What a difference a year makes.
For the Dallas Cowboys, the dreams of building upon the dramatic turnaround and postseason run that capped the 2018 season were dashed by the end of the 2019 calendar year. Despite a promising 3-0 start, America’s Team was ultimately defined by maddening inconsistency, inexplicably alternating between cruising and trudging through a disappointing 8-8 campaign.
Failing to reach the playoffs in the face of such high expectations, the organization was inevitably thrust into perhaps the most uncertain offseason they have experienced in some time.
Out was long-time head coach Jason Garrett, succeeded by former Green Bay Packers sideline general Mike McCarthy. The majority of the incumbent coaching staff was also allowed to walk, most notably defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and top assistant Kris Richard. Now in their place, a collection of well-traveled, experienced NFL staffers like Mike Nolan, Jim Tomsula, Joe Philbin, and John Fassel, and highly respected voices like Rob Davis and George Edwards.
The tabling of contract talks during the season with franchise quarterback Dak Prescott and star receiver Amari Cooper would also come to a head in the offseason. The signing of an eleventh-hour deal expects to see Cooper in silver and blue for his prime years, but Prescott’s future with the team is yet to be determined. The Cowboys used the franchise tag to secure his rights for the upcoming season, but it remains to be seen if he will sign either that or a potentially record-breaking contract that is rumored to make him the highest-paid player to date in the history of the NFL, let alone the Cowboys.
In the midst of these high-profile decisions, the Cowboys also must navigate through significant roster turnover. More than 30 players who wore the star entered the new league year as free agents, and Dallas has already seen a number of names sign with other teams, including Byron Jones, Robert Quinn, Maliek Collins, Jeff Heath, and Randall Cobb. Even future Hall of Fame tight end Jason Witten bid farewell (again) to join the Las Vegas Raiders. That’s not to say the Cowboys aren’t welcoming some of those free agents back. Emerging tight end Blake Jarwin, veteran linebacker Sean Lee, and fan favorite offensive lineman Joe Looney will all be returning, along with a few others.
However, one unexpected departure also comes with the retirement of center Travis Frederick. While making a miraculous return this past season after being diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome in 2018, the Cowboys’ Pro Bowl pivot made decision to leave the gridiron for life after football in March.
With a coaching staff, roster, and salary cap situation that will look markedly different in comparison to the last few years, knowing what to expect from the Cowboys moving forward is anyone’s guess. But, when it comes to the 2020 NFL Draft, I do feel like there are a few things becoming clear, which leads us to this exercise.
In this one and only edition of Drafting Dallas 2020, I’m assuming front office duties to mock draft the full seven rounds for the Cowboys using my DRAFTPLEX Board and the current official draft order. 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 and how I think the board could fall.
That all being said, let’s go on the clock with Drafting Dallas 2020.
Round 1 | Pick 17
K’Lavon Chaisson, EDGE, LSU
Effectively priced out of retaining defensive end Robert Quinn and cornerback Byron Jones—and doing virtually nothing thus far in terms of replacing them through free agency—the Cowboys would seem to be narrowing down their first-round draft considerations to the edge and the boundary. Should that hold true, their draft-night decision may come down to choosing between high-ceiling pass rusher K’Lavon Chaisson or toolsy cornerback C.J. Henderson. Given the relatively pedestrian edge class and the depth of the cornerback class by comparison, I gave the nod to Chaisson. The former LSU Tiger doesn’t come without questions, but his flashes are incredibly compelling and his upside as a potential game-wrecker is undeniable.
Most likely alternative:
C.J. Henderson, CB, Florida
Not expected to be there:
Javon Kinlaw, DL, South Carolina
Watch out for:
CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma
Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama
Round 2 | Pick 51
Noah Igbinoghene, CB, Auburn
Following the projected pick of Chaisson, I would expect the Cowboys to then lean in on finding a replacement for Byron Jones. While the cornerback room returns Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, and Anthony Brown, the experience and continuity that they bring back is offset by the reality that none reside at or expect to reach the CB1 level of their former teammate. The contracts of Awuzie and Lewis are also up following the 2020 season, increasing the urgency of reloading the position. Igbinoghene is far from a finished product as a pass defender, but his rapid development in just two years at the cornerback position and room for continued growth could make him a more intriguing option than some of his more battle-tested draft counterparts.
