In what felt like a blink of an eye, the 2021 NFL Draft has come and gone and the Dallas Cowboys have a whole new set of players to begin working into the roster and finding roles for. Around the NFL and draft world, there will be countless pieces written grading the draft for each team and giving out winners and losers. While it can be beneficial to provide a reaction and analyze how the Dallas Cowboys did from a value standpoint, it will take years before we truly know the value of a draft class.
So as many are looking toward this past weekend, let’s take a look back three years and grade the 2018 NFL Draft class. We’ll go pick by pick based on their performance to date relative to their draft status and then offer a letter grade at the end for the draft class as a whole.
This is the group that is entering the contract year of their rookie deals, so it’s time for them to put up or get ready to find a new home in 2022. The Dallas Cowboys made nine picks in this draft, six of which were on the offensive side of the football.
19. Leighton Vander Esch, Linebacker, Boise State
Heading into the 2018 NFL Draft, it was expected that the Dallas Cowboys would target someone on the defensive side of the football. Minkah Fitzpatrick, Vita Vea, and Derwin James were high on everyone’s radar, but none of them fell to the Dallas Cowboys at 19. In the build up to the draft, however, it was clear Leighton Vander Esch was the team’s priority in the first round.
Vander Esch was coming off of a stellar 2017 season at Boise State and his size and athleticism saw him shoot up draft boards over the spring. His rookie season couldn’t have gone any better as he was a second-team All-Pro selection and made the Pro Bowl in just his first year.
He led the team with 140 combined tackles (102 solo), recorded two interceptions, seven passes defended, and two tackles for loss. It was a tremendous season. That rookie year got everyone excited for what would come in his future.
Unfortunately, injuries to his neck and back began to set in and Vander Esch missed seven games in 2019 and six more in 2020. Even when Vander Esch has played, he hasn’t looked like the All-Pro he was in his rookie year. Instead, he’s been more indecisive and hesitant in run support and somewhat of a liability in the passing game.
The Dallas Cowboys just invested their top pick in the 2021 NFL Draft at linebacker partly because they’re unsure of his future. It’s unlikely that the Cowboys will pick up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract making this the final year of his deal.
Things can turn around for Leighton Vander Esch if he’s able to find some injury good luck moving forward. Aside from his 2018 season, his career for the Dallas Cowboys has to be a disappointment.
50. Connor Williams, Offensive Lineman, Texas
Connor Williams career with the Dallas Cowboys has been an up and down one. He’s been a solid player but at times the weak link in an otherwise pretty good offensive line. He’s had some standout performances against players like Aaron Donald. Other times, he’s struggled to match up well with the power that he’s faced on the interior.
Williams has played in 40 of a possible 48 games, including 37 starts. In Williams’ first two years, Williams dealt with some injury issues but finally played a full 16 game season in 2020.
For a second-round pick, Williams has been solid. He made the switch from playing left tackle to left guard and even though he’s been undersized to play on the interior has held his own. After the Cowboys drafted Connor McGovern in 2019, it seemed like Williams would face some competition for his starting role, but after McGovern was lost for the year during his rookie season, Williams would hold off the former Penn State guard in 2020 to maintain his hold on the left guard spot.
81. Michael Gallup, Wide Receiver, Colorado State
It was a slow start to his career for Michael Gallup as he saw limited playing time behind Allen Hurns in the first half of the 2018 season. Gallup didn’t get a chance to start a game until week six. But from then on, Gallup caught 27 passes for 425 yards and two touchdowns. But it was his performances in the playoffs that year that got people most excited.
In the wild card round, Gallup came up with a huge touchdown at the end of the first half against the Seattle Seahawks. In the divisional round against the Los Angeles Rams, Gallup had the first 100 yard game of his career.
Gallup then followed that up with an 1,100-yard season in 2019 solidifying himself as a legit NFL wide receiver and being called a WR1A by Amari Cooper. Gallup’s numbers came down to earth a bit in 2020 as the Cowboys rolled out three backup quarterbacks in the wake of Dak Prescott’s season-ending injury.
As Michael Gallup enters the final year of his deal, the final year of his deal, he’s easily the player that most deserves a second contract with the Dallas Cowboys. The only question is, will they be able to afford him. With Dak Prescott set to return in 2021 and the offensive line healthier, Michael Gallup is set for a strong 2021 season.
