Drafting Dallas 2018: 7-Round Mock Draft 3.0

Welcome to my 3.0 installment of Drafting Dallas 2018, where I’m assuming front office duties to mock draft the full seven rounds for the Cowboys using the current edition of my DRAFTPLEX Board.

Since my 2.0 installment was published, the open of the new league year and the subsequent frenzy of free agency signings, along with continued activity in the trade market, has seen teams across the league address areas of need and give us a more focused picture of their potential positions of interest heading into the NFL Draft. College pro days are also completely in the books, with representatives from all 32 franchises crossing the nation and descending upon university campuses to work out top prospects, as well as late-round sleepers and potential rookie free agents.

Up until a few days ago, this stretch in the offseason schedule went about as expected for the Cowboys. They placed the franchise tag on DeMarcus Lawrence and a second-round tender on restricted free agent David Irving. They parted ways with a pair of marquee defenders, with free agent Anthony Hitchens signing with the Kansas City Chiefs and Orlando Scandrick requesting his release to ultimately sign with the Washington Redskins. Also moving on, Keith Smith and Kyle Wilber, who signed with the Oakland Raiders, and Jonathan Cooper, who signed with the San Francisco 49ers. Then after a few days where their only activity was signing a pair of role players in linebacker Joe Thomas and wide receiver Deonte Thompson, and swapping late-round picks with the Raiders for fullback Jamize Olawale, the Cowboys finally made their proverbial splash, signing former Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Allen Hurns and former New England Patriots offensive tackle Cameron Fleming, as well as a former third-round draft choice in offensive lineman Marcus Martin, most recently of the Cleveland Browns.

Then this past Friday, the Cowboys made the long-rumored, but still relatively shocking decision to release star wide receiver Dez Bryant, attaining some much-needed salary cap relief, but leaving the offense without a defined WR1 and setting the expectation that the position will be addressed early in the draft. Which, of course, brings us to this exercise.

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 own evaluations and who Dallas has reportedly shown interest in this draft season. I will also not be repeating any previous selections, ensuring both a unique draft scenario and an original read.

That all being said, let’s go on the clock for the final time for the Cowboys this draft season with Drafting Dallas 2018 3.0.

Round 1 | Pick 19
Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State

It might prove to be an upset, at least as far as the media is concerned, if the Cowboys do not select a wide receiver with their first-round pick. But, even with the release of Dez Bryant, there’s enough evidence to suggest the Cowboys will maintain the approach of selecting the best player available at a position of need—and the argument can be made that the position in most need of an upgrade at this point is linebacker. With Anthony Hitchens moving on in free agency and the front office acknowledging publicly that Jaylon Smith will see snaps at SAM linebacker, there would appear to be an opening at middle linebacker. Vander Esch is a rising prospect the Cowboys have clearly taken interest in and is definitely in consideration at 19.

Round 2 | Pick 50
Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M

With an offense powered by the running game, there’s a case to be made that the Cowboys no longer necessarily need a lead receiver who commands—or expects—the lion’s share of the targets, but a platoon of receivers who can catch and create as the defense gives. Kirk is an explosive playmaker, but having lined up almost exclusively in the slot, he’s also a projection on the outside at the NFL level. That said, provided the Cowboys can scheme to his strengths, the former Aggie could be a tremendous weapon both near the line of scrimmage and down the field.

Round 3 | Pick 81
Austin Corbett, OG, Nevada
Despite their offseason additions to the offensive line, Dallas still doesn’t have a definitive starter at left guard. Expecting Marcus Martin to win the job after not seeing the field for the Cleveland Browns in 2017 would be a major gamble, so they would be wise to capitalize on the opportunity to add a plug-and-play starter. While the Cowboys have continually been linked to names like Will Hernandez and Isaiah Wynn in the first round, Corbett presents a near-comparable alternative who could be available as late as the third round.

Round 4 | Pick 116
Tarvarius Moore, S, Southern Miss

With the standing expectation that Byron Jones will be transitioning to full-time cornerback, Dallas will be down a safety on the depth chart. While the team may look to Xavier Woods and Kavon Frazier to fill the void, adding a safety with starter potential in the early or middle rounds should be in play. After flying under the radar for most of the draft cycle, Moore is gaining steam after an outstanding pro day and was among the Cowboys’ official 30 pre-draft visitors.

