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.