With free agency now in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to take another look at the type of haul the Dallas Cowboys could put together during the 2017 NFL Draft.
It’s been an interesting start to the offseason for the Dallas Cowboys, a team that didn’t make as much noise as expected during 2017 NFL Free Agency. With a number of needs still to be addressed, it’s time to turn their attention to the 2017 NFL Draft.
At this moment, the Cowboys have seven picks with which to improve their roster. Coming off a 13-3 campaign that ended anticlimactically, they can’t afford to miss on too many of them if they want the 2017 season to yield similar results. However, with the way the draft went a year ago, it’s easy to imagine Dallas walking away with another exceptional class.
So what can we expect from the Cowboys when April 27 rolls around? It’s absolutely going to get interesting quickly, especially with the team desperately needing to answer a few lingering questions.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at how Dallas could spend their picks with this seven-round mock draft. Keep in mind that the main focus of this exercise is to pinpoint the Cowboys’ areas of need while commenting on the stock of the mentioned prospects.
Note: The Cowboys traded their fifth-round pick (No. 171) to the Buffalo Bills in exchange for Matt Cassel and a seventh-round pick (No. 228).
It’s a good thing the 2017 draft class is loaded with edge rushing talent, because it’s still the Cowboys biggest need at this point. The Dallas defense absolutely must get better at pressuring opposing quarterbacks if the team is planning another trip to the playoffs.
There should be a number of options still on the board at No. 28 overall. However, I’m particularly fond of Tarrakist McKinley, who seems to have the upside to develop into a player capable of producing double-digit sacks on an annual basis.
The UCLA product displays excellent burst and athleticism off the edge. Although there are some concerns about his size and ability to play the run, McKinley has all of the tools you want in an edge rusher. I’m sure getting into an NFL workout program would help him put on some weight and add strength.
Potential suitors will be wary of McKinley’s ability to hang as a true defensive end. With some work, though, it seems very likely he’ll be able to add enough muscle to help overcome any deficiencies with his explosiveness and ridiculous athleticism. The sky is the limit for the former Bruin, especially on a rising team like the Cowboys.
Heading into the offseason, one of the Cowboys’ top needs was cornerback. Then, after losing both Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne to free agency, the position is a glaring hole with limited starting-caliber talent and depth available at this moment.
The guys atop the depth chart right now are Orlando Scandrick and Anthony Brown. Both are capable playmakers, but Scandrick can’t seem to stay healthy and Brown is only a sophomore. The addition of Nolan Carroll will help, but it’s only a start. More quality talent is needed before Week 1 of the 2017 campaign arrives.
Chidobe Awuzie makes a ton of sense at the end of the second round. The Colorado product possesses an impressive mix of size, athleticism and instincts. Although there are some concerns about his aggressiveness and strength at the point of attack, he’s more than capable of being an impact player in the secondary.
The former Buffalo star still has some growing and learning to do, but looks like a starter in the making. If he can get stronger and gain more confidence against the run, we could see him emerge as a prominent piece of the Dallas pass defense in the very near future.
The Cowboys were dealt a significant blow this offseason with the retirement of Doug Free, their starting right tackle. He’s held down the job since 2010, and now leaves one of the NFL’s top offensive lines without its stable veteran presence on the right side.
Chaz Green has already been mentioned as a potential replacement, but hasn’t shown much through two seasons while routinely battling injuries. He’s coming off back surgery and will need to get healthy before he can push for the top spot on the depth chart. That’s why it makes sense for the Cowboys to target someone such as Roderick Johnson during the draft.
At one point in time, Johnson was considered a potential first-round pick. However, after an average 2016 campaign, his stock is clearly on the decline. Still, the physical tools are there for him to bounce back and develop into a capable contributor in the NFL.
Johnson spent most of his career at Florida State on the left side. Based on what we’ve seen in the last year, though, he may not have the athleticism or footwork to handle the blindside. A move to right tackle to compete with Green for the starting job seems like a good opportunity for him.
