Potential Dallas Cowboys First-Round Picks
If you’re a Dallas Cowboys fan and the recent three game losing streak might have you already thinking about next season. Even though the Cowboys are still in a position to make the playoffs (thanks to an embarrassingly bad NFC East), this season has shown that the Cowboys are clearly not the heavyweight contenders many thought they were in the preseason. This offseason should feature wholesale changes from the top down by owner/president/general manager Jerry Jones. Cowboys fans are already excitedly looking at head coach candidates, but it’s also about time to start looking ahead to April and the 2020 NFL Draft.
Will McClay and Stephen Jones will still be calling the shots up stairs, but a new coaching staff will mean changes in scheme and the “prototype” of player desired at each position. This makes it slightly more difficult to project players to them, but at the bowl season begins and the NFL season nears its end, certain names at positions of need are starting to become clear as potential targets.
The other intriguing aspect for the Cowboys is the potential fluctuation in draft position. The Cowboys currently have a 56% chance of making the playoffs, while the Philadelphia Eagles have a 44% chance. With both teams at 7-7, the winner of the division will hold a pick from 21 and up, while the loser could pick as high as 13. That’s a potential 8 pick swing that could have a large impact on the players available.
Although some looming free agency decisions could change, as of now the major positions of need for the Cowboys are safety, cornerback, tight end, and defensive line. There isn’t a clear round one tight end prospect in this draft, but I took a look at ten potential names at corner, safety, and defensive line the Cowboys could target this year in the first round.
The Cowboys could be looking for a new #1 corner and to add more depth come April. In the final year of his contract, Byron Jones has played his way into a big pay day, at a price point the Cowboys might not be able to afford. In addition, starting nickel corner Anthony Brown will join Jones as a free agent, and other starters Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis set to be free agents in 2021.
Trevon Diggs | #7 University of Alabama
H: 6020 | W: 207 lbs. | Sr.
Gaithersburg, Md | Avalon HS
Best Trait: Athleticism. A special height/length/weight/speed athlete, Diggs is the type of raw player that will have NFL defensive back coaches standing on the war room table to get their hands on. With 8 pass breakups and 3 interceptions this year, Diggs has also shown the ability to finish and make plays on the ball, something the Cowboys (last in the NFL in interceptions) desperately need.
Needs to Improve: Technique. Diggs is raw from a technical point of view. This makes sense given he did not start playing defensive back full time until he was in his sophomore year at Alabama. There is no reason to believe he won’t continue to progress and learn as he gains experience, but it could mean some rough patches and growing pains as a rookie and 2nd year player.
Draft Projection: I think Diggs will be a riser through the draft process and could end up as a top-15 pick. However, since this is a very deep corner class, and teams will have these players stacked differently, there is a chance he falls to the Cowboys if the Eagles win the division, or into a range to trade up to get him.
Shaun Wade | #7 The Ohio State University
H: 6000 | W: 195 lbs. | RSo.
Jacksonville, Fl | Trinity Christian Academy
Best Trait: Versatility. Wade is one of a trio three NFL-caliber corners in Ohio State’s secondary. Jeffery Okudah (a projected top-5 pick) and redshirt senior Damon Arnette hold down the outside spot, with Wade being the jack-of-all trades nickel corner and safety. Wade has the size, athletic profile, and versatility that is ironically reminiscent of current star corner Byron Jones. With the Cowboys needing an upgrade at both outside corner and safety, Wade could be used as both. And of course, he has something else the Cowboys desperately need: ball skills, with 14 passes defended and 4 interceptions through his two seasons playing.
Needs to Improve: How will he perform outside? For all his positive traits, there simply isn’t a lot of game film of him playing corner on the outside. If the Cowboys draft Wade, the defensive staff could either view him as a chess piece to play different spots depending on the opponent and matchup they like, or they are comfortable with experiencing some new growing pains as he readjusts to life back on the outside.
Draft Projection: This corner class is deep and Wade is currently projected to go somewhere in the later part of round one, a perfect match of need and value for the Cowboys.
Jeff Gladney | #12 Texas Christian University
H: 6000 | W: 183 lbs. | RSr.
