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Cowboys 2018 NFL Draft big board: Athletic LB, Dez replacements, defensive tackle are the best options

Since the two great moves they made during the 2012 off-season exploded in their faces, the Dallas Cowboys have operated a little differently. They have largely avoided free agent signings, preferring not to burn with another Brandon Carr. They have also been reluctant to sacrifice additional selections to advance on Day 1 of the NFL Draft, not wanting to end up with another Morris Claiborne. Instead, they have filled the gaps in the list with low and medium-price veterans, and stayed or changed to select who they consider the "best player available" on the day of the draft.

Dallas has mismanaged its top position in other ways, dealing great deals to players who proved not to be worth it, cutting ties with veterans and leaving a lot of dead money in the books, but the Cowboys anticipated the draft strategy Round has worked very well very well. His last five first-round picks are Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Byron Jones, Ezekiel Elliott and Taco Charlton. Three of those players are among the best players in their position in the entire league. Jones is a solid starter in the defensive backfield and Charlton was strong in the final stretch of last season after a slow start.

The Cowboys stayed the course this offseason, making some low-level signings (Allen Hurns, Deonte Thompson, Cameron Fleming, Marcus Martin, Kony Ealy, etc.) while other teams with quarterbacks in rookie deals (hello, Eagles and Rams) did everything possible to add talent to compete with the best teams in the league. And that was before the Cowboys suddenly parted with their best wide receiver, Dez Bryant, last week.

After free agency, the Cowboys do not necessarily have any major roster rosters, but they do have an obvious need for high level talent in various positions.

The receiving corps of Hurns, Thompson, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Ryan Switzer and Noah Brown is not scaring anyone, for example. Dallas has Maliek Collins as a solid defensive tackle and David Irving is a versatile weapon on the whole line, but they can really use someone else who can generate a push through the middle, especially against the race. With Byron Jones on the corner, they could add a safety that can push Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier and Jeff Heath to play time. With Sean Lee there by age and seemingly always injured, Anthony Hitchens left for Kansas City, and Jaylon Smith remains largely a question mark by the third year, linebacker is also a necessity. And, of course, given the relative struggles of the offensive line last season, a solid left guard or right tackle (pushing La & Collins back to the position he played during his first two years in the league) either it would hurt you.

In the space below, we will analyze the nine main options for the Cowboys in the first round, as well as two possible exchange scenarios that might make sense if the players fall more than expected. Let's start with the exchanges, followed by the big board (with the order dictated by the way we believe that the Cowboys themselves will value the players, not where they would be on a great standard board of the entire league).

Reconversion Objectives

Derwin James, S, State of Florida; Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB / S, Alabama

It's hard to think of a player who would help the Cowboys defense more than James. He is perfect to help cover all his weaknesses in the back-end, and his flexibility to be able to cover himself high, in the box, in the slot, and even against closed wings, would give Rod Marinelli a balm for many problems who have plagued their pass defense in the last two seasons. With the new defensive backs coach and passing game coordinator Kris Richard, who has extensive experience working with Earl Thomas, James would position himself in an excellent position for long-term success in the passing game. It helps that he is an excellent athlete with exceptional jumps and change of direction marks, given the value that the Cowboys give to those athletic features for defensive backs.

Fitzpatrick is not as perfect as James, but his versatility would be extremely valuable to a Dallas team that has a pair of hybrid defenses already in Jones, Woods and Chidobe Awuzie. Matching those four players with the slot corner Jourdan Lewis would give the Cowboys an extremely versatile defensive field full of long, strong athletes who can make plays all over the field.

Big board

1. Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State

Vander Esch has been going up on the recruitment boards lately, with the combination of his excellent season at Boise State and even better numbers of athletic events on the combine that gives him the aspect of a potential elite linebacker prospect. As the Cowboys blog, Blogging the Boys, points out, Vander Esch is what the Cowboys would consider a "Quadrant" player, which means they have above-average athletic test numbers and an above-average production ratio. He is one of four linebackers out of the ball in the draft.


Blogging the kids

With Hitchens playing for the Chiefs, Lee approaching the end of his Cowboys tenure, and Smith possibly more apt to play the SAM linebacker position than MIKE, Vander Esch would be a valuable long-term piece for a Dallas defense that urgently needs some more impact players.