Round 4 | Pick 137 (compensatory selection)
Kendrick Norton, DT, Miami
While Dallas continues to be linked to the top one-technique defensive tackles in the draft, it doesn’t seem as likely anymore that they will be seeking the fill that role early. Indeed, if they do address the interior front, it will probably not happen until the middle rounds, where a grabbing space eater like Norton to reset the line and absorb blocks would present a better value for a lower-priority position in their defensive scheme.

Round 5 | Pick 171 (compensatory selection)
Ito Smith, RB, Southern Miss
Dallas is short a running back and, based on their pre-draft visits, it would appear that they are targeting a gadget player in the mold of former Cowboy Lance Dunbar. Smith is one of those smaller, shiftier, change-of-pace backs they have visited with, and would provide an element of speed and elusiveness to the offense as both a runner and receiver.

Round 6 | Pick 192 (via trade with Oakland Raiders)
Antonio Callaway, WR, Florida

The Cowboys have shown a willingness to gamble on talented players with extensive off-field concerns, and Callaway represents perhaps the most physically gifted, but troubled prospect in this draft class. While he didn’t play a down in 2017, Dallas did bring him in as one of their pre-draft visitors, and it wouldn’t be a complete shock to see them roll the dice late in the draft if he happens to remain on the board.

Round 6 | Pick 193
Kentavius Street, DL, North Carolina State

Along with character risks, the Cowboys aren’t shy about players whose draft stock is compromised due to injury. Street was rising up boards early in the draft process, but suffering a torn ACL in a pre-draft workout has sent his stock tumbling. If Dallas retains all of their picks, drafting a player who will require a redshirt year isn’t out of the question, especially one with the power and position flex of Street.

Round 6 | Pick 208 (compensatory selection)
Zach Sieler, DE, Ferris State

You can never have enough quality pass rushers. With the size, tools, and production to project as a potential impact defender, Sieler is one of the rare small-school prospects whose decision to declare early should pay off with a draft selection.

Round 7 | Pick 236
Chris Jones, CB, Nebraska

In the interest of competition, the Cowboys will likely add at least one cornerback to the roster through the draft, and even more from the rookie free agent pool. They reportedly thought enough of Jones to have him participate in a private workout, making him the only cornerback thus far to do so.

Jason Pruett

Drafting Dallas 2018: 7-Round Mock Draft 2.0

Welcome to my 2.0 installment of Drafting Dallas 2018, where I’m assuming front office duties to mock draft the full seven rounds for the Cowboys using the current edition of my DRAFTPLEX Board.

Since my 1.0 installment was published, we were all witness to the NFL Scouting Combine, which gave us another opportunity to evaluate this incoming draft class and another set of data to reference in grading players, stacking our boards, and determining potential team fits.

The 2018 NFL Draft order has also been locked in. We now know exactly where the Cowboys are scheduled pick in each round and that they have been awarded four compensatory selections, distributed across rounds four through six, giving them a total of ten selections.

But while teams across the league have begun making personnel moves, including a series of blockbuster trades, Dallas has remained still. Although, that is not to say all has been quiet around America’s Team. Rumor and speculation regarding the future of wide receiver Dez Bryant has taken The Star by storm, with Executive Vice President and CEO Stephen Jones delivering some potentially loaded remarks when meeting with the media in Indianapolis, and 88 himself opening up on his contract situation, his critics, and more in a spirited radio interview. Combined with looming decisions of varying context to be made regarding other veterans like Anthony Hitchens, David Irving, Orlando Scandrick, and Byron Jones, the coming weeks for the Cowboys are going to be very interesting. In the meantime, it gives us much to consider in mapping out their potential draft plans in April, which, of course, is what I will be doing in this exercise.

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. I will also not be repeating any previous selections, ensuring both a unique draft scenario and an original read.

That all being said, let’s go on the clock with Drafting Dallas 2018 2.0.