New Boston, Tx. | New Boston HS
Best Trait: Athleticism and play speed. A local player and four year starter, Gladney has steadily risen as a prospect this season. Reportedly running a 4.34, squatting 620 pounds, benching 400, and cleaning 400, Gladney came in at number 13 on Bruce Feldman’s annual “college football freaks” list. That athleticism clearly translates to the player, as Gladney is able to mirror players in press man and has impressive closing speed in off man, leading to 14 pass breakups and an interception. Gladney is one of my favorite players in this class and the Cowboys will be able to spend plenty of time to do their homework on him at their annual Dallas Day for local prospects before the draft.
Needs to Improve: Footwork. Gladney’s transition footwork in his pedal and shuffle, as well as when breaking to drive on receivers isn’t perfect, with extra steps and heavy feet when transitioning. He also doesn’t always look comfortable in his back pedal, getting too far back on his heels, slowing his click and close speed.
Draft Projection: In a deep corner class Gladney is currently seen as a top-50 player who I think will see a big rise if he performs as well at the combine as he’s expected to.
Paulson Adebo| #11 Stanford University
H: 6010 | W: 190 lbs. | Jr.
Mansfield, Tx | Mansfield HS
Best Trait: Ball skills. After leading the country last year in passes defended with 20, while pulling in 4 interceptions. This year he managed another 4 interceptions and 10 passes defended. Adebo is still learning some of the nuances of the position, but his ability to locate the ball downfield and play the receivers hands at the catch point are outstanding. If he is still in Dallas, I believe Kris Richard will have some interest in Adebo.
Needs to Improve: Athletic limitations. This isn’t necessarily something Adebo can improve, but I see him as a scheme limited corner. His lack of straight line speed and some lower body stiffness could regulate him to either a press bump-and-run scheme, or a heavy zone scheme.
Draft Projection: I’m personally not a big fan of Adebo, and I’ve seen him projected anywhere from the top-15 to top-50. He should be available if the Cowboys pick near 21, and could also be a target in a trade back scenario.
Every year safety seems to remain on the list of needs for the Cowboys, and every year they fail to address it. Xavier Woods has flashed at times, but remains inconsistent from week to week, and will be a free agent in 2021. I love Jeff Heath for how hard he plays and how he has exceeded expectations, but he was always more of a rotational player than a true starter. Rookie Damien Wilson looked impressive in the preseason but has been stuck behind the veteran Darian Thompson on the depth chart for most of the year. Whether through the draft or free agency, the Cowboys need to add some viable competition before the start of the 2020 season.
Grant Delpit | #7 Louisiana State University
H: 6030 | W: 203 lbs. | Jr.
Houston, Tx. | IMG Academy
Best Trait: Range and versatility. Delpit is an explosive athlete with the range and length to make plays all over the field. His range and instincts allow him to make plays on the ball as a deep half or deep middle safety, but he also has the fluidity to match players in man coverage in the slot. He’s also aggressive in run support and is an effective blitzer.
Needs to Improve: Tackling. Missed tackles have plagued Delpit going back to last year, but he made so many special plays that they were easy to overlook. I know Cowboys fans are enamored with Delpit, but re-watch the Cowboys-Bears game if you want to be reminded of how important tackling fundamentals are. Then watch Delpit trying to tackle Najee Harris during the Alabama game, and you’ll see why there’s some concern. Before they can be playmakers, safeties need to be dependable filling run lanes and being the last line of defense, and Delpit have proven unreliable thus far.
Draft Projection: Entering the season as a projected top-5 or top-10 selection, Delpit’s rather average play this season has his stock all over the place. There are rumors that he has been holding back and not playing at 100% speed in order to preserve his health for the NFL which further complicates his evaluation. As the top safety in a weak safety class, he could come off the board somewhere between picks 10 and 32, giving the Cowboys a chance of landing him.
Xavier McKinney, S, University of Alabama
H: 6010 | W: 200 lbs. | Jr.