116. Dorance Armstrong, EDGE, Kansas
After you get past the third round of the NFL Draft, the expectation for contributions begins to adjust a bit. Dorance Armstrong came out of Kansas as a surprisingly productive player for one of college football’s worst teams.
Dorance Armstrong has really only been a rotational edge rusher for the Dallas Cowboys, but he’s played his role quite well. Armstrong has 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, 41 solo tackles, and three tackles for loss.
Armstrong’s been a solid rotational player for the Cowboys who’s played in all but two games in his three-year career and been a solid special teams contributor. Though it would have been nice to see Armstrong take a starting role, he’s stuck and been a valuable and steady rotational player.
137. Dalton Schultz, TE, Stanford
It didn’t seem like things were going well for the career of Dalton Schultz heading into the 2020 season. He’d been in the league for two years and hadn’t really gotten much of an opportunity. That all changed last season when Blake Jarwin went down early in the season opener. Schultz was thrust into the starting lineup and proved more than capable of being a starting tight end in the NFL.
Schultz provided steady ability in the running game and was really good in the passing game. In 2020, the former Stanford tight end caught 63 passes on 89 targets for 615 yards and four touchdowns. His season was so good that the Cowboys felt comfortable standing pat at the top of the depth chart at tight end.
He and Blake Jarwin will compete for starting snaps in 2021 and Schultz should have a leg up after his 2020 performance.
171. Mike White, QB, Western Kentucky
Mike White was brought in to compete with Cooper Rush for the backup quarterback job in 2018 but White was not very good in the preseason and Rush held onto the spot behind Prescott for another year. White never played a game for the Cowboys and hasn’t played a game in the NFL since.
Given that the Cowboys have found important snaps from fifth-round picks and beyond (Xavier Woods, Donovan Wilson, and Cedrick Wilson), this pick was a waste.
193. Chris Covington, LB, Indiana
In two seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, Chris Covington played in just eight games and hasn’t played since. Given his draft status, he was meant to be a special teams player, but hasn’t really found a role in the NFL. This isn’t a failed pick simply because he did get in the lineup.
208. Cedrick Wilson, Wide Receiver, Boise State
In 2020, Cedrick Wilson finally found a role in the offense and put together some really nice games. As the Dallas Cowboys attempted to come back against the Seattle Seahawks in week three, Wilson caught five passes on seven targets for 107 yards and two touchdowns. These touchdowns had big yards after the catch.
Wilson finally showed off some of the ability after redshirting in 2018 and not getting much run in 2019. Wilson provides really nice depth to the wide receiver corp and can play each of the wide receiver spots. He’s been a solid special teams player and has a chance to carve out a role as the wide receiver four for the Cowboys. The fact that he missed a year and still found a way to stick around, it’s been a really nice draft pick for the Cowboys from the sixth round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
236. Bo Scarbrough, Running Back, Alabama
There was a lot of excitement for Bo Scarbrough when the Dallas Cowboys drafted him in the seventh round of the 2018 NFL Draft. His time at Alabama was quite successful and many thought he could become the backup running back for the Cowboys.
Unfortunately, Scarbrough didn’t really get an opportunity with the Dallas Cowboys, but he found some snaps with the Detroit Lions at the end of the 2019 season. Bo rushed for 377 yards on 89 carries and a touchdown. He only carried the ball six times for the Seattle Seahawks in 2020.
This is a tough one because Scarbrough was a seventh-round pick, which lowers expectations, and at the same time, you want to get some kind of contribution from your draft picks.
Overall this was a pretty solid draft for the Dallas Cowboys. Leighton Vander Esch’s injuries have been disappointing, but there were rumors about his neck being an issue coming out of college. The Cowboys went with him anyway.
This draft has been saved by the solid play of Connor Williams, the explosive plays of Michael Gallup, and the emerging performance of Dalton Schultz in 2020. Vander Esch could certainly rebound in 2021, which would change the grade on this. However, this draft is being carried by the second, third, and fourth round picks from this season.
On today’s episode of Inside The Cowboys, John Williams, Staff Writer for InsideTheStar.com recaps the 2021 NFL Draft for the Dallas Cowboys!