Most likely alternative:
Justin Madubuike, DL, Texas A&M
Not expected to be there:
Antoine Winfield Jr., S, Minnesota
Watch out for:
Trevon Diggs, CB, Alabama
Round 3 | Pick 82
Jason Strowbridge, DL, North Carolina
The Cowboys’ defensive line rotation expects to look a lot different this season compared to years past, with what appears to be a greater emphasis on size, strength, and pedigree and less reliance on the coaching staff squeezing every last ounce of talent and production out of late-round draft choices and unheralded free-agent finds. Look no further than the signings of former first-rounders Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe to man the interior. But even with those reinforcements, the nonexistent contribution from second-round selection Trysten Hill and the tentative return of veteran Tyrone Crawford from injured reserve could lead the Cowboys to look for more help. Strowbridge showed out during the pre-draft process and flashes starter-quality tools at strongside end along with the flex to reduce inside as a sub-package pass rusher.
Other possible options:
Troy Pride Jr., CB, Notre Dame
Devin Duvernay, WR, Texas
Round 4 | Pick 123
K.J. Hill, WR, Ohio State
With Amari Cooper signed and the emergence of Michael Gallup, the Cowboys are set on the outside at receiver. But, with veteran slot Randall Cobb moving on to Houston after a productive year in Dallas, the Cowboys are in need of a reliable receiving option to work underneath and across the middle. Hill leaves Ohio State as one of the most accomplished pass catchers in the program’s storied history, including being the holder of the school’s all-time record for receptions. If not for his average size and lack of a defining physical trait, he’d probably be off the board much earlier, but with his crafty route-running and ability to create separation, he should certainly be in the conversation to receive a call from Dallas early on Day 3.
Other possible options:
Michael Ojemudia, CB, Iowa
Quartney Davis, WR, Texas A&M
Round 5 | Pick 164
Josiah Deguara, TE, Cincinnati
After a year in retirement followed by one-season swansong in the silver and blue, Jason Witten and the Cowboys seem to have finally put each other in the rear-view mirror, at least in terms of his time as a player. Meanwhile, the tight end torch appears to be officially passed to Blake Jarwin, who should be a more featured part of the offense in 2020. Offseason acquisition Blake Bell also expects to figure into the active roster, likely as an in-line blocker. But, adding an H-back type like Deguara would provide an added dimension from the position for the Cowboys to work with in deploying their offense.
Round 5 | Pick 179 (compensatory)
Geno Stone, S, Iowa
The departure of the polarizing Jeff Heath coupled with the arrival of former first-round pick turned journeyman Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has the feeling of a break-even situation at safety where the front office is concerned. Between this and the team’s recent history of not investing significant resources into the position, I once again don’t expect the Cowboys to address the last line of defense early. That said, they could look later in the draft to bring in another name to add to a depth chart that also includes Xavier Woods, Darian Thompson, and Donovan Wilson. Stone is a scrappy, undersized defender with plus ball skills and play-making ability, and he carries a chip that could also help him make a name for himself on special teams.
Round 7 | Pick 231
Tanner Muse, LB, Clemson
The Cowboys love to draft linebackers and they love to draft from big-time programs. With 59 games logged for a perennial NCAA powerhouse, Tanner Muse certainly fits that bill. Not really thought of much as a prospect coming into the pre-draft process, a strong showing at the NFL Scouting Combine has put Muse firmly in consideration for a late-round selection. Likely transitioning from college safety to NFL linebacker, his in to a roster spot would expect to be as a core special teamer as he works to do more than just round out the linebacker depth chart.
Validated using the DRAFTPLEX Board with the Fanspeak On The Clock Mock Draft Simulator