With less than two weeks separating draft followers from "football Christmas", the opportunity for the Cowboys to improve off of an already dominant 2016 season - sparked by this season's draft class of course - is an incredibly exciting one for Cowboys Nation ahead of the 2017 NFL Draft.
These next 11 days until draft night from Philadelphia will be full of added speculation to either get our hopes up about a top player sliding to the 28th overall pick or one of our draft targets flying up the board.
If the Dallas Cowboys' seven picks play out like this however, the future for the star will have never been brighter.
Sean's Cowboys Mock Draft 1.0:
Speaking of players that have improved their stock late in this draft process, Ohio State's Gareon Conley has drawn interest as a defensive backfield teammate of both S Malik Hooker and CB Marshon Lattimore - two players with incredibly high ceilings that will both be off the board well before Dallas comes on the clock.
If Conley remains on the board for the Cowboys though, they should be ecstatic as his floor makes him an instant starter in a secondary needing cornerbacks. With incredibly polished cover skills and NFL-ready size, Conley is a steal at the bottom of the first round.
Gareon Conley also took a pre-draft 30 visit with the Cowboys.
The Cowboys' need at defensive end has been talked about endlessly since yet another loss to the Packers in the NFC playoffs, and for a while this talk included Kansas State's Jordan Willis as a potential first-round target.
A steal with the 60th overall pick, Willis might not be the flashiest pass rusher, but his elite playing strength paired with some polished counter moves on the edge and burst to capture the corner would automatically make him an important part of Rod Marinelli's defensive line rotation.
Landing yet another plug-and-play starter on the defensive side of the ball with their third pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Cowboys are a perfect fit for Marcus Maye out of Florida.
In replacing Barry Church, Maye could excel with his athleticism and awareness close to the line of scrimmage, while Byron Jones' versatility as a deep safety would protect Maye from having to play deep in coverage where he struggles to react as quickly and breakdown on tackles.
There's a reason the Cowboys were comfortable with moving on from both Church and J.J. Wilcox in free agency, and it's because of athletic studs like Marcus Maye available in this draft to replace them.
With their last pick before the sixth round at 211th overall, the Cowboys land arguably the top Senior running back in this class with Toledo's Kareem Hunt. Ezekiel Elliott is obviously the present and future when it comes to Dallas' running game, but they proved in 2016 that they are committed to the depth behind him. Losing Lance Dunbar to free agency, Hunt can replace Dunbar as a smooth receiver that also runs with great patience and balance.
Darren McFadden is back with the Cowboys as a veteran option behind Elliott for 2017, which would allow Hunt to ease his way into Scott Linehan's offense.
Landing another one of their pre-draft 30 visits here in the sixth round, Treston Decoud could provide solid depth at CB with his length and athleticism. Having already selected Conley in this mock scenario, the projected starters at CB for the Cowboys would likely be Anthony Brown, Orlando Scandrick, Nolan Carroll, and Conley.
Decoud could elevate himself to a situational player at slot CB and become another sixth round steal at CB for the Cowboys (much like Anthony Brown in 2016) thanks to his fluid hips and quick-twitch ability to mirror receivers.
Derek Rivers has drawn all of the hype as a pass rusher out of Youngstown State in this draft, but his teammate Avery Moss could be just the rotational player the Dallas Cowboys need. While Rivers displays all of the traits to be an elite strong side defensive end, Moss has some intriguing traits and makes some flashes as a true right-rushing end.
Moss' 34 1/2 inch arms are more than enough for Rod Marinelli to work with in getting the most out of Avery Moss at RDE, having already landed a more premier pass rusher in this draft at 60th overall.
Unsurprisingly, the Cowboys filled their need for depth at OT in free agency with the signing of veteran Byron Bell. This makes offensive tackle less of a draft need, but one they can still address in the seventh round here with a Mississippi State teammate of Dak Prescott.
With 38 career starts at RT, Senior has a lot of work to do to develop into a starter at the next level, but could be just what the Cowboys are looking for in their backups along the offensive line. Drafting at this point for traits, Senior has a strong punch to mirror rushers with the foot speed to make up for his lack of strength at the line of scrimmage.
Realistically, the Cowboys come away with three starters at positions of need here on defense by stealing CB Gareon Conley, DE Jordan Willis, and then S Marcus Maye. Treston Decoud and Avery Moss add depth to the CB and DE positions respectively, where talented depth is certainly needed.
Kareem Hunt and Justin Senior also add to this theme of high-value picks, as Hunt would have a real chance to become a play maker in Dallas' offense as a rookie at RB while Senior can learn as a backup OT.
The Dallas Cowboys could be one draft class away from building a truly dominant team for years to come in the NFL after dominating the draft in 2016. These upgrades on defense alone would go a long way.
For more on each and every position in this 2017 NFL Draft, be sure to check out my interview with Jonah Tuls on Upon Further Review above!
