The Dallas Cowboys 13-3 season comes to an end and now the focus shifts to the offseason, here are five potential first-round targets in the 2017 NFL Draft.
It’s tough to watch the playoffs after your team gets eliminated, and even tougher when your team had the No. 1 seed. Thankfully for Dallas Cowboys fans instead of sitting back and hearing even more about how awesome the teams left are, you can focus on the future.
Article continues below ...
Thanks to the 2016 draft class, that future looks bright. Dallas hit home runs with their first, third, one of their fourths and sixth round picks. They still also have high hopes for their second round pick and another fourth-round selection who spent the season on IR.
Of course that first round pick was running back Ezekiel Elliott, who won the NFL rushing title easily. The third-rounder was defensive tackle Maliek Collins, who had five sacks from his interior spot and the fourth-round pick was their new face of the franchise quarterback, Dak Prescott. In the sixth they also got another potential starter in cornerback Anthony Brown, who went toe-to-toe with some of the best and held his ground.
As for their injured players, second round pick Jaylon Smith was afforded a redshirt season. The Boys drafted the Notre Dame linebacker knowing he would need time to recover from a knee injury and subsequent nerve damage, but he was a top-five talent when healthy. They also saw some training camp flashes from fourth-rounder Charles Tapper at defensive end before a back injury ended his year.
To continue to build their way back to being a perennial threat, Dallas needs to hit again in this draft, starting with another solid first round pick. Here are five guys they could target to improve their franchise.
With both cornerbacks Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr set for free agency Dallas may need to find some youth in the draft. Claiborne has played well in spurts, but struggles mightily in the health department. Carr has missed zero games in his whole career but was making more money than the team was comfortable paying him.
If either of the two come back, it’s most likely Carr due to his dependability. Even so, they would need to start an infusion of youth thanks to Carr being over 30-years old and fellow starter Orlando Scandrick turning 30 in February.
Enter Washington cornerback Sidney Jones. Although most boards have him listed behind corners like Teez Tabor of Florida, Jones entered 2016 high on the radar of many, including NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks who had him as the top ball hawk in the nation in August of 2016.
I believe he has the tools, competitiveness, instincts and IQ to be a “shutdown” playmaker as a pro. Jones exhibits rare polish for a young corner. He mixes in a variety of techniques (press, bail and off) in coverage, yet is rarely out of position when the ball is thrown in his area.
At 6-0 and 180 pounds, Jones has excellent size for the position and would be a Day 1 starter. He had eight career interceptions in three seasons for Washington, which would be very welcome in Dallas where turnovers never come easy.
Sticking with defense here, for obvious reasons, we head to Michigan where their taco loving defensive end waits to hear his name called. Vidauntae “Taco” Charlton is a lengthy player at 6-6 and 272 pounds. He is tall enough to get his hands high to harass quarterbacks even when he is blocked, and heavy enough to hold up against the run.
He was a four-year player for Michigan, and improved every season while playing there. He had 19 career sacks, with 10 of those coming in his senior season for the Wolverines. Charlton is a talented athlete, who also has a basketball background and could be a huge help to a much maligned Dallas defensive line.
With their top sack artist in 2016 being Benson Mayowa, Dallas needs some help. Charlton uses his incredible athleticism to create a burst at the snap of the ball, but is still strong enough to push defenders back. He has also worked hard at developing his pass rush moves, evidenced by him more than doubling his career sack totals in his senior season.
Working with defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli would be just the thing Charlton needed in order to develop those skills even further and become a force at the next level.
Offense may not be the main area of need for Dallas, and fans may hate this pick given the lack of use they have gotten out of tight ends not named Jason Witten in years. Unfortunately, picking late in the 20’s means the options are limited and Alabama tight end O.J. Howard could be the best available player.
There’s also a need to get someone ready to fill in for their reliable starter in Witten, as father time is catching up to him. While his ability to go over the middle of the field and secure grabs is still there, Dallas got a brutal reminder of what it means to have a tight end capable for getting deep on defenses. In their loss to Green Bay, tight end Jared Cook made an amazing deep catch to put the Packers in position to win the game. While Witten is great, he won’t be making any athletic, sliding catches anytime soon.
This is where developing a 6-6, 251-pound rookie comes in. Howard pulled in 45 receptions for 595 yards and had three touchdowns for the Crimson Tide in 2016. He showed that he is a solid route runner with good hands, but most importantly he is an all-around player.
Howard had the luxury of being part of a pro style offense that loves to run the ball, much like Dallas. He is a willing blocker and has no problems clearing the way for running backs, then going out for passes when asked as well.
Again we return to the secondary. This group has been picked on for years, but then when players leave they suddenly look better. Terence Newman is still going strong nearing 40 years of age, Sterling Moore found some play in New Orleans and Terrance Mitchell played well for the Kansas City Chiefs.
So why do they all stink in Dallas? To answer that, you have to look at what’s in front of them. The Cowboys’ front seven has been awful at getting pressure, which has led to their corners having to cover way too long. Which means they need pass rush. Yet here they pick a corner?
That’s because they do still need to fill this position as well, and it could very well be that the best pass rushers are gone by the time Dallas is on the clock. If that is the case, cornerback Marshon Lattimore would be their second-straight Ohio State first round pick and would also be a good choice.
Lattimore has played in the bright lights at OSU and has no issues in such situations. At 6-0 and 190-pounds he has great size to match up with NFL receivers. However, he lacks experience. He was not a starter until 2016, and has just 11 starts and 16 games played. In those starts he was impressive, recording 41 tackles and four interceptions his final season in Columbus.
The last option to look at here is once again on the defensive side, and once again a pass rusher. Now, looking back over recent years, Dallas has addressed their offensive line, wide receiver, cornerback, safety and running back in the first round. What they keep putting off is defensive line. While there is some talent there, they keep taking second-round picks with question marks like Demarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory. It’s time to treat their D-line like their O-line and simply rebuild.
One guy to help do just that would be Stanford defensive end Solomon Thomas. At 6-3, Thomas is a little shorter than most would like at defensive end, but he is a stout 275 pounds and plays great against the run and the pass. After his dominant performance against North Carolina in the Sun Bowl, Thomas drew some praise from Rob Rang of CBS Sports and CBS commentator Gary Danielson.
The 6-foot-3, 275-pound Thomas was virtually unblockable throughout the entire game, disrupting the Trubisky and the Tar Heels’ rushing attack with a combination of initial quickness and explosive hand use that earned a comparison to Rams star defensive tackle Aaron Donald from CBS color commentator Gary Danielson.
Like Donald, Thomas could rise up draft boards fast and get out of Dallas’ reach. The one thing that may still keep him around until the Cowboys pick is his inexperience. Thomas played in just two seasons for the Cardinals and had just 3.5 sacks in 2015. He came on in 2016, recording 8.5 sacks and 14 tackles for a loss. If he falls to Dallas, though, Thomas would be an instant starter.