2. Will Hernandez, G, UTEP

The Cowboys are never afraid to pile on a fortress to improve their team. They did it when they took Travis Frederick and Zack Martin in the first round, and when they made it a priority to sign Collins as an unselected free agent. They even thought they did it by taking Ezekiel Elliott with the No. 4 overall two years ago, thinking it would help restore the most dominant running game in the league behind the best offensive line in football. That worked very well for Dallas in 2016, but the line took a step back last season after Doug Free retired, Ronald Leary left the free agency, Collins slipped to tackle and the duo Chaz Green / Jonathan Cooper took the spot of left guard. Altering Hernandez between Frederick and Tyron Smith on the left side of the line would do the Cowboys a lot of good, which would allow them to return to the teams running to the left side of the formation.

3. DJ. Moore, WR, Maryland

The last wide receiver that the Cowboys selected before the third round was Bryant in 2010. Before that, it was Antonio Bryant in 2002. To put that in perspective , note that Dallas had at least one wide receiver in the first two rounds of the draft during four of Jerry Jones' first five turns as owner, and that was after taking Michael Irvin in the first round of the year before Jones I would take charge. With Dez gone and Williams and Beasley probably in their final year with the team, the Cowboys will surely look for another receiver in the first two rounds. The bet here is that they like Moore better, largely because of how well their skill set would combine with Dak Prescott.

Moore stands out for creating a quick and early separation, the most important thing that Prescott needs to recover his 2016 success. The fact that Moore is a magician with the ball in his hands would also help the Cowboys create the kind of shocking plays that his passing game had lost most of last season. Between his frame (6 feet and 210 pounds), athletics (the second among the WRs eligible for draft in SPARQ), and the adjustment of the scheme, makes more sense among several high-quality receiver options that the Cowboys could take from the beginning.

4. Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU

Sutton is a very different player than Moore, but it would bring many of the same advantages to the Dallas offense. He would use a combination of size (6-3, 218) and athleticism (sixth in SPARQ) as opposed to Moore's ability and the ability to run after capture, but Sutton is almost as good at creating layup shots for his attack player. There is not much separation in the value between these two receivers, and the choice would probably depend on whether the Cowboys would prefer a larger receiver that fits the typical Jason Garrett conception and the Scott Linehan offensive or a more changeable one that is a little better by the ways in which the offense should evolve with Prescott in the center.

5. Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama

Jason Garrett attending a Pro Day out of state in Alabama is a great clue that the Boys have great interest in being members of Crimson Tide . Fitzpatrick makes more sense than Nick Saban's possible first four rounders, but Evans is probably next. He is a flexible linebacker who excelled in making plays everywhere, and worked extremely well when Tide pulled him off the edge as well. He was a wonderful player during his two years as a full-time starter, totaling 10 sacks, 17.5 tackles for loss, five defensive passes, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. He took his game to new heights in 2017, and at 6-2, 232 and with incredibly long arms, he looks like the Cowboys linebacker.

6. Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan

7. Vita Vea, DT, Washington

8. Da & # 39; Ron Payne, DT , Alabama

Unfortunately, we do not have full athletic test data for Vea or Hurst, due to the issue of combining the hamstring of Vea and the Hurst heart problem that arose in the combine.

Hurst has been cleared and the two players will get their athletic events at some point, but this trio is ordered in this way largely because Hurst is much cleaner for what the Cowboys look for in defensive linemen inside than Payne or Vea . Hurst made more plays in the backfield than either of the two most respected defensive tackles, adding 10.5 sacks and 24.5 tackles for loss in the last two seasons compared to 8.5 / 12.0 for Vea and 2.5 / 4.5 for Payne. Vea and Payne would serve as good balms for the problems of the Dallas games, but the Cowboys have almost come out and said they do not necessarily see defensive 1-tech tackles as first-round players. Payne is probably a bit more athletic than Vea, but he just did not have such a productive college career.

9. Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

You will not find Ridley behind Moore and Sutton on too many recruitment boards, but there is a reason why he sits here on the big board of the Cowboys: he does not. He has the kind of fast-twitch athleticism that the Cowboys need in their next receiver n. ° 1. Dallas really values ​​the ability to create a very fast separation for any receiver that is going to play outside, and while Ridley is an excellent coach he will execute the kind of precise routes that are necessary for things to work well in the offense of Dallas, he falls well below Moore and Sutton in athletic traits that would indicate an ability to create throw separation instead of rest. That makes the two previous players feel better to play with Prescott. It does not mean that Ridley is not yet an excellent choice, only that Dallas will not value it as much as it might at first glance.

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