You’re going to hear a lot of talk about “big boards” over the next five-and-a-half weeks until the NFL Draft. In case you don’t know, someone’s big board is their ranking of the eligible college players. Whether it’s the national pundits like Mel Kiper and Todd McShay or each individual team, everyone has their own list of players ranked by their perceived quality and pro potential.
With the Cowboys having the fourth-overall pick you can narrow the field somewhat among the draft’s elite prospects. Even if they trade down I can’t imagine Dallas dropping lower than tenth, still needing some significant talent upgrades at several positions. So, with the assumption that they will select somewhere in the draft’s first ten picks, here are my Top 10 prospects for the Cowboys.
1. Jalen Ramsey, DB, Florida St.
Regardless of who else is available I think the Cowboys have to take Ramsey if they get the chance. Not only does he have the look of an elite player but plays a position that Dallas needs help with now and especially next year.
Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Barry Church, and J.J. Wilcox could all be free agents next year. Not only does Ramsey help you with future roster needs but he may be immediately better than at least a few of these players, if not all of them. His versatility to play corner or safety pairs wonderfully with Byron Jones, allowing Dallas to play them at whatever position suits them best and not be forced by need.
Dallas fans may be nervous about taking a defensive back early given recent history with Claiborne and even going back to Terence Newman. Claiborne has been very disappointing and Newman, while a solid longtime veteran, never lived up to being a fifth-overall pick. However, other highly-drafted secondary players such as Patrick Peterson, Eric Berry, and Joe Haden have all proven true to their hype.
2. Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio St.
The Cowboys are going to need help at defensive end and Bosa is the best prospect of the class. I don’t think he’s the next J.J. Watt as some do but I think he’d be a Day One starter and a stalwart on your defensive line for ten years.
Sometimes you can’t get too caught up in where you’re drafting. I don’t love Bosa as a top-five pick but I would be more than happy if the Cowboys were taking him in the 10-12 range. They likely couldn’t trade down to there and still get him, so at a certain point you just have to suck it up and take the guy when you’re on the clock.
While you never want to reach on a player out of need, many would argue that Bosa going fourth overall is no reach. He is currently Scout Inc’s top-rated prospect at any position and is in the top five on most boards. He has his doubters, but at this stage in the game many of the top prospects start getting picked apart after months of scrutiny.
3. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio St.
I am on the record as saying I don’t like the idea of spending such a high pick on a running back. We got a 1,000-yard season out of a scrap heap free agent in Darren McFadden last year and saw DeMarco Murray, a former third-round pick, break Emmitt Smith’s single-season record in 2014. Dallas has built an offensive line that get production out of just anyone that isn’t mentally disturbed.
That said, Elliott looks like a truly special player. He has dominated his position both on the field and at the combine. You could take him now and, conceivably, not worry about running back for at least the next four years. Some say he’s the best overall talent in the entire draft.
4. Myles Jack, LB, UCLA
Some will say this is too low for Jack but I’m considering team need in this ranking. Dallas has their top two linebackers set with Sean Lee and Rolando McClain. Remember, the Cowboys play a lot of nickel so they tend to have just two linebackers on the field more often than three.
The case for taking Jack would be mostly his potential to replace McClain next year and the health concerns with both McClain and Lee. Jack would be an immediate upgrade over Dallas’ other players at the position. Jack is especially attractive for our defense given his abilities in pass coverage, which Rod Marinelli asks plenty of from his linebackers.
Though not the most immediate need, Jack’s talent is considerable and he could become a superstar in this scheme. There is the red flag of his knee injury last year but that hasn’t stopped anyone from projecting him as a top-five prospect.
5. Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss
I wrote a full article about what Dallas should consider if Tunsil were to fall them at number four. To summarize, I think the Cowboys could take him and not feel bad about loading up their offensive line. He should be an immediate upgrade over Doug Free and would give them total stability on the offensive line for at least the next four or five years.
In all likelihood, Dallas would use Tunsil’s availability as a lure to find a trade partner and get some extra picks. However, if they ultimately chose to take him, there are plenty of good reasons to do so. Check out the full article for more.
6. Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida
While some wouldn’t like Hargreaves as a top-five pick I think he fits our defense very well. His detractors tend to focus on his size but he’s not any smaller than Ronde Barber was, who might have been the best corner to ever play in this Cover 2 scheme. Hargreaves is also much quicker than Barber was, giving him potential to get a break on balls when playing out of the zone.
There is still high potential that Dallas will cut Brandon Carr after the draft for cap savings, which would leave them with just Claiborne and Orlando Scandrick as proven players if they decide to keep Byron Jones at safety. That creates a clear need for a corner and Hargreaves should be able to contribute immediately.
7. Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota St.
The consensus on the draft’s top two quarterbacks is that Wentz has the most upside but that Jared Goff is more ready to play right now. Since the Cowboys still have at least a year or two of Tony Romo then they should obviously go with the upside pick.
Only the Cowboys know how much longer they really expect Romo to last. Jerry Jones says one thing but that’s all about public relations. Hoping that Romo can play another three or four years is great but so far his body doesn’t appear able to hold up to that. I think two more years of Romo is more likely as he can be released in 2018 for $16 million in cap savings.
I’m not in love with spending this pick on a player who isn’t sure to help you immediately, given that Dallas is trying to win now with Romo and their other veteran leaders. However, you can’t deny that this is a rare opportunity to snag a quiarterback with Wentz’s potential. Like I said with Bosa, sometimes you just have to take the hand you’ve been dealt in terms of draft positioning and focus on talent acquisition. Wentz solves your backup quarterback issues immediately and takes quarterback out of your scouting process for the next several years. That kind of security is not a bad thing.
8. DeForest Buckner, DE/DT, Oregon
Dallas could take Buckner and leave themselves with options for next year. He would likely start at defensive end but they could move him inside and play Tyrone Crawford outside. If they can’t get Joey Bosa then the Cowboys may have to make this move just to cover their bases at defensive line next year.
Listed at 291 pounds, Buckner may sound more like a tackle. You have to keep in mind that he’s 6’7″ and is leaner than that weight normally indicates. You might compare him to Julius Peppers and Mario Williams, similarly tall and large players who’ve played as outside rushers. Buckner didn’t run as fast a 40-yard dash as them but top speed isn’t as important as the ability to get off blocks, which Buckner does very well for his size.
He’s considered more of a 3-4 outside linebacker but is an exceptional enough pass rusher to work in any scheme. Floyd’s talent and potential are very comparable to Randy Gregory’s last year, just without the personal baggage that pushed Gregory to the second round.
If taken, Floyd could potentially play as the Sam linebacker in the base defense and then move down to be an edge rusher in the nickel scheme. Like Gregory, he will need to focus on adding weight and developing his body to become a full-time defensive end. One of the fast risers in terms of draft stock right now, Floyd is emerging as a consensus top-ten talent and would help the Cowboys with their biggest need.
10. Jared Goff, QB, California
Let’s pretend the Cowboys traded down and then didn’t land any of the aforementioned players. If Goff’s available then they might trade down again, but you could apply everything I said about Wentz here. Goff is still a top prospect and a worthy option as Romo’s future replacement.