Round 1 | Pick 19
D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland
Given the mounting uncertainty as to whether Dez Bryant will remain in Dallas, and reports of the team meeting with a number of top receiver prospects at the Combine, all signs point to the position being a strong consideration early—perhaps even the first round. While the positional focus ahead of the Combine often centered around whether the Cowboys would have a chance at drafting Alabama’s Calvin Ridley, generally considered the top wideout on the board, the riser coming out of Indianapolis is Maryland’s D.J. Moore. A well-built player who can work close to the line and down the field, create in space, and catch virtually any ball thrown to him, Moore’s stock experienced an initial surge immediately following release of his better than listed official measurements, and only continued to trend upward with his performance in the athletic testing and on-field drills. Going back to his tape only serves to further confirm his potential as a dynamic offensive weapon the likes of which Dallas does not currently have on the roster—so much so that if the Cowboys want to clad the former Terrapin in blue and silver, they’ll need to pay a visit to the podium when they go on the clock at 19. But would that selection be made to find a complement to their all-time leader in touchdown receptions, add leverage to force his financial hand, or land his immediate successor as the primary target in the passing game?

Round 2 | Pick 50
Billy Price, OG, Ohio State
The Cowboys have shown that they aren’t afraid to gamble, in one way or another, when their number is called in the second round. This draft’s roll of the dice could see them land a projected first-round offensive lineman in Billy Price. After suffering a partially torn pectoral muscle while participating in the bench press at the Combine, Price’s draft stock is expected to dip somewhat given that his recovery will potentially extend into the season. If he is still on the board when the Cowboys come up at 50, it might be difficult to pass up a powerful, rugged blocker with his experience and mean streak, even if it means leaning on a bridge veteran until Price is healthy. As the offensive lines stands now, the plan for this pick would be Price becoming the eventual starter at left guard, although he obviously has the position flex to slide inside to center if the need were to arise.

Round 3 | Pick 81
Josey Jewell, LB, Iowa
Head coach Jason Garrett let it slip at the Combine that the Cowboys will be exploring the possibility of Jaylon Smith seeing snaps at SAM linebacker. Reading into his comments, it would seem that Dallas is preparing to either retain the services of free agent Anthony Hitchens in the middle or seek a more comparable player to replace him, likely through the draft. Another former Hawkeye, Josey Jewell, is a potential fit given the scenario—and it just so happens that met formally with the Cowboys in Indianapolis. Experienced and incredibly productive coming out of Iowa, Jewell is similar to Hitchens in that he defies perceived athletic limitations by relying on intelligence, instincts, and technique to be an impactful second-level defender. If the Cowboys were to take him at 81, it would be no surprise to see him become the immediate starter at middle linebacker.

Round 4 | Pick 116
Folorunso Fatukasi, DL, Connecticut
Stephen Jones is on record stating the Cowboys wouldn’t necessarily invest a high pick on a true one-technique defensive tackle—that is, unless the player also possessed quick-twitch traits more typically associated with a three-technique. Fortunately, there are a few interior linemen in this draft class who check the necessary boxes, including Folorunso Fatukasi. The UConn product has the size and strength to hold up at the point of attack and eat up blocks as a nose, but also flashes the quickness and explosiveness to rotate in as an under tackle. With his versatility and upside, Fatukasi would be a viable mid-round target should the Cowboys wish to address higher-priority positions with their first three picks.

Round 4 | Pick 137 (compensatory selection)
Brandon Parker, OT, North Carolina A&T
One of the bigger mysteries this offseason is what exactly the Cowboys will do to resolve their reserve tackle situation. Veteran Byron Bell is a free agent. Chaz Green is in the last year of his rookie contract. And neither inspired much confidence when pressed into duty in relief of Tyron Smith, who struggled with injuries in 2017. Green is expected to be on the roster come training camp, but bringing in competition is a must. Coming into the league from the FCS level, it’s probably fair to say Parker will be a project to start, but with a wealth of football character and starting experience to go along with his prototypical tackle frame and raw athletic material, he could secure the swing tackle role, and eventually a starting position, sooner rather than later.

Round 5 | Pick 171 (compensatory selection)
Jack Cichy, LB, Wisconsin
Jack Cichy didn’t play a snap of football this past season. In fact, he hasn’t since October of 2016. But prior to having his college career cut short by a pair of significant injuries, Cichy was trending toward a top-100 draft position, if not higher. If his Combine medicals check out, he could prove to be a steal for the team that takes him off the board. And with four compensatory selections, Dallas has the draft capital necessary to absorb the obvious risk and reap the potential reward.

Round 5 | Pick 173 (compensatory selection)
Justin Lawler, DE, SMU
If the Cowboys are looking to deepen their defensive end rotation, there’s a chance that they don’t even have to leave Dallas. Equal parts run stopper and pass rusher, SMU’s Justin Lawler is a productive, high-motor defender who leaves everything on the field, and plays with the kind of power and relentlessness that would likely endear him to the defensive coaching staff.

