there is no doubt that T.J. Watt will be high on their list of pass rushing targets in the first round as - like Harris - he can make a difference on the edge with his quickness and power to work underneath offensive tackles on day one while developing even further as a defensive end.
4. Takk McKinley, UCLA
Another talented and budding pass rusher that the Cowboys have shown interest in is UCLA's Takk McKinley. Jerry Jones' "war daddy" remark has help up through this draft process in Dallas' search for a feared pass rusher, as has his all-important note that the Cowboys can't be afraid to take some reasonable risks in adding an impact defensive end.
Takk McKinley's shoulder injury may cause him to miss some time through his first training camp, but in the long run he is one of the most explosive players in this deep DE pool off of both edges.
Capable of winning the corner and finishing off the right edge or patiently reading the run on the strong side, McKinley slides into these pre-draft rankings just behind three ready-to-go players in Charles Harris, Malik McDowell, and T.J. Watt.
5. Derek Barnett, Tennessee
Derek Barnett's draft profile was one of the first I wrote to begin this long 2017 draft process. While I personally love the player, I believe the Cowboys view him as a solid left end - hurting his stock in Dallas' pursuit of their first true feared right end since DeMarcus Ware.
With that said, I also think the gap on this hypothetical board between McKinley and Barnett is razor-thin. McKinley will have a better chance to last until the 28th overall pick as well, as Barnett has all of the traits along with the production in breaking Reggie White's sack record at Tennessee to be long gone in the top 15 picks.
The Cowboys should be fortunate to even find themselves in position to pass on Derek Barnett on Thursday, but I believe they would for any of the players listed above.
6. Taco Charlton, Michigan
If Derek Barnett is a left defensive end on the Dallas Cowboys' board that can flex to the right side, Taco Charlton is a true left end that can excel in an area the Cowboys are already pretty well-covered at for his position.
Despite looking the part, Charlton is limited as a pass rusher and leaves a lot of plays on the field off the edge as he'll either struggle to snap the corner or generate enough power to shed his block and run to the ball with high pad level.
A very solid option against the run, Charlton falls behind five other pass rushers on this list, making it hard to imagine a scenario where he is indeed the pick at 28th overall.
7. Tarell Basham, Ohio
Unlike any other defensive end on this list, Ohio's Tarell Basham is a target the Cowboys could see in the second round. Generating some buzz from other teams at the back end of the first round, Basham may be the perfect player to trade down for and gain more picks in the Cowboys war room.
A small-school prospect that has managed to generate some well deserved hype, Basham can also play off of both edges with a consistent get off to capture the corner. Tarell Basham excels at using his long arms to generate power and push into the backfield before shedding and finishing at the football with consistency.
Basham may not be a day one "war daddy" in the NFL, but he would be a great start to a Cowboys draft that includes gaining extra picks to use towards the defense while trading down for his services at DE.
8. Tanoh Kpassagnon, Villanova
The best case scenario for the Cowboys landing Kpassagnon in this draft is if they've already landed one of the seven players ranked above. Kpassagnon has some intriguing traits to warrant a later round pick, but his glaring inconsistency on the edge paired with the concerns that come with Villanova's level of competition take him out of consideration to really "move the needle" when it comes to Dallas getting to the quarterback anytime soon.
Relying on sheer strength and power with some rarely seen bend, Kpassagnon allows tackles to get his hands inside and steer him out of plays too often. If he continues to develop with his consistent pad level and increasing strength, Kpassagnon can find NFL snaps - but it won't be as anyone opposing offensive coordinators lose sleep over while preparing to face the Cowboys.
This is how I see the Cowboys ultimately ranking the eight defensive ends they have gotten to know better than the rest with pre-draft visits. Unlike the rankings for these three safety prospects, you see that Will McClay and the Dallas brass is more committed to addressing the need for a pass rusher early in this draft.
The real fun will begin as some of these players inevitably come off the board before pick #28, playing us into a situation where we can find out once and for all how this team has some of these edge players graded - potentially opting to look at a first round CB or S.
One thing is pretty certain when looking over the Cowboys full list of pre-draft visits, and it is that Dallas is all-in on upgrading defensively. Part of this plan could very well include one of the above pass rushers.
