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NFL Draft

Cowboys Draft: Scouting Auburn DT Dontavius Russell

Kevin Brady

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Cowboys Draft: Scouting Auburn DT Dontavious Russell
Wade Rackley/Auburn Athletics

Despite their defensive success in 2018, there's no question the Cowboys could afford to add some talent across their defensive line this offseason. In particular, the Cowboys need some defensive tackle help, with Maliek Collins entering a contract year and David Irving remaining MIA.

Our search for a run stuffing defensive tackle in this year's NFL Draft class begins with Auburn's Dontavius Russell. The 6'3" 320 pound tackle certainly looks the part of an interior run stopper, and his film shows one as well.

In his senior season, Russell tallied 36 total tackles, 6 for loss, and 1.5 sacks in 13 games. While not eye popping numbers by any stretch, Russell's flashes on the defensive line are impressive. Playing with high effort every snap, Russell is a strong run defender who can anchor inside. He is rarely moved off the ball, and can stone double teams to free up linebackers behind him. His play strength is another key to his success, as he has to maximize that strength to overcome what he lacks in other areas.

2019nfldraft russell 2

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Here we see Dontavius Russell at his best. Lined up as a 2i technique, Russell stones the guard with a good first step and punch. He gets his hands inside of the guard and controls him, bench pressing him into the backfield. Then, when the quarterback is forced to choose a side, Russell sheds his blocker and makes the tackle at the line of scrimmage. He needs to improve his ability to get off blocks laterally and shed at the point of attack, but his strength and hands help him to make plays like this.

2019nfldraft russell 3

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Dontavius Russell is far from an explosive player, and lacks the burst in his first step that top tier defensive linemen have. He's often a tad slow off the ball, and relies more on his ability to play strong and clog running lanes.

On this play we see Russell flash some explosiveness, however, as he will do from time to time. The 3-technique on the far side of the screen, Russell beats the offensive line off the ball with an excellent first step. The tackle tries to come down and wash Russell down the line of scrimmage, but his get-off is too quick on this rep.

Still, these flashes of explosiveness are few and far between. Dontavius Russell is a load, playing with solid strength and good hands. He is not the type of tackle who will offer much in terms of style points often.

2019nfldraft russell sack

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Russell doesn't offer much as a pass rusher either. His best (and really only) move is his bull rush. Russell does a solid job of pushing the pocket from the inside with his bull rush, and keeps his hands active throughout his rush.

Still, he is not flexible or twitchy enough to be a consistent pass rusher in the NFL. Most likely Russell will be relegated to a two-down player, used on run stopping downs and in short yardage situations.

Russell is not a player with a ton of upside either. He kind of is who he is, a run stuffing defensive tackle who understands his responsibility and does a good job of executing it.

The things is, for what the Cowboys need and where you can get Russell, that type of player is fine. Adding Dontavius Russell to their defensive unit as a rotational 1-technique would be a smart move, especially if they can snag him in the third round or beyond.

If he can keep his pad level down, loosening up his hips and making him even more difficult to deal with inside, Russell could be a key addition to Rod Marinelli's defensive line rotation.



Die-hard Cowboys fan from the Northeast, so you know I am here to defend the 'boys whenever necessary. Began writing for a WordPress Cowboys Blog, and have been with ITS since 2016.

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NFL Draft

Why Cowboys Should Draft Mecole Hardman No Matter What

Brian Martin

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Why Cowboys Should Draft Mecole Hardman no Matter What

The first-round of the 2019 NFL Draft has come and gone, but the Dallas Cowboys have yet to make a pick. The impatience many of us are dealing with right now will finally come to an end today when the Cowboys make the first of their two Day 2 selections at 58th overall in the second-round.

The Dallas Cowboys are slotted to pick 26th in the second-round today, meaning there's still a lot that's going to happen between now and then before they can write a name down on their draft card. Instead of getting into specifics of who the Cowboys could select with the 58th overall pick, I'd rather focus on a player I believe they should draft at some point on Day 2 no matter what…Mecole Hardman.

