It’s no secret the Dallas Cowboys need help on defense, and this seven-round 2017 NFL Mock Draft does all it can to provide that much needed help
All the news this offseason seems to be about what the Dallas Cowboys don’t have. They don’t have many cornerbacks left after losing Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne to the Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets. They also don’t have many safeties after losing Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
They also never had a trading partner for quarterback Tony Romo — who eventually retired. More things they don’t have include a pass rusher and much depth at linebacker. While all that is true, the negative tone ignores what the Cowboys do have.
This is a team on the rise. They have one of the best offensive lines in the league featuring four first-round picks in Travis Frederick at center, Tyron Smith at tackle, Zack Martin at guard and Jonathan Cooper, who was picked seventh overall by the Cardinals in 2013, as their main interior player off the bench. They also have the NFL’s leading rusher from a season ago in Ezekiel Elliott and the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in quarterback Dak Prescott.
So for as much as Dallas needs, they still find themselves in a really good spot. All the key pieces from their 13-3 run last season are in tact and the 2017 NFL Draft can help them build on what may have been the best draft class in team history just one season ago. This mock draft will try and predict just what the Cowboys will do when they finally are on the clock this year.
Mar 5, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Wisconsin Badgers linebacker T.J. Watt goes through workout drills during the 2017 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Round 1, Pick 28: T.J. Watt, DE – Wisconsin
This is a tough choice because both Wisconsin defensive end/outside linebacker T.J. Watt and UCLA defensive end/outside linebacker Takkarist McKinley could be on the board when Dallas makes their choice in Round 1. Neither choice would be wrong as both played exceptionally well in breakout seasons during 2016.
The deciding factors, though, are upside and health. Watt recorded 11.5 sacks last season for the Badgers, which was impressive on its own. Making it more impressive is that he did so just two years after switching over from tight end. If he was able to make such a leap in just a couple of seasons, imagine how much more he can grow once NFL coaches work with him.
Health is reason number two the Cowboys take Watt over McKinley in this mock draft. While McKinley never exhibited an injury history for the Bruins, he is currently recovering from shoulder surgery. With Dallas still worried about Jaylon Smith’s knee, they may very well be scared off from drafting anyone with any type of pre-existing injury — especially with their first selection.
No matter which way they go, it seems apparent that Dallas is going to address their needs on defense. For years the most glaring has been edge rusher and until it gets fixed they will struggle in other ares on defense as well. With this draft loaded at the position, they take advantage and get themselves a stud here to build around.
Nov 19, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Washington Huskies defensive back Kevin King (20) intercepts a pass intended for Arizona State Sun Devils wide receiver N’Keal Harry (1) during the second quarter at Husky Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports
Round 2, Pick 60: Kevin King, CB – Washington
Talk has been growing lately of Washington cornerback Kevin King becoming a first round selection. When looking at measurables alone, it makes sense. King is incredibly tall for the position at 6-3 and isn’t one of those lengthy-thin corners either as he weighed in at 200 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Despite those measurables and a 4.43-second time in the 40-yard dash, King just doesn’t appear to be a first-round pick — at least not in 2017. There are entirely too many corners rated ahead of him for King to suddenly go from the second best corner on Washington (behind the now injured Sidney Jones) to one of the opening round choices.
Players like Marshon Lattimore of Ohio State, Marlon Humphrey of Alabama and Tre’Davious White of LSU are all ranked higher by most experts. Many include another Ohio State corner ahead of him in Gareon Conley as well as USC’s Adoree’ Jackson, who excites people because of his amazing skills as a return man in addition to playing corner.
There’s simply too many good defensive backs to see King going as high as he is suddenly being projected. However if he does, that means Dallas could go another direction like with Clemson’s Cordrea Tankersley, Colorado’s Chidobe Awuzie or Florida’s Quincy Wilson. Simply put if the Cowboys don’t get Kevin King with pick No. 60 as projected here, they will still land a starting corner if they so desire.
Sep 5, 2015; Evanston, IL, USA; Northwestern Wildcats linebacker Anthony Walker (18) celebrates after recovering a fumble during the first half against the Stanford Cardinal at Ryan Field. Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports
Round 3, Pick 92: Anthony Walker, LB – Northwestern
With their third round pick, the Dallas Cowboys keep addressing defense. This time they go for a player who can help fill a position of need, while also protecting them should a previous gamble fail to pay off. As mentioned earlier, the team isn’t 100 percent certain former Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith will be healthy when the season starts. Or ever really. There are issues with nerve damage in his knee and Dallas is already thin at the position.
Sean Lee was a Pro Bowl player a season ago, and the hope is one day Smith can be. If so, great. If not, maybe Northwestern’s Anthony Walker can take his place. The middle linebacker for the Wildcats recorded 120 tackles in 2015 and another 105 in 2016. He was able to produce for a talented defense in a good conference.
Walker has excellent awareness and his instincts are above average. He may need some time to develop into the player he has the potential to be, but won’t be a liability if pressed into starting duty as a rookie.
If Smith does become the player they envisioned, then Walker becomes part of an amazing trio of linebackers. If not, Dallas has ensured they will have two solid starters along with some experienced options in Damien Wilson and Anthony Hitchens for their third starter.