Round 6 | Pick 193
Will Dissly, TE, Washington
Like it or not, it has become a staple of the Dallas offense to put three tight ends into formation and run the football. That said, that particular personnel package could benefit by have bigger-bodied blocking tight end playing in line. Dissly fits the bill, using his size and power to take on defenders, while posing a threat to sneak out into space and catch the football as the opportunity presents itself.

Round 6 | Pick 208 (compensatory selection)
Dominick Sanders, S, Georgia
With the potential move of Byron Jones from safety to cornerback, Dallas will probably look to the draft to round out the expected safety depth chart of Jeff Heath, Xavier Woods, and Kavon Frazier. Coming in with more than 50 college starts and 16 career interceptions, Sanders is an intriguing late-round option for the back end.

Round 7 | Pick 236
Roc Thomas, RB, Jacksonville State
Dallas showed a level of comfort with Rod Smith toward the end of the year to suggest he will be the primary backup to Ezekiel Elliott coming into this season, and while the team could look to the free agent pool to add a third back, the draft is a more likely option. Thomas shows flashes of being a special runner on tape, and has the well-rounded skillset to contribute in a variety of ways, allowing him to make the most of what would you would expect to be limited opportunities.

Jason Pruett

Drafting Dallas 2018: 7-Round Mock Draft 1.0

Where the 2016 Dallas Cowboys overachieved in putting together a 13-3 regular season and securing the #1 seed in the NFC before falling to the Green Bay Packers in the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs, the 2017 Dallas Cowboys did the exact opposite. With high expectations of a potential Super Bowl run coming into the year, the team limped to a 9-7 record, closing the season in an anti-climactic fashion with a meaningless game against the eventual NFC Champions, the Philadelphia Eagles, after having had their playoff hopes dashed the previous week in an uninspired performance against the equally disappointing Seattle Seahawks.

Now, a month into the offseason, there are seemingly valid questions in the air that represent a stark contrast to the universal optimism surrounding the team this time last year. Is Dak Prescott really a franchise quarterback? Can the Cowboys count on Ezekiel Elliott? Has Dez Bryant played his last game in Dallas? Is the offensive line, still routinely celebrated as the best in the NFL, actually worthy of the hype? Can the defense function without Sean Lee? Is the coaching staff what’s really holding this team back?

In light of those questions, there is one certainty: the Dallas Cowboys need to get better. And if recent history is any indication for this franchise, it begins and ends with the NFL Draft.

In my 1.0 installment of Drafting Dallas 2018, 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, by virtue of their regular season record and tiebreakers, the Cowboys are currently scheduled to open the 2018 NFL Draft selecting at #19 in Round 1, #50 in Round #2, and #81 in Round 3. The exact number and order of their selections in Rounds 4, 5, 6, and 7 are to be determined pending the disclosure of compensatory picks, up to four of which could be awarded to the Cowboys. Dallas does not currently possess a standard selection in Round 5 after trading it to the New York Jets in the 2017 NFL Draft.

That all being said, for the purposes of this exercise, I will be drafting under the prevailing assumption that Dallas will be awarded two compensatory selections in Round 4 and two compensatory selections in Round 5, giving the team a total of 10 selections.

Now, let’s go on the clock with Drafting Dallas 2018 1.0.

Round 1 | Pick 19
Maurice Hurst, DL, Michigan

A disruptive interior defender, Hurst has been a popular projection to Dallas in mock drafts to this point—and for good reason. With David Irving potentially moving on, even as a restricted free agent, the Michigan product would fill an immediate need lining up as the under tackle in Rod Marinelli’s defensive scheme. Hurst is perhaps a tick undersized (unofficially 6’2”, 280 lbs), but he demonstrates the speed, power, and athleticism necessary to excel as a 3-technique. But, he’s more than just traits. Averaging a dozen tackles for loss and a handful of sacks across his junior and senior seasons for one of the highest-profile programs in the nation, Hurst offers a high level of production and consistency—exactly what the Cowboys need if they expect their defense to continue trending upward.