Drafting Hardman 58th overall is a bit of a reach for most people, but I don't think so if you take into consideration all of the ways he can help as a rookie. I don't believe the Cowboys will take him that early, but the 90th overall pick in the third-round is much more realistic. If I was in the draft room, I would absolutely pound the table for Hardman in the third if he still available.

Mecole Hardman, the former Georgia product, is a dynamic playmaker in all three phases of the game. He can play receiver, special teams, and even as an emergency defensive back due to his background as a cornerback. That kind of versatility is invaluable, especially in the NFL where roster spots are priceless.

Hardman was part of a deep skill group with the Bulldogs the past two years. Despite being one of the most dynamic playmakers on the team, he only accumulated 73 touches during that time span. He turned those touches into 13 touchdowns, 16 yards per reception, 7.5 yards per rushing attempt, and averaged over 20 yards per punt return. It's a small sample size, but the numbers speak for themselves.

Surprisingly enough, Hardman is just starting to scratch the surface of his potential. He is going to be even better in the NFL than he was in college. But don't take my word for it, have a look for yourself…

Mecole Hardman in Space

Mecole Hardman is the most dangerous player in space in the entire 2019 draft class in my opinion. His legitimate 4.33 speed certainly helps, but it's his flexibility, explosion, and balance that makes him extremely difficult to tackle in space and in close quarters. There are very few defenders, if any, who possess the kind of quickness and athleticism to corral him, which is why he can turn a simple play into a home run anytime he touches the ball.

Just look what he does on the below play when he sits down in the open zone…

Hardman the space eater

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Here's another example of Mecole Hardman and what he can do in space on a simple swing pass…

Hardman in space

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His speed and elusiveness when in space makes it extremely difficult for defensive players to get a good angle on him. You see time and time again how easily he glides past them, leaving them grasping for air.

Mecole Hardman the "Gadget" Player

Anytime Georgia was able to get the ball in Mecole Hardman's hands good things happened. Surprisingly though, he wasn't used much on "gadget" plays, but it's part of his game that will definitely be utilized more at the next level. His speed and ability to capture the edge quickly really puts opposing defenses at a disadvantage whether it's on reverses, jet sweeps, or end-arounds.

Hardman reverse

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Again, Hardman's speed and ability to quickly capture the edge makes it nearly impossible for defenders to get a good angle on him. This is just a simple reverse, but as soon as Mecole gets the ball in his hands he's gone in the blink of an eye.

Can you just imagine how effective that would be in the Cowboys offense because of the amount of respect Ezekiel Elliott commands in the running game down after down? Zeke gets the flow of the defense going one way and BOOM, there goes Hardman the opposite direction for six.

Mecole Hardman the Return Man

The Dallas Cowboys could definitely use an upgrade in the return game, whether on kickoffs or punt returns. Yes, they have Tavon Austin, but he's only under a one-year contract and isn't guaranteed to even make the final 53-man roster. This is especially true if Mecole Hardman is added to the mix. He was one of the more dangerous return men in the nation at Georgia, averaging over 20 yards per punt return.

Hardman return specialist

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In the play above, Hardman shows why he's so dangerous as a punt returner. He easily secures the catch and then explodes into the open field as if he was shot out of a cannon. That's when his natural instincts in space takes over. He has tremendous vision in the open field, seeing and hitting creases other players can only dream about.

He may not have scored on the above punt return, but he was close to going the distance. Here's what it looks like when he does take it to the house…

Hardman punt return

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Mecole Hardman the Deep Threat

The vertical passing game is where Mecole Hardman separates himself from other wide receivers in the 2019 draft class in my opinion. The only other WR I believe may be a better deep threat is Emanuel Hall out of Missouri, but he's not nearly as versatile of a player as Hardman.

Despite his limited use in the passing game at Georgia, Hardman seems to have a really good understanding of how to process coverages. He knows whether a safety, cornerback, or a linebacker is responsible for him in coverage, and knows how to take advantage of it.

