It was a tale of two seasons for the Dallas Cowboys in 2018.
America’s Team labored through the first half of their schedule, getting off to a disappointing 3-5 start. The offense was maddeningly inconsistent, showing but mere flashes of competence, let alone brilliance, while a stalwart defense would seemingly keep the team in contention each week until struggling themselves at the most inopportune moment. With no sign that success would be forthcoming, the franchise was presumably headed toward an offseason of significant change.
Instead, the front office took measures to make a run at the NFC East—the division there for the taking with neither the Cowboys nor one of their rivals able to stake claim through eight games. A mid-season trade for wide receiver Amari Cooper and the dismissal of offensive line coach Paul Alexander in favor of assistant Marc Colombo seemed to serve as the catalyst for a turnaround. The Cowboys reeled off five straight victories, ultimately winning seven of their final eight games to earn the division title and a berth in the NFL Playoffs.
Riding a wave of momentum into January, with an offense that seemed to do just enough to win and a defense that would rise to the occasion with the game in the balance, the Cowboys turned back the challenge of the Seattle Seahawks during NFC Wild Card Weekend. But, the ride would grind to a halt in Hollywood, as Dallas was summarily dismissed by the eventual NFC representative in the Super Bowl, the Los Angeles Rams.
Now, much like the offseason following the 2016 campaign, the Cowboys will look to build on the promise of a playoff appearance in an attempt to finally end their championship drought of more than two decades.
In my 1.0 installment of Drafting Dallas 2019, I’m assuming front office duties to mock draft the full seven rounds for the Cowboys using the current edition of my DRAFTPLEX Board. For context, this isn’t a prediction or projection of what the actual front office will do, nor is it a fantasy draft where the best players just happen to conveniently fall to the Cowboys. I will be making my selections as realistically as I can based on my evaluations to this point, with the knowledge that offseason variables (releases, trades, free agency signings, draft stocks, etc.) will most assuredly impact future installments.
While the complete NFL Draft order is not yet confirmed, the Cowboys are currently scheduled to make their first selection at #58 in Round 2, followed by #90 in Round 3. The exact number and order of their selections in Rounds 4, 5, and 7 are to be determined pending the disclosure of compensatory picks. Dallas does not currently possess a Round 1 selection after trading it to the Oakland Raiders in exchange for wide receiver Amari Cooper this past season, nor a Round 6 selection after trading it to the Cincinnati Bengals in exchange for cornerback Bene Benwikere in 2017.
That all being said, for the purposes of this exercise, I will be drafting under the prevailing assumption that Dallas will be awarded a compensatory selection in Round 4 for the departure of linebacker Anthony Hitchens in free agency, giving the team a total of six selections.
Now, let’s go on the clock with Drafting Dallas 2019 1.0.
Round 2 | Pick 58
Charles Omenihu, DL, Texas
The Dallas defensive line developed into a formidable unit by season’s end, but perhaps its most physically gifted player was a veritable non-factor in 2018. David Irving was absent from training camp, served a four-game suspension to start the year, and played in only two games, his season derailed by off-field matters and injury. Irving is now no longer under contract and not expected to be back. That said, there were times when the self-proclaimed “Hot Boyz” clearly missed his physical presence and disruptive play. Possessing a similar frame and ability to affect the game from the edge or the interior, Omenihu has drawn comparisons to Irving and should be a strong consideration if he remains on the board when the Cowboys enter the fray at #58.
Round 3 | Pick 90
Elijah Holyfield, RB, Georgia
Ezekiel Elliott claimed his second NFL rushing title in three years, while also leading the league in rushing attempts and total touches. Working behind a banged up offensive line, Zeke took a pounding week in and week out, but rarely left the field. Meanwhile, backup Rod Smith did little to lock down the supporting role after a promising end to the 2017 season. Now a free agent, Smith could still return because of his special teams value, but the Cowboys should really consider upgrading the primary reserve—not only to preserve Elliott’s health over the course of the season, but as insurance as he nears the end of his rookie contract. Holyfield resembles a slightly smaller Elliott, with comparable speed, power, and elusiveness, and flashes the feature back potential that would make him an ideal rotational running back for Dallas.
Andre James, OL, UCLA
The Dallas offensive line was essentially a shell of the five-man front that dominated opponents just a couple of years prior. Center Travis Frederick was lost for the season early due to illness. Guard Zack Martin and tackle Tyron Smith fought through injuries virtually the entire year. At left guard, rookie Connor Williams and journeyman veteran Xavier Su’a-Filo split time while battling injuries of the their own. Meanwhile, Joe Looney and La’el Collins are both entering contract years, with swing tackle Cam Fleming possibly one and done with the club. With the unit aiming for a return to form in 2019, I would expect Dallas to continue investing resources up front with an eye toward the future. James is an intriguing mid-round blocker, entering the process as a redshirt junior with 32 college starts to his name—including a full season at each tackle position.
Round 4 (projected compensatory selection)
Darius Slayton, WR, Auburn
Perhaps the biggest unknown of the upcoming season for the Cowboys is the passing game. The team parted ways with offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, then appointed Kellen Moore to the position with just one year of pro coaching under his belt. New quarterbacks coach Jon Kitna and tight ends coach Doug Nussmeier expect to have involvement in the offensive game plan as well, with head coach Jason Garrett overseeing the entire operation. But, it’s not just the coaching staff that is being shuffled, as the roster expects to see some shakeup as well. Fan favorite Cole Beasley is currently a free agent and has expressed dissatisfaction with his role in the offense, while injury and pedestrian production could see Dallas also move on from veterans Tavon Austin and Allen Hurns. Offering good size and great speed, Slayton would give the Cowboys both a vertical threat down the field and big-play potential underneath.
Otaro Alaka, LB, Texas A&M
Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch were a revelation for the Cowboys in 2018, playing far above expectations and proving that the defense could not only survive, but thrive without veteran leader Sean Lee in the lineup. Lee has one year remaining on his contract and his cap hit could make him expendable, but this selection is primarily to offset the potential free-agent departure of strongside linebacker Damien Wilson. A versatile second-level defender who compares favorably to Smith and Vander Esch physically, Alaka could assume SAM duties, working in the box on early downs while providing the ability to rush the passer when called upon.
Tommy Sweeney, TE, Boston College
The Cowboys felt the loss of first-ballot Hall of Fame tight end Jason Witten during the 2018 campaign. But, even with the growing pains that have many projecting them to target a tight end early, you get the sense that they could just ride with the group they have for 2019. Geoff Swaim is a free agent, but likely wouldn’t cost much to bring back. Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz came on comparatively by the end of the season. And the upside of project player Rico Gathers remains despite his limited production on the field. However, Dallas could still afford to introduce another tight end to the mix. Sweeney doesn’t enter the draft with the athletic profile of other tight ends in the draft, but he’s a sure-handed receiver and capable blocker who can come into camp and compete for a roster spot.