The Cowboys already added one former Buffalo to the equation, so why not another? This offseason, Dallas has lost two safeties to free agency. Both J.J. Wilcox and Barry Church left for greener pastures, leaving the team rather thin on the backend of the secondary. Byron Jones is an exceptional starter, but relying on Jeff Heath to hold down the strong safety spot isn’t ideal.
Adding Tedric Thompson to the mix would be a step in the right direction, though. The Colorado product is a fast riser who has turned a lot of heads with his athleticism and ball skills.
While Awuzie is a more refined talent who can step in and contribute immediately, Thompson is a little more raw. Although he has plenty of experience and the physical tools to go with it, he’s still improving on the finer points of his game. The playmaking abilities and knack for creating turnovers, though, are off the charts.
Grabbing Thompson in the fourth round is a gamble. Some folks see him as mid-round talent, while others don’t see him coming off the board until the seventh round. In this situation, though, I believe he fills a need for the Cowboys with the potential to develop into a quality starter.
Right now, the Cowboys have a solid set of linebackers. Especially if Jaylon Smith can see the field in 2017, the linebacker position should be one of the stronger groups for this Dallas squad. More depth, however, could help this team’s chances this upcoming season.
Smith is still an unknown at this point. Sean Lee is coming off an amazing season, but is rather injury prone. Damien Wilson is currently penciled in as the starter on the weak side, but even he has his fair share of limitations. Put simply, the Cowboys need more options at linebacker moving forward.
If you like overachievers, look no further than Connor Harris. The small-school product out of Lindenwood has all of the traits coaches love to see in players—an unparalleled work ethic on and off the field, excellent leadership skills and the smarts to make up for his physical limitations. It’s all there for him to develop into a worthy part of an NFL roster. The NCAA-record 633 tackles he notched in college are also exciting.
Unfortunately, his lack of prototypical speed, size and strength will keep him from ever being an exceptional starter. Still, if he can continue to hone his skills, there’s no reason to believe he couldn’t provide outstanding value as an occasional starter and special teams superstar.
The drafting of Awuzie was a great start. It gives the Cowboys another starting-caliber talent who can provide support to a defense that could definitely use it. However, I don’t think Dallas should be done there—more depth is needed before the regular season arrives.
It’s not like the Cowboys can rely on players like Leon McFadden and Sammy Seamster to provide quality depth in 2017. Instead, Dallas needs to target a late-round prospect with the upside and attributes needed to develop into a playmaker. Enter Sojourn Shelton, an intriguing prospect from Wisconsin.
The Badgers’ former cover man may not be a star in the making, but he was productive during his college career. Last season, he racked up 30 tackles, 12 passes defended and four interceptions. The film showed a tough, scrappy cornerback who uses his athleticism and football IQ to get between the receiver and the pigskin.
The problem is Shelton’s size. He currently measures in at 5-9, 177 pounds, which is far below the ideal for cornerbacks in today’s NFL. We saw how he struggled against bigger receivers—just watch Cotton Bowl performance against Corey Davis. However, with his instincts and awareness in coverage, I believe he could develop into a capable subpackage cornerback for Dallas.
We all know the Cowboys are set at quarterback, at least atop the depth chart. However, with Tony Romo likely to be shown the door sometime in the near future, Dallas needs to add some more capable arms to the roster.
Chances are they’ll re-sign either Kellen Moore or Mark Sanchez at some point to provide depth behind Dak Prescott. With Romo still on the roster, though, there’s only so much cap space to maneuver with. Even if they do bring one of the two aforementioned veterans back, they could also draft a developmental talent.
Hence, the selection of Cooper Rush near the end of the seventh round. There are plenty of intriguing options under center available during the 2017 NFL Draft. The former Central Michigan star, however, seems like a decent candidate to spend the next few years honing his skills as the Cowboys’ No. 3 quarterback.
Rush offers ideal athleticism and mental toughness for the position. The arm talent, though, may never be enough. If he were to land in Dallas, he’d be able to learn and grow behind Prescott and a veteran, giving him the opportunity to potentially develop into a solid No. 2 or No. 3 quarterback in a few years.