Just look at how he completely embarrasses the linebacker on this play…

Hardman deep threat

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Getting Hardman matched up with a safety or linebacker is a matchup he's going to win 99% of the time, especially if he gets a free release off the line of scrimmage. Most cornerbacks have a hard enough time sticking with him when he goes vertical, which former Alabama CB Tony Brown found out the hard way.

Hardman going deep

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Tony Brown is a 4.35 speedster himself, and is fresh off a pretty solid rookie season for the Green Bay Packers. Hardman quickly eats up the cushion Brown gave him and easily wins over the top for a walk in touchdown. That kind of vertical threat from the slot WR position is something the Cowboys offense never had with Cole Beasley and certainly missed.

✭✭✭✭✭

I know a lot of people are going to disagree in the Dallas Cowboys taking any kind of offensive player with either of their two draft picks on the Day 2, let alone a receiver, but for me it's Mecole Hardman no matter what. I don't think there is another offensive player in the entire draft class, at any position, who can be as big of a difference maker with the Cowboys.

The kind of skill set, versatility, and athletic ability Hardman possesses is rare and extremely difficult to come by. I think he's going to be a Tyreek Hill, Tyler Lockett, or DeSean Jackson type of offensive weapon in the NFL. He's just the kind of player you find ways to get the ball to and there's not a doubt in my mind he makes the Dallas Cowboys better from Day 1. That's why I'm pounding the table for him at 90th overall if he still on the board.



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NFL Draft

Dallas Cowboys 2019 Draft Needs: Safety

Jess Haynie

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Jeff Heath

To many onlookers, the safety position is considered the biggest need right now for the Dallas Cowboys. It is arguably their most talked-about spot headed into the 2019 NFL Draft, expected to be addressed with one of the team's highest picks.

After sending their first-round pick to Oakland for WR Amari Cooper, the Cowboys are limited in their current draft capital. Their need at safety and tight end is comparable, and I personally believe higher at TE than any other roster position.

I put tight end above safety because at every spot on the two depth charts, I think safety has a slight advantage in terms of current talent:

  • Young Prospect: Xavier Woods > Blake Jarwin
  • Veteran: George Iloka > Jason Witten
  • Depth: Heath/Frazier > Schultz/Gathers

That Iloka/Witten comparison might stun you, but remember that this is 2019 and Witten just spent a year doing commentary. I'm not talking about Jason's Hall of Fame career, but just what he brings to the table this season.

But you see my point; safety seems stronger across the board. Woods looks like a long-term starter and Iloka, a newly-added free agent, could have 2-3 years of solid veteran play left in him.

So yes, I think TE is a greater need. But that doesn't mean Dallas won't use their second round pick on a safety.

Cowboys Draft: Virginia Safety Juan Thornhill V

Virginia safety Juan Thornhill

The decision at the 58th pick will come down to a variety of factors. Even if Dallas agrees with me that TE is their biggest need, will the right guy be available? Or will the depth at the position be great enough that the Cowboys decide they can afford to wait until the third round for a TE, and prefer to go ahead and grab their safety earlier?

One name we've seen liked to Dallas several times in draft prep is UVA's Juan Thornhill. He converted from cornerback to safety last year, which means he has the man-on-man coverage skills that the Cowboys love for the position.

That kind of player being available at their second-round pick will push the Cowboys hard to take safety. He might even be able to come in and compete for a starting job right away.

In fact, we could see a trade-up this year. With two fourth-round picks this year and their fifth, Dallas could try to work their way higher into the second to land someone they really like. Thornhill is just the kind of talent they might be willing to do that for.

Of course, there are plenty of other safety options the Cowboys might like better. And if they have their eye on someone who could fall into the middle rounds, such as Alabama's Deionte Thompson or Boston College's Will Harris, perhaps they wait a short time and address TE, DT, or RB with their early picks.

But I don't see Dallas waiting on a safety this year. For all I know, they just might see it as their top need. At the least, it's probably in their top 2-3.

