The Dallas Cowboys added nine new players in the 2017 NFL Draft, seven of which upgrade the defensive side of the ball. From my own evaluation, I legitimately think the Cowboys added four starters to Rod Marinelli's unit - with the other three late round defenders being drafted for traits.
So what single trait will stand out the most for each of Dallas' picks? I'm glad you asked.
1-28: DE Taco Charlton, Michigan -- Strength
Ironically enough, the pick that Cowboys Nation seems to be most upset about is the Cowboys' first round selection of Michigan edge rusher Taco Charlton with the 28th overall pick.
The knock on Charlton through this draft process has been that, despite certainly looking the part of a NFL-ready pass rusher, the tape shows a limited set of skills on the edge with a player that rarely finishes.
When I wrote this full scouting report at Slant Sports on Taco Charlton, I consistently noticed both his lower body strength to explode up field against offensive tackles and turn back to the quarterback along with the upper body strength to dip and drive underneath his blockers.
The Cowboys seem committed to molding Charlton into their right defensive end this defense is sorely missing. While his traits scream base LDE, Charlton's dominant strength will give Rod Marinelli a great starting point to fine tune Taco's rush moves and get production on the right side.
2-60: CB Chidobe Awuzie, Colorado --Instincts
The Cowboys did not shy away on Thursday night from telegraphing their plans to add a cornerback with their second pick at 60th overall, doing just that with a player that received some first-round buzz in Chidobe Awuzie.
The instinctive Colorado cornerback was a magnet to the football in the Pac-12 for four seasons, gaining experience as both an outside CB, slot CB, and FS.
Awuzie will gamble too much at times, but his typically solid technique to mirror receivers and feel routes stem from his elite all-around instincts in the secondary.
Awuzie's new Head Coach Jason Garrett initially embraced his versatility, but Joe Baker confirmed that he is viewed by the team first and foremost as a cornerback.
For Cowboys fans that weren't as happy with the Charlton pick because he "won't be a noticeable pass rusher that opposing offenses fear", get ready to notice Chidobe Awuzie quite a bit in the silver and blue this season.
3-92: Jourdan Lewis, Michigan -- Cover Skills
Jourdan Lewis has been one of the most intriguing prospects to follow through this draft process, having also scouted him fully at Slant Sports.
Receiving good news at the Senior Bowl where he measured in at 5100 with 31 inch arms, Lewis then saw his draft stock fall after domestic violence allegations against him.
Potentially a first round talent, Lewis is not short on confidence coming to Dallas a third round pick, jumping out on tape as one of the best pure cover cornerbacks in this class with fantastic tackling ability as well.
Lewis will indeed be limited somewhat because of his height, but getting younger and adding a player with his cover skills in the slot is a great value pick for the Cowboys inside the top 100.
Balance, burst, and fluidity are all additional traits that make up Lewis' overall cover skills - another player you'll notice on the field this season for the Cowboys.
4-133: WR Ryan Switzer, North Carolina -- Explosiveness
Whether you love or hate comparing NFL Draft prospects to current players in the league, Ryan Switzer is undoubtedly Cole Beasley.
The first offensive player taken by the Cowboys in this draft, Switzer compares perfectly to current Dallas Cowboys slot WR Cole Beasley - with more downfield explosiveness, versatility, and return skills.
It is likely those return skills that prompted the Cowboys to turn in Switzer's card, as Special Teams Coordinator Rich Bisaccia was in the war room at the time, and it will be up to Scott Linehan to also get the most out of Mitchell Trubisky's favorite target in the ACC.
Ryan Switzer special teams numbers. #Cowboys
Ryan Switzer is a smooth athlete with incredibly reliable hands, and I absolutely love his ability to surprise safeties at the second and third level by exploding past them to separate and extend to snap passes with a wider catch radius than you would expect from a slot receiver.
6-191: S Xavier Woods, Louisiana Tech -- Tackling
If you've noticed a theme with the Cowboys draft stock allocated to this new-look secondary when it comes to adding versatile athletes that create turnovers, you're absolutely right - and should get ready to enjoy Xavier Woods as the sixth round steal he can prove to be.
Woods was one of the last pre-draft visits that remained on the board for Dallas through their fourth round pick and all of the fifth. Lasting long enough in the sixth to prompt the Cowboys to move up in the sixth round using next year's fifth round pick and draft him, Woods will have a chance in numerous positions to show off his tackling ability.
Displaying stopping power against running backs and rare physicality on the perimeter, Woods can hold his own in the box, carry receivers out of the slot, and come downhill from a deep safety position with range.
The Dallas Cowboys absolutely stole Xavier Woods, and with it added another athletic tackler to a defense that thrives on forcing teams to march methodically against them and get past waves of such tacklers consistently.
6-216: CB Marquez White, Florida State -- Length
The Dallas Cowboys used another sixth round pick on another basketball player this year, one with some football experience at Florida State in Marquez White.
At this point in the draft, especially having already landed two starting caliber cornerbacks, the Cowboys were drafting for developmental traits. CB Marquez White's standout trait is his length that allows him to control receivers at the line and rally back to the football.
Getting great value on White, a cleanup on his mechanics will land Dallas another capable player in the secondary coming out of the 2017 NFL Draft.
7-288: DT Joey Ivie, Florida -- Burst
A one-gap player with inconsistent penetrating skills at DT for Florida, the Cowboys used one of three seventh round picks on Joey Ivie to add depth at a position they're already pretty set at with Maliek Collins, David Irving, Cedric Thornton, and Stephen Paea.
Ivie will have a chance to show some consistency in training camp with his athleticism to shed blockers and close on quarterbacks.
Struggling to make plays and jump out on tape because of his size and pad level, Joey Ivie has flashes to warrant this late round pick.
7-239: WR Noah Brown, Ohio State -- Blocking
Jerry: "I don't mind telling you that our No. 1 agent for Noah Brown was Zeke Elliott.
The Cowboys blocked their way for Ezekiel Elliott to lead the league in rushing as a rookie out of Ohio State in 2016, now adding one of his teammates at WR.
Noah Brown was the best receiver on Dallas' board at the time of this pick, likely earning that spot thanks in large part to his blocking ability. Not afraid to square up defenders and steer them out of plays, Brown shines with a trait that is critical for WR Coach Derek Dooley.
Brown may face an uphill battle earning meaningful snaps for the Cowboys this season, although he does have strong hands to high point balls and win at the catch point, but look for his blocking to effortlessly stand out.
7-246: DT Jordan Carrell, Colorado -- Motor
A second defensive tackle drafted by the Cowboys, and their second Colorado defender, Carrell was viewed by most as a priority free agent.
Instead, Dallas locked up his services with the 246th overall pick. Carrell logged plenty of snaps, leading his college team as a DT with some range to work down the line and finish at the football or free up others to make tackles.
We've already mentioned the depth the Cowboys have at defensive tackle, meaning they won't at all have to count on either Ivie or Carrell. Both players have traits to look at though, and for Carrell its his motor as he gets set to work with Rod Marinelli.
Perhaps the best part of the NFL Draft is watching players that never get much of a chance before their selection develop into reliable starters. If this is going to happen for the Cowboys, in trying to emulate the success of their 2016 draft haul, look for the above traits to earn these prospects their chance with America's Team.
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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