Dallas Cowboys Draft: A first round of questions

After not having a first round pick in the 2019 NFL draft, the Dallas Cowboys’ first pick will be at number 17 overall. In need of defensive play makers, the Cowboys will have plenty of options available to choose from, but which position makes the most sense?

After a season of mediocre defensive play, Dallas Cowboys fans are wanting some overhaul on the defensive side of the ball. (As evidenced by the comments to my recent mock draft, which wasn’t meant to be taken seriously at all) That overhaul starts with free agency, but it eventually works its way to the draft.

Drafting in the middle of the first round means the team is in a good position to get some starter level talent and possibly a Pro-Bowl talent if the draft ends up in utter chaos at the top of the order. There is no shortage of starting level talent in this year’s draft on the defensive side fo the ball.

Names like Javon Kinlaw, Grant Delpit, Xavier McKinney, K’Lavon Chaisson, Kristian Fulton, and Jeff Gladney will appear in mock drafts from now until Day 1. However, considering positional value and player grades, which position will make the most sense to draft at 17?

Defensive Tackle:

The current defensive tackles under contract are Tyrone Crawford and Trysten Hill; Crawford wasn’t playing tackle on a majority of his snaps this season. The odds of the Cowboys bringing back Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods, and Christian Covington together aren’t very likely, and it is probably for good reason. (Nothing against the players individually, but collectively they struggled to generate interior pressure and stop the run up the middle)

With a new coaching staff in town, the coaching staff will definitely look to infuse some different talent on the line as they look to get away from the undersized and quick tackles to “big boi” tackles. The question is, how will they get their talent?

The expectation is the Cowboys want a starting defensive tackle. How many starting defensive tackles are in the draft? Maybe two, Derrick Brown from Auburn and Javon Kinlaw from South Carolina. Neville Gallimore from Oklahoma could find himself starting at some point, but questions regarding his strength and body control will contribute to a greater learning curve and a lower draft position.

It feels like a forgone conclusion that Brown will be selected in the top 10. As the days pass, it seems as if Kinlaw will not be available at 17 even with lingering injury concerns because his film is just that good. If both of these things were to happen it clearly wouldn’t make sense for the Cowboys to reach on a prospect like Gallimore or even Ross Blacklock from TCU just to fill a scheme fit. After all, that is what they did last year!

If either fall though, I expect the Cowboys will race to get the name of either to the commissioner before another team convinces them of doing anything.

EDGE rusher:

You can never have enough pass rushers, or so I have been told. With DeMarcus Lawrence currently the only starter under contract, this could not be more applicable to the Cowboys. Robert Quinn is a free agent, however, if there is no certainty he would return for a few reasons.

Reason A: New scheme

Rod Marinelli loved Quinn’s skill set and it was easy to see why. Quinn is extremely explosive and his ability to bend at his size is something truly unique. It goes without saying, that was what Marinelli wanted. Is that what Mike Nolan and Jim Tomsula want at their edge position?

Quinn’s speed and bend were great for pass rushing, but as a run stopper he was fairly mediocre. Quinn wasn’t in high demand even if he was an elite pass rusher because his size and game didn’t translate to other 4-3 base schemes. Remember, all it took was a sixth round pick to snatch Quinn from the Dolphins and the only other team interested in Quinn’s services were the New Orleans Saints.

Reason B: Contract

This point would contradict the “he isn’t in demand” claim, but given how much Dallas will need to allocate for the contracts of Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, and other free agents, Quinn may not fit in the payroll. Last season he was owed $8 million and his contract should only go up in value.

WIthout Quinn, the Cowboys would have the opportunity to find a player they want in free agency and in the draft. If they want to find a starting caliber player in the first round, the prospects would include Chase Young from Ohio State, K’Lavon Chaisson from LSU, AJ Epenesa from Iowa, and potentially Zack Baun from Wisconsin. (Baun isn’t an edge but could be a jack-of-all-trades type linebacker that Nolan’s scheme might place an extra emphasis on)

There is no question that Chase Young will not be a Dallas Cowboys, however, there is a possibility with the other three players. Chaisson is super athletic and should test well at the combine. While a developing pass rusher, he is currently an excellent run stopper. AJ Epenesa would provide some versatility as an edge and a defensive tackle and has been productive in college as a pass rusher and run stopper. The same could be said with Baun who was asked to play everywhere in Wisconsin’s 3-4 base scheme.

If any of these three are on the board, I expect Dallas to do their due diligence and draft one of these three. However, there is one position that could change their mind…

Cornerback:

Bet you weren’t expecting that! Since the Cowboys drafted Trysten Hill over Juan Thornhill and Taylor Rapp, safety is on Cowboys fans’ minds. Hate to break the news, but the Cowboys cornerback situation is about to get really murky.

The rumor that Byron Jones is expecting to depart the organization is starting to gain more traction and that isn’t good news. Jones has been a shutdown corner for the last two years and has been the most consistent corner on the team without any doubt. Throw in Anthony Brown’s possible departure and now the team now has a hole the size of two cornerbacks.

This draft is loaded with starting caliber cornerbacks, which include but are not limited to: Jeffrey Okudah, Kristian Fulton, Jeff Gladney, Damon Arnette, CJ Henderson, and Noah Igbinoghene.  Okudah is currently the only cornerback expected to go in the top 10, and there aren’t many cornerback needy teams from 10 to 17, which gives the Cowboys the opportunity to draft someone they feel is a future star cornerback.

The only question now is whether there is value in drafting a cornerback this early as opposed to an edge rusher? Based on what we expect to happen in the near future, I’d have to say yes.

The Cowboys will have more holes in the secondary, specifically at cornerback, than they will at defensive end. Considering this is a relatively weak edge rushing class, if the team feels there is a cornerback that is as good or slightly worse of a prospect than a competing edge rusher, the team would see the value in selecting the cornerback.

Are there more cornerbacks later in the draft? Yes. Does anyone know how the draft will fall? No.

This seems pretty simple. If a cornerback you like is on the board, he’s your pick at 17.

Safety:

Nope.

There are three higher priorities listed above that the Cowboys should consider before drafting a safety. If it gets to the point where safety brings the best value, the team would best be served trading back in the draft a few spots to accumulate some draft capital and then draft a safety.

Why so stern though? Finding the right talent on the defensive line can help a lackluster safety group. Even a strong group of safeties cannot overcome the least effective pass rushers. (Ask the Seattle Seahawks)

For that matter, having a shut down corner is more important than a play making safety because not having to worry about receivers breaking away from cornerbacks allows safeties to be creative and affect the game in other aspects.

This isn’t to say the first round prospects aren’t good. Xavier McKinney, Grant Delpit, and Antoine Winfield Jr are expected to translate well to the next level. But because of the nature of the position, their games are partly dependent on other people doing their jobs.

To recap:

The positions of highest priority for the Cowboys in the first round are as follows.

  1. Defensive Tackle
  2. Cornerback
  3. Edge rusher
  4. Safety

Given how the board is expected to fall, I expect the Cowboys to make their selection in this order.

  1. Edge Rusher
  2. Cornerback
  3. Defensive Tackle
  4. Safety
Next: PFF discusses Dallas Cowboys Free Agents

Alright, good talk!

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