Given that, I expect to see one drafted  on Day 2.

Draft Likelihood: 100%
Projected Round: 2nd-3rd

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NFL Draft

Dallas Cowboys 2019 Draft Needs: Running Back

Jess Haynie

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Sean's Scout: RB Rod Smith Proving Valuable Offensive Threat

The Dallas Cowboys have general depth across the roster right now, but you can't include the running back position in that statement. Ezekiel Elliott is a superstar but Rod Smith is a free agent and the rest of the RBs have barely any playing experience. Could Dallas use the 2019 NFL Draft to fill this need?

Zeke will be in Dallas for at least two more years, and hopefully well beyond that. He has one year left on his standard rookie contract and now has the fifth-year option added for 2020. The Cowboys claim to want a long-term deal with Elliott and will likely get that figured out sometime next year.

As good and as durable as Zeke is, it's still dangerous to put all of your RB eggs in one basket. The Cowboys have gotten by with Rod Smith as their backup the last two years, though they may have suffered a bit during Elliott's 2017 suspension. A more dynamic player could've helped them then, and is probably even more important to find now.

Darius Jackson is the current RB2, and though he's flashed athletic ability during preseason games there's been no production in real NFL action. He has six more carries in his career than our other reserve, Jordan Chunn, who spent all of last year on the practice squad.

If the Cowboys are serious about championship contention going forward, can they risk having such a weak depth chart at running back? If Ezekiel Elliott were to go down, he could take any hopes of the Super Bowl right with him.

Free agency is one way Dallas could solve this problem. There are still some solid veterans out there like Jay Ajayi, Doug Martin, or Spencer Ware. They could even re-sign Rod Smith, at least getting system familiarity and strong special teams play out of their backup.

Miles Sanders

Penn St. RB Miles Sanders

However, having not signed any of those veterans yet, it seems Dallas may be focused on the 2019 Draft to find their backup running back. They likely will turn to a free agent if they don't come away from this weekend with a solid rookie.

It will be interesting to see how this draft goes with the running back class. There are no Elliotts, Barkleys, or Fournettes in this group; 2019 could be a year where no RB gets taken in the first round.

There are two sides to that coin. On the one hand, it means Dallas could potentially land a top prospect like Penn State's Miles Sanders with their second-round pick. But it could also means that this entire RB group is suspect; a weak class that could lead to a lot of disappointments all around.

Another scenario is that other RB-needy teams scoop up top names before the Cowboys come on the board. If that happens, Dallas will likely use the 58th pick on another position and hope to find a steal at running somewhere on Day 3.

In truth, I don't expect the Cowboys to take any RB as high as the second round. The potential is there if the right guy falls to them, but it would be unwise to pass on a potential starter at safety, tight end, or some other spot just to draft Zeke's backup.

If they do draft a RB early, Dallas could be making a pretty big statement about how committed they are to Elliott beyond 2020.

Bryce Love

Standford RB Bryce Love (Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports)

What seems far more likely in this draft is that the Cowboys will use a mid-round pick on a guy like Bryce Love, whose pure speed make him a nice change-up player behind Elliott. A guy like Love doesn't threaten Zeke's status as the top dog, simply giving the offense a new toy to work with.

With two picks in the fourth round and one in the fifth, this seems a pretty good range for where Dallas will find their backup runner. They will likely go with some combination of TE, DT, and S with their first two picks on Friday night.

Even if the Cowboys do draft a RB this weekend, don't be shocked if they still add one of the veteran free agents. They may bring in a guy simply for insurance during training camp and the preseason. And at this point in the offseason, they should be able to sign him for a minimal deal.

We'll find out soon just how Dallas plans to address their backup RB position. Will it be with an eye to the future, perhaps wanting to guard against any contract issues with Ezekiel Elliott? Or will it be a player who clearly is here to supplement Zeke rather than replace him?

Draft Likelihood: 90%
Projected Round: 4th-5th

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