Cowboys Draft Class: How Many Will Be Starters In 2018?
The Dallas Cowboys have been showered with praise by most national NFL media outlets for their 2018 NFL Draft class. NFL.com graded the Cowboys as having the 2nd best class in the league, and most other analysts have agreed that the team had a strong showing.
But now, of course, it's time to see what these new players will actually do on the field. Some are hoping the team found 3-5 new starters for the 2018 roster, but history would suggest that is pretty rare.
Dallas' 2016 draft class has been lauded as one of the best in the last decade, especially considering they look to have found their franchise quarterback in round four. That strong class only features four full-time starters heading into 2018, but we have to wonder if that's the outlier and not the norm.
Still, as we look back and examine this 2018 draft class it really appears they have found three day one starters in the first three rounds.
First round pick Leighton Vander Esch is expected to be the starting MIKE linebacker this season, with former second round selection Jaylon Smith moving to SAM. Vander Esch wasn't my favorite option at 19, but he is certainly starter-worthy in this Cowboys LB corps.
On day two the Cowboys added OL Connor Williams and WR Michael Gallup, two of my personal favorite picks of their entire class. Williams should be the starting LG week 1 of the season, and Michael Gallup may overtake Allen Hurns as the most productive WR on the roster by year's end.
What about the rest of the class?
Dorance Armstrong will probably have too much competition to start at defensive end this season, but he should be an interesting rotational pass rusher. TE Dalton Schultz has the chance to surprise some people, but overtaking Geoff Swaim as the "starter" would be unexpected.
After that, the player with the best chance to make the team and contribute early on might be Boise State WR Cedrick Wilson. Wilson was a late day-two, early day-three pick to me so snagging him in the sixth round should provide incredible value to this roster. That wide out room is getting very crowded, though, so Wilson has his work cut out for him heading into camp.
How many of the Cowboys' 2018 draft picks will be starters in 2018? Let us know what you think in the comment section below.
Did the Dallas Cowboys Find 4 Starters in the 2018 NFL Draft?
One of the many winners of the 2018 NFL Draft were, without a doubt, the Dallas Cowboys. Not only did they addressed some of the team's most pressing needs, but they managed to draft very talented, capable players beyond the first round.
Cowboys Nation had to feel better about the rookie class the front office walked away with, specially after the second day of the Draft. Just like last year, they managed to find steals in the second and third rounds. In 2017, they did so with Cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis. Now, they stayed put at their original picks and walked away with OL Connor Williams and WR Michael Gallup.
But first things first. In the eyes of many, Leighton Vander Esch wasn't worth the 19th overall pick. While I do agree that Vander Esch was a questionable selection, the Cowboys fixed arguably their most concerning position of all. As much as it pains to admit it, Sean Lee has yet to play an entire NFL season and Jaylon Smith was pretty much the only other capable starter on the roster.
Although Vander Esch needs to develop a ton before reaching his full potential. he's a week 1 starter and an early contributor for this defense. Whether it felt like a "reach" or not, the Cowboys took a starter in the Boise State linebacker.
Later, the Cowboys managed to add an arguably first-round talent with pick #50 to plug-and-play along the offensive line. Texas OL Connor Williams was also seen as a tackle prospect, but he'll likely start at guard for Dallas as a rookie.
Since Ron Leary left for Denver, the left guard spot hasn't been as stable. Jonathan Cooper did a decent job filling that spot, but with Williams taking his place, the Cowboys dominance in the trenches will finally return. Playing next to All-Pros Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick, Connor Williams might become the best rookie in this class for the Cowboys.
One can't simply say the team found a "replacement" for Dez Bryant since he's a special player and with a very specific skill set, but Michael Gallup from Colorado State has the potential to become the team's WR1 pretty soon.
In the team's effort to build a Dak-friendly offense, Gallup is a crafty and smooth route-runner who has what it takes to play in any spot of the offense. His skill-set will allow him to play anywhere on the field and become Dak's favorite target in a year in which Jason Witten and Dez Bryant will no longer be lining up on his squad.
Taken in the first three rounds, Vander Esch, Williams and Gallup will be unquestionable starters. The question, however, is who else could become a starter for the Cowboys? Who could line up and start in week 1?