Roswell, Ga. | Roswell HS
Best Trait: Dependability. McKinney lead Alabama in tackles while forcing 4 fumbles, coming downhill with speed and bad intentions. He takes good angles to the football and plays assignment sound in a complex Nick Saban scheme. McKinney was used in a variety of roles from deep-half coverage, to being rolled down into the slot in man or in robber zone. McKinney stepped up as the leader of the defense after the loss of linebacker Dylan Moses to injury, and elevated his play this season.
Needs to Improve: Limited to the box. McKinney is an extremely well rounded player and athlete, but doesn’t have the range to play as a single high safety, limiting him to more of a box role. His speed coming down hill is excellent, but isn’t quite the same when asked to move laterally. Xavier Woods has handled free safety duties for the Cowboys this season, making McKinney a fit to take snaps from Jeff Heath.
Draft Projection: This safety class isn’t very deep, with Delpit and McKinney established as the top guys in the late first round range. McKinney could be a player to target in a trade back scenario or if Delpit goes extremely early and the team feels like McKinney is the only other safety with immediate starter capability.
Once a fan favorite the “Hot Boyz” are in desperate need of an infusion of talent and depth. A very unpopular pick with fans and a healthy scratch for the majority of the season, Trysten Hill will need to take a major step forward next year if the middle of the Cowboys defense is going to improve. Even if he does, Maliek Collins and Michael Bennett will be free agents, Tyrone Crawford might be a cap casualty, Antwaun Woods was recently arrested, and the rest of the defensive tackles are journeymen starters.
On the edge, Robert Quinn and Demarcus Lawrence have formed a nice duo, but Quinn is set to be a free agent. Randy Gregory is a complete wildcard, and Dorance Amrstrong, Joe Jackson, and Kerry Hyder are best as rotational players. With Lawrence drawing double teams, a capable pass rusher opposite him is essential. Talent and depth is sorely needed if the Hot Boyz are going to reestablish themselves as a unit to be feared by offenses next year.
Javon Kinlaw | #3 University of South Carolina
H: 6050 | W: 308 lbs. | Sr.
Charleston, SC | Goose Creek HS
Best Trait: Explosive Power. Kinlaw’s length, broad frame, strength, and quickness are all NFL ready, and on the plays he puts them altogether, he’s as disruptive a force as any defensive player in this class. There are times where his pad level swells, but when he maintains leverage he can walk linemen back with ease. Kinlaw is one of my favorite players in this class, and I think he’d be a perfect fit in the Cowboys’ defense, forming a nice interior duo with Trysten Hill.
Needs to Improve: Pass rush plan and finding the ball carrier. If Kinlaw loses momentum in his pass rush due to a rising pad level or the offensive linemen gaining inside hand position, he struggles to transition to a counter move and win. In addition, there are times where he gets locked in on his blocker and can’t find the ball carrier to make a play when he is in position in the backfield.
Draft Projection: Kinlaw is widely regarded as the second best interior defensive linemen behind Derrick Brown of Auburn. With a greater emphasis being placed on interior pass rush in the NFL, Kinlaw could come off the board in the top-15, but if he falls the Cowboys should be all over him.
Marvin Wilson | #21 Florida State University
H: 6040 | W: 318 lbs. | Sr.
Houston, Tx | Episcopal HS
Best Trait: Power and motor. “Overwhelming” is the word I kept finding myself using to describe Wilson as a player. The combination of Wilson’s raw power, violent hands, and pass rush moves tends to overwhelm players trying to block him. Wilson utilizes a variety of pass rush moves, including a club-rip, club-swim, the infamous Bosa brother double swipe, a bull rush, and a nifty spin move. He’s quick to string moves together, and doesn’t stall out if his initial rush fails.
Needs to Improve: Get off and pad level. Wilson doesn’t have great get off and won’t threaten linemen with his first step quickness. In addition Wilson’s pad level tends to swell after his first couple steps, exposing his chest, and allowing linemen to knock him off balance. He’ll need to play more controlled at the next level to be a consistent threat against NFL offensive linemen.
Projection: I think better players will be available when they pick, but If the Cowboys board get wiped out, Wilson could be a target in a trade back scenario as an end of round one, early round two player.
