"Tier two" of NFL Free Agency is here, meaning the Dallas Cowboys can set their sights on adding depth and filling the holes left by departed FAs Anthony Hitchens and Jonathan Cooper.
It may take another week for mock drafts to reflect the losses of both starters by the Cowboys, but the ongoing draft process does not slow down at any point. A few of the names the Cowboys will bring in for pre-draft 30 visits have already been released, and this week's roundup of national mock drafts continues to address the overall needs on this Dallas roster.
CBS Sports: Calvin Ridley, WR - Alabama
"Ridley's stock is down after an unimpressive combine, but the Cowboys decided to use one of their predraft visits on the talented wideout, who might not fall any further than this pick. Considering wide receiver is one of the team's biggest needs, they could jump at the chance to draft Ridley, who could eventually take over the No. 1 role if the Cowboys move on from Dez Bryant next offseason, which would save them more than $12 million on the cap."
The Dallas Cowboys will be meeting with free agent WR Allen Hurns today, a tangible second receiver that could immediately upgrade Terrance Williams' position. Hurns, unlike the lesser-known pass catchers the Cowboys looked at previously in free agency, may have enough talent entering his fifth season to take Calvin Ridley out of consideration in the first round.
For now, Ridley should absolutely remain in the conversation as this draft's top receiver. Frequently finding his way to the Cowboys in many post-Combine mock drafts, the Alabama star is just getting started in reaching his football potential and becoming an option for Dak Prescott on the outside.
Draft Wire: Vita Vea, DT - Washington
"Vea could realistically go higher than No. 19, but there may not be a ton of teams willing to draft a nose tackle early on in the draft. Vea’s much different from the average nose tackle, though, which is something the Cowboys would see firsthand if they were to pick him."
The hype for Vita Vea as a prospective Dallas Cowboys target has died down ever since Stephen Jones mentioned the team's preference to find 1T DTs with the traits to also rush the passer as a 3T. Simply being "different from the average nose tackle," as Infante writes here, may not be enough for Vea to be selected at 19th overall by the Cowboys.
Should the Cowboys be surprisingly wiped out at both guard and linebacker on their board, considering a rare prospect like Vea and the impact he could make in Rod Marinelli's scheme could become much more realistic though.
An investment like Vea at nose tackle feels like the safest way for the Cowboys to protect their franchise tag investment on DE DeMarcus Lawrence - while also potentially boosting the play of Maliek Collins and David Irving inside at DT.
Drafttek: Isaiah Wynn, G - Georgia
"... Isaiah Wynn played LOT for the SEC Champion and National Champion runner-up Georgia Bulldogs. Bill O'Brien's South coaching staff moved Wynn inside and he was easily the most impressive interior OL prospect during practice sessions..."
This would be one of the highest value picks the Dallas Cowboys could make at 19th overall. As it stands today, this team is in need of a starting left guard they can trust, which Isaiah Wynn can be from day one at the next level.
Despite their clear need up front, using another first round pick on an offensive lineman will surely generate some eyes rolls around Dallas on draft night. As if his mauling style of play and NFL-ready build aren't enough for the Cowboys to sell their fans on Wynn, his flexibility to provide needed depth at OT puts this Georgia product over the top.
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Recent trades by the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills to shake up the draft order may just be scratching the surface for the run of quarterbacks that takes place annually atop each draft. With as many as five QBs coming off the board prior to the Cowboys' first pick, their ability to add a quality starter at a position of need looks good.
Exactly what these positions of need will be by the end of free agency, and which prospects fill needs in Dallas, will update weekly as we continue to prepare you for the 2018 NFL Draft here at Inside The Star.
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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