Even though it definitely isn't as certain as the other three rookies, I'm betting on Dalton Schultz to be a more important starter than we imagine. Listen, maybe it's not an ideal scenario to have the TE from Stanford start in week 1, but it could be necessary.
The Rico Gathers Adventure might just be over before it starts and Geoff Swaim and Blake Jarwin may not be anything special. In college, Schultz was pretty good at run blocking. In the Cowboys' offense, led by one of the best running backs in the league, Ezekiel Elliott, Schultz may be able to find success earlier than expected.
Besides, he has what it takes to catch passes in the NFL and although he certainly won't be the flashiest, he could be enough to give Dak Prescott a reliable tight end.
Dalton Schultz could be the surprise of this Draft for Dallas. He'll probably become a starter at some point in the season and for a fourth-round pick, that's a very good thing to say.
For a front office that's constantly bashed by Cowboys Nation, their job at this year's NFL Draft was a pretty good one. Now it's just a matter of time to find out which picks were as good as we originally thought.
Why Cowboys Nation Should Feel Better About Leighton Vander Esch
A week ago, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell walked out to the stage at AT&T Stadium to announce the Dallas Cowboys first pick of the 2018 NFL Draft. For the second consecutive year, a large portion of Cowboys Nation was not pretty happy about the player America's Team had drafted in the first day of the Draft.
Boise State's Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch has become one of the main debates among Cowboys fans right now and will continue to be one at least until the season starts. Some are fine with the decision the front office made and some simply don't view Vander Esch as a first round talent.
Naturally, taking Leighton in the first round has been widely compared to the team's last first round pick: Taco Charlton.
Both of these selections resulted in fans all around the world complaining and criticizing the selections since they both seemed like a reach, arguing that they could've gotten better players at other positions.
But fans shouldn't be so quick to compare the Charlton and Vander Esch selections, because they really aren't that similar. Sure, most of the media and Draft fans didn't consider any of these players worthy of a first round pick, but that doesn't mean both players were ranked similarly in the Cowboys' draft board.
Defensive End Taco Charlton, despite showing some very promising flashes towards the end of the year, wasn't able to become a starter at any point during his rookie season. Hopefully he develops into one next season. But when you're talking about first-round picks, being a solid starter at the end of the season at the latest is a very usual expectation.
Possibly what made the Taco pick hurt even more, is the fact that the front office didn't even consider him a first-round talent. Although he was drafted to wear the Star with the 28th overall pick, he wasn't their guy.
The #Cowboys had three first-round grades on DEs, but Taco Charlton wasn't one of them.
With Leighton Vander Esch, the same can't be said. The Cowboys knew he was their guy and that they were going to take him, regardless of the situation. For many weeks we wondered about just every scenario the team might face when they were on the clock.
What if DE Harold Landry is available? What if Calvin Ridley is still on the board? What if Derwin James slides, would they trade up?
For the front office, there was quite a lot of talent to choose from at 19 (not to mention James did slide out of the top 15), but they still took Leighton Vander Esch, even with Landry and Ridley on the board. We might disagree with the pick. We might not think the Boise State's product should've been taken so early. That's completely fine.
But Cowboys Nation should be happy knowing that this was the guy they wanted all along. Maybe if Derwin James hadn't been drafted by the Los Angeles Chargers with the 17th pick, Dallas would have still taken Vander Esch.
"If the Cowboys traded up a few spots in the first round, I believe it would have been to ensure they got Vander Esch, not get James or Edmunds." Dane Brugler on the Cowboys' approach to the Draft.
For now, it's time to root for the Dallas Cowboys' new rookie. Vander Esch will provide a special factor to this defense and has the potential to become a very good starter down the road. Playing side by side with Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith will certainly help his development and turn him into an impact player soon.
At the end of the day, it takes years to properly evaluate how a draft pick turned out in the NFL. There are first round players who turn out to be complete busts just like there are sixth or seventh round players that go on to become superstars in the league.
The Dallas Cowboys did a hell of a job addressing their needs throughout the Draft this year and there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about this year's draft picks. Leighton Vander Esch is without a doubt, one of them.
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