Report: Boise State LB Leighton Vander Esch Visiting Cowboys
As the 2018 NFL Draft draws closer, teams are beginning to hold their official visits with prospects of their own choosing. The Cowboys have already met with a few different prospects thus far, and they've reportedly added a linebacker to that list this week.
Multiple reports are saying the Cowboys will meet with Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch this week, adding him to the list of 30 potential visits.
BoiseState LB Leighton Vander Esch will be a pre-draft visitor for the #Cowboys. Add him to your list of 30, per Tony Pauline.
Vander Esch is a bit of a controversial prospect in the draft world. As I've stated before, he tested like a freak athletically, and his combine profile alone would put him in the discussion on day one. The problems I have with Vander Esch have nothing to do with his athleticism, however, and everything to do with his actual football-playing ability.
On film, I see a player who struggles to get off blocks and will have trouble finding a home with the Cowboys. Still, I wouldn't mind the Cowboys drafting Vander Esch - that pick cannot come in the first round though.
Vander Esch is a long, rangy, and athletic linebacker who is at his best playing laterally and tracking down plays. As a blitzer, Vander Esch has some rather clear issues. He often runs directly into blocks and is unable to shed at the point of attack. I also don't think he is as instinctual a player as some of the other linebackers in this class, such as BYU's Fred Warner or Alabama's Rashaan Evans.
The way things are looking, however, Vander Esch is going to be a first round pick. And if not, he'll almost certainly be a top 50 pick. I wouldn't be very comfortable taking him at 19, and I'd have to think twice before even taking him at 50 for that matter.
2018 NFL Draft: Dallas Cowboys Meeting with Texas Safety DeShon Elliott
With more pressing needs on offense at guard and wide receiver, and defensively at DE or LB, the Cowboys' concerning lack of proven ability at safety has taken a backseat in this offseason's roster build. With the expectation that new Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard will elevate the play of the entire Cowboys' secondary, the team is doing their due diligence on safeties available in the 2018 NFL Draft - starting with Texas' DeShon Elliott.
It appears Texas S DeShon Elliott is visiting the #Cowboys today
With 63 tackles and six interceptions in his final season at Texas, Elliott took full advantage of being a starter in the Big 12 for the first time in his career, flying onto the NFL Draft scene.
Elliott is a well-balanced, average athlete with the upside to be targeted late in April's draft and make a difference.
If they had to play a game tomorrow, the Cowboys would be rolling with Jeff Heath, Xavier Woods, and Kavon Frazier at safety.
Finding an expanded role this season for Frazier should be a priority in Dallas, as should supplementing Heath and Woods with additional talent. DeShon Elliott would fit this group well, along with the Cowboys' scheme, given his range and disruptive ability.
Should Jourdan Lewis, Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown, and now Byron Jones help the Cowboys reach their full potential at CB, the Cowboys safeties will not be tested in single coverage up the field often. This is an area that Elliott was exploited in at Texas plenty of times, performing better as a true free safety or second-level player.
Continuing to add young talent at the right price is key to the Cowboys' ongoing rebuild on defense, now visiting with a local safety prospect that should be available to them in the later rounds. Texas' DeShon Elliott is officially a name to consider come draft week in Dallas.
Cowboys Draft: PSU WR DaeSean Hamilton Fits Cowboys’ “Type”
Last week, I detailed what the Cowboys tend to look for when drafting a wide receiver. In terms of a combine profile, Dallas clearly has a "type" of wide-out they like to target.
The Cowboys certainly need to upgrade their receiving corps, but with the plethora of other holes to fill, they may not be able to do so until the 3rd or 4th round. Luckily for the Cowboys, there is at least one receiver which both fits their profile and should be available early on day three.
That player is Penn State wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton.
Working on something for @InsideTheStarDC... here's the height, weight, 40 time, and 3 cone for every WR DAL has taken since 2010.
First, let's re-examine what the Cowboys like to look for. As you can see from the above graphic, the Cowboys draft targets all seem to fit a similar profile. If we treat Dez Bryant as their "ideal" draft pick, the trends become even clearer. Dallas wants to find a wide-out who is about 6'1" 205 pounds, runs nearly a 4.5 40 yard dash, and about a 6.9 three come time.
DeaSean Hamilton, coincidentally, is 6'1" 203 pounds, ran a 4.47 40 yard dash at the Penn State pro day, and ran a 6.84 three cone at the combine. Penn State's all time receptions leader stole the show at the 2018 Senior Bowl, putting all of "Draft Twitter" on notice to his talent.
An efficient and smooth route runner, Hamilton looks natural coming in and out of breaks, creating separation with his precise routes. The Cowboys don't have many receivers on their roster who can win with their route running, and adding a player like Hamilton would greatly help third year quarterback Dak Prescott moving forward.
With the ability to play in the slot, as well as potentially being a Z receiver for the Cowboys and a replacement for Terrance Williams, Hamilton would be an excellent draft target in the third or fourth round. And, keeping in mind how nicely he fits their typical draft profile, I'd expect Dallas to target Hamilton during the 2018 NFL Draft.
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