Sep 5, 2015; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive lineman Isaac Rochell (90) rushes the quarterback against the Texas Longhorns at Notre Dame Stadium. Notre Dame defeats Texas 38-3. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Round 4, Pick 133: Isaac Rochell, DT – Notre Dame
The Dallas Cowboys like to use a heavy rotation with their defensive linemen. That means they need lots of numbers. A guy like Isaac Rochell could help them out in their efforts to keep players fresh, even though he isn’t necessarily a three-down lineman.
At 6-4 and 280 pounds, Rochell fits inside at tackle for the Cowboys and would help ease the loss of defensive tackle Terrell McClain, who left for the Washington Redskins. McClain’s primary job was that of a run stuffer, which is what they can expect out of Rochell.
Lunch-pail player from a blue-collar background whose effort and motor will make him a favorite of coaches he plays for. What Rochell offers in effort, he lacks as a skilled pass rusher, and his inability to get after the quarterback will create a difficult challenge for him. While his best fit might be a 3-4 defensive end, he could be viewed as rotational defensive lineman with little to no third-down value. Rochell has third-day draft value with eventual starter potential if he can sharpen his pass-rush tools.
A captain during his senior season, Rochell notched 166 career tackles including 21 for a loss. He recorded just 4.5 sacks in four seasons, with his career high for a season being 2.5. He won’t offer much as a pass rusher, but that doesn’t mean he won’t find some worth.
Sep 10, 2015; Bowling Green, KY, USA; Western Kentucky Hilltoppers running back Leon Allen (33) is stopped by Louisiana Tech Bulldogs safety Xavier Woods (7) down the field during the first half at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joshua Lindsey-USA TODAY Sports
Round 6, Pick 211: Xavier Woods, S – Louisiana Tech
While many would hope to see safety addressed earlier, the Cowboys may not feel as desperate about the situation. They spent a first-round pick back in 2015 on Byron Jones, which gives them a talented starter at one of the two spots. If they don’t find anyone they like in the draft, they’re looking at Jeff Heath or Kavon Frazier for the second starting spot.
Heath seems to be the favorite, and really isn’t a bad choice. He’s one of those players that knows his job and is always where he’s supposed to be. He isn’t spectacular but he did nearly save the Cowboys playoffs when he picked off Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers twice. The second one was called back thanks to a penalty by corner Anthony Brown, but it highlighted Heath’s ability to take advantage of opportunities.
What Dallas can do instead of panicking and reaching for a player is trust Heath and Frazier while building depth. A player they can target in that regard is Louisiana Tech’s Xavier Woods. The three-time first-team All-Conference USA safety was a ballhawk for the Bulldogs. He recorded 14 interceptions, all over the past three seasons.
He will need to know when to rein in his attacks on the ball as a pro, since the talent level will be higher, but Woods has all the tools you want in a safety.
The last time the Dallas Cowboys had a punt return for touchdown was in 2013 when Dwayne Harris ran one back. Rookie running back Felix Jones had their last kickoff return for a touchdown way back in 2008.
It’s understandable that they didn’t want to pay Harris the kind of money he earned from the New York Giants to leave in free agency in 2015, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t address their issues at returner. Their primary return man the past two seasons has been wide receiver Lucky Whitehead. But with him failing to score a touchdown in two seasons, it could be time to get another weapon there. That’s where Georgia’s Isaiah McKenzie comes in.
The underclassmen returned five punts for touchdowns while averaging 11.7 yards per run back. He added another score as a kickoff returner in his freshman season when he averaged more than 28 yards per return. He hardly returned kicks the past two seasons, but that doesn’t mean he can’t still do the job.
While McKenzie’s arrival could signal the end of Whitehead, there would be concern regarding Whitehead’s ability to stretch a defense in his role as a receiver taking jet sweeps. In two seasons, Whitehead has 20 rushes for 189 yards. McKenzie could be a weapon there as well as the Bulldogs used him as a running back and receiver. He had seven touchdowns receiving while averaging 14.4 yards per catch and added 134 yards rushing and two more scores.
Dec 17, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; San Diego State Aztecs running back Donnel Pumphrey (19) carries the ball past Houston Cougars defensive end Jerard Carter (52) during the 25th Las Vegas Bowl at Sam Boyd Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Round 7, Pick 246: Donnel Pumphrey, RB – San Diego State
With their final pick in this mock draft, the Dallas Cowboys select San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey. The running back is undersized at 5-8 and 176 pounds, but was a production machine in college.
Pumphrey went for 6,405 yards and 62 touchdowns in four seasons, including a remarkable 2,133 yards and 17 touchdowns in his final year. He was also a weapon running receiving routes out of the backfield bringing in 99 receptions for 1,039 yards and five touchdowns.
Obviously the first thing that comes to mind with a player like Pumphrey in Dallas is Lance Dunbar. The former third-down back was a weapon out of the backfield catching passes, but he left in free agency. Now a member of the Los Angeles Rams, Dunbar’s role needs to be replaced. Pumphrey could be the perfect candidate.
Of course, the goal would be to never have to take Ezekiel Elliott off the field. Their starting running back is an every-down guy, but behind him Dallas has two veteran backs in Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris. They make up arguably the best trio in the NFL as all have topped the 1,000-yard mark recently in the NFL. However, Dallas can use some youth and the speed and pass catching skills of Pumphrey are incredibly tempting.