K’Lavon Chaisson | #18 Louisiana State University
H: 6030 | W: 239 lbs. | Jo.
Houston, Texas | North Shore HS
Best Trait: Speed and flexibility. Chaisson reminds me of Harold Landry with his first step quickness to attack the corner and his balance and flexibility to turn and wrap around it. The bend in his ankles and hips, and his balance to dip his shoulder at full speed is a trait that can’t be taught. His change of direction, athletic skills, length, and frame make him a high upside pick, but he’ll need time to put it together.
Needs to Improve: Technique. Missing all of last year with an ACL tear, Chaisson lacks refinement as a pass rusher, especially with his hand fighting. Right now Chaisson mainly tries to attack the corner with speed and counter inside if the tackle oversets. He needs to improve his hand usage when attacking the edge, as well as work to add in a speed-to-power element to keep offensive tackles off balance.
Projection: After Chase Young, who is clearly in a tier of his own, there is an interesting mix of names for who could be the second pass rusher taken. AJ Epenesa is widely regarded as the second best edge prospect, but then Chaisson, Yetur Gross-Matos of Penn State, and Terrell Lewis of Alabama are all in the mix as well. The importance of the position and athletic upside could cause Chaisson to rise, but right now he’s projected to go somewhere in the second half of the first round where the Cowboys will be selecting.
Terrell Lewis | #24 University of Alabama
H: 6050 | W: 252 lbs. | RJr.
Washington DC | St. John’s HS
Best Trait: Length. One of those measurements that scouts always talk about for pass rushers and offensive tackles is arm length. While it can be overrated at times, Lewis shows why it can be a valuable tool. Lewis doesn’t have elite get-off or power, but he understands how to use his length to engage tackles and gain leverage on them, keeping his tackles hands off him, allowing him to convert speed to power, soften the edge, or set up inside counters.
Needs to Improve: Health. This isn’t something Lewis can necessarily improve on, but his medicals at the combine are going to be a huge part of where he is finally selected. Lewis missed 10 games in 2017 with an elbow injury and missed the entire regular season in 2018 after an ACL tear, returning only for the national title game against Georgia.
Projection: As with Chaisson, Lewis is in the mix to be the third pass rusher selected (assuming team doctors give him the thumbs up) in the middle of the first round or later.
WAY TOO EARLY MOCK DRAFT
Mock drafts aren’t very useful this early in the draft process, but they’re a fun exercise and give you something to think about when your team is underperforming. So I fired up a draft simulator to look at some players the Cowboys could target with their six picks.
1.21: Shaun Wade, CB, Ohio State
As discussed above I think Wade is a top candidate for the Cowboys first round pick, with need and value matching perfectly.
2.53: Neville Gallimore, DT, Oklahoma
An extremely gifted athlete at his size, the production hasn’t always been there, but he has the raw power and motor to make an impact as a pocket pusher at the next level.
3.85: Antoine Winfield Jr., S, Minnesota
The Cowboys defense is currently tied for last in the NFL with 5 interceptions on the season. He may be undersized, but all Winfield does is make plays on the football, with 7 interceptions this year. He reminds me of Desmond King, who somehow fell to the 5th round in the 2017 draft, and was a first team all-Pro player in 2018.
4.117: Van Jefferson, WR, Florida
Held back by poor quarterback play, Jefferson could end up having a better professional than college career. Jefferson has the speed and route running to be utilized in the slot and outside, allowing the Cowboys to move Amari Cooper around for favorable matchups.
5.148: Alex Highsmith, EDGE, Charlotte
Undersized and coming from a smaller school, Highsmith will need time to adjust but has the quickness and bend to develop into a situational pass rusher at the next level.
7.212: Chase Claypool, WR, Notre Dame
The way the board fell there was never a tight end of good value when I selected, so instead I went a different route. At 6’4” and 230 lbs. Claypool is a jumbo sized receiver that could be used as a “big slot”. The Cowboys have used Noah Brown, also a big bodied wide out, as a blocker and threat off play action, Claypool could be used in a similar way.