Round 2 | Pick 50
James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State

It’s fair to say the Cowboys did not get the desired output from their receiving corps in 2017. But despite the rumor and speculation, it’s unlikely that the team will come into the draft in search of a new WR1. That said, with a deep and talented receiver class, the team should consider addressing the position starting on Day 2. The ultra-productive Washington has raw ability that will need to be refined and will need to develop as a route runner, but he has the tools to be an immediate contributor as a downfield threat and the potential to eventually step into the leading role in the Dallas passing attack. By the end of the process, Washington could definitely push to be drafted in the mid-to-late first round, so there’s a real possibility he doesn’t last this long, but if he’s there, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him to trade one Cowboy uniform for another.

Round 3 | Pick 81
Colby Gossett, OG, Appalachian State

Inconsistent offensive line play, set into motion by lack of a clear plan in the offseason, was one of the key factors contributing to a disappointing campaign for Dallas. Working with multiple moving parts, the Cowboys’ front five often barely resembled the dominant unit from just a season ago. While a finding capable swing tackle should be a priority, an upgrade at left guard would also be a wise investment. Standing a shade under 6’5” and tipping the scales at just over 300 lbs, Gossett has ideal size, and even better, jumps off the tape with power and punch at the point of attack, movement skills to pull and work up to the second level, and a finisher’s mentality as a blocker. And with a streak of 46 consecutive starts coming into the draft, the former Mountaineer offers a wealth of experience and the kind of durability Dallas should covet for a position group where continuity has proven to be critical.

Round 4
Quin Blanding, S, Virginia

Round 4 (projected compensatory selection)
Devron Davis, CB, UTSA

Dallas has all but remade their secondary within the past couple of seasons, parting ways with four previous starters and drafting heavily at both cornerback and safety. With another pair of incumbent veterans in Orlando Scandrick and Byron Jones also potentially moving on sooner rather than later, the Cowboys could continue the trend with Blanding and Davis. Virginia’s all-time leading tackler, Blanding is a versatile, intelligent defender the Cowboys could use in multiple ways, similar to former Cowboy Barry Church. He projects more as a strong safety playing in the box and in zone coverage, but could also find a role as a nickel or dime linebacker. Physical, athletic, and aggressive, Davis is an under-the-radar prospect out of UTSA who fits right in with the new breed of Cowboys cornerbacks. He’s not the tallest player at just around 5’10”, but he’s an alpha personality with a pro-ready build and skillset who would be a quality get for new defensive backs coach and passing game coordinator Kris Richard.

Round 4 (projected compensatory selection)
Darrel Williams, RB, LSU

Williams is really starting to rise among a talented crop of running backs. Playing behind an eventual top-5 pick in Leonard Fournette and a potential first-rounder in Derrius Guice, he comes into the draft with a smaller overall sample size than typical of mid-round runners, but made the most of his limited opportunities. He runs with power, vision, and burst. He finishes. He’ll catch the ball out of the backfield. He’s a capable pass protector. He possesses an intriguing all-around game that should interest the Cowboys, who have seemingly grown to prefer having a more complete back on standby behind Ezekiel Elliott rather than a change-of-pace back in a niche role.

Round 5 (projected compensatory selection)
Tre’ Williams, LB, Auburn

Round 5 (projected compensatory selection)
Chris Worley, LB, Ohio State

Even if Dallas is able to re-sign free agent Anthony Hitchens, which they seem increasingly intent on doing, the depth at linebacker remains a cause for concern. Adding Williams and Worley would help address that. Both are experienced, accustomed to playing against NFL-caliber talent, and capable of playing inside and outside—all extremely important for a team that has been forced to rely on its reserve linebackers quite heavily in recent years.

Round 6
Bentley Spain, OT, North Carolina

Dallas believed they had the proper insurance at offensive tackle coming into the season, but swing tackle was exposed as a significant liability when perennial All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith started missing time. Neither former third-round pick Chaz Green nor veteran Byron Bell were able to hold up in relief, meaning the Cowboys should, and are likely to, explore other options. A three-year starter for North Carolina at left tackle, Spain has the size, length, and physical tools to come in and compete for the role of primary reserve and, perhaps, eventually develop into a starter.

Round 7
D.J. Calhoun, LB, Arizona State

With a surplus of picks in this scenario, Dallas shouldn’t hesitate to land another second-level defender and role player to upgrade the overall talent level. Calhoun might not have the length to be an every-down linebacker in the NFL, but he is a heat-seeking missile with a nose for the football who could find a place on the roster as a sub-package blitzer and special teams ace.

Jason Pruett