The Dallas Cowboys were a revelation in 2016, as they went 13-3 and earned the top seed in the NFC. While they bowed out in the divisional round of the playoffs, a solid foundation was set in Dallas, with Dak Prescott at quarterback, Ezekiel Elliott at running back and a stellar offensive line. Now Jerry Jones and company need to add to the roster after some key departures this offseason.
What follows is a mock for all of the Cowboys’ picks in this year’s draft. This projection is what Dallas should do at each pick. It does not take into account trades and also is my consideration of who will be on the board. At each pick I balanced my projection of “best available” and “best fit” for the team.
1st round (28) — Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan
Randy Gregory is suspended for a year, Damontre Moore was added in free agency, but he’s not going to make a difference and Dallas had a total of 36.0 sacks in 2016. Defensive line is by far the team’s biggest need in this draft, and Charlton will help things. This is a group that couldn’t get to the quarterback last year, while Charlton isn’t an elite, game-changing pure talent, he’s going to make a difference.
At nearly 6’6″ and 277 pounds, he uses his size and length (33 1/4-inch arms) to create leverage as an outside rusher. He had 15.5 sacks in his final two years in Ann Arbor and posted 9.5 as a senior to go along with 13 tackles for loss. He’s well-rounded, can play all three downs and fits perfectly as a defensive end in Rod Marinelli’s 4-3 front. Charlton works hard, and is just a step below elite in all facets of the game. Given the situation along Dallas’ front, he’s a great fit.
2nd round (60) — Chidobe Awuzie, CB, Colorado
With Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne gone via free agency there are huge holes at cornerback. And no, Nolan Carroll is not a true solution. Enter Chidobe Awuzie: a fluid, athletic corner with good size (6-feet and 202 pounds) and speed. He ran a 4.43 40 at the combine while busting out a 34.5-inch vertical and an 11-foot broad jump. He’s an explosive athlete.
I truly love Awuzie’s game. He was two-time second-team all-conference in the Pac-12, and racked up 226 tackles, 28 pass breakups and three interceptions in his career. He’s outstanding in run support and is a physical tackler in the open field. His coverage skills need some polish but he’s already very good in man-to-man. And besides, if you can’t turn a guy with these tools into an outstanding corner you shouldn’t be coaching football.
3rd round (92) — Justin Evans, S, Texas A&M
Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox departed in free agency, leaving special teams ace Jeff Heath and Byron Jones as the safeties. That’s not enough. Evans checks in at a shade under 6-feet and 199 pounds, which is a bit small for a safety. But he makes up for that with his athleticism and tackling ability.
Evans is a big-time athlete who could easily add some weight to his frame and still be impressive. He has long arms (almost 33-inches) and ran around a 4.58 40 at Texas A&M’s pro day. He can cover and help against the run and late in the third round this would be an absolute steal for the Cowboys.
4th round (133) — Josh Malone, WR, Tennessee
Brice Butler and Terrance Williams are back but neither guy will really help the development of Dak Prescott. In fact, their returns were both greeted by a solid “meh” from the majority of the football world. Receiver needs an influx of speed an playmaking ability and the big, fast Malone provides that.
The Tennessee product checks in at 6’3″ and 208 pounds and ran a 4.4 40 at the combine. He caught 50 passes for 972 yards (19.4 yards per catch) and 11 touchdowns as a junior before deciding to jump to the NFL. The dude is big and fast, but also started 31 games in the SEC, so he’s used to playing against top competition. Jerry Jones loves speed and with Malone’s size thrown in, the Cowboys would get a heck of a receiver prospect here.
6th round (211) — Michael Rector, WR, Stanford
Another receiver? Yep. Rector was a three-year starter at Stanford, and while he’s needs work as a route-runner, he has the speed to be a threat on every down. He is 6-feet and 193 pounds and ran a 4.42 40 at the combine. Truthfully, he’s probably even faster than that. Rector is also a leaper, as he flashed a 36.5-inch vertical at the combine. As a guy who is really quick off the line, Rector could be a perfect fit in the slot.
After taking Malone in the fourth and Rector in the sixth, the Cowboys will have given their receiving corps a big boost of speed and athleticism. Meanwhile, Rector could also contribute on special teams right away.
7th round (228) — Treyvon Hester, DT, Toledo
Time to keep bolstering that defensive line. Hester is a solidly-built 6’2″ and 300 pounds, and is a strong, powerful kid. He’s a pure run-stuffer who won’t do much as a pass rusher but can eat up space on the interior of the defensive line. He’s a physical mauler who can hold up well at the point of attack.
Hester was a four-year starter and finished his career with 31.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks. He’s a high character kid who will work hard and was a team captain in 2016. A torn labrum in his shoulder, which required surgery in December, has held him out of pre-draft workouts. Had he been healthy he could have been a late riser, instead he’s a value pick here.
7th round (246) — Sam Tevi, OT, Utah
The Cowboys have far and away the best offensive line in football, but you can never have enough tackles. Tevi, an undervalued commodity, is worth the pick this late in the draft. With Doug Free’s retirement, adding another tackle to the mix is necessary, and at 6’5″and 311 pounds, Tevi has the size and mobility to provide solid depth.
A converted defensive lineman, Tevi is still a really unpolished lineman. He switched between both tackle spots at Utah, and while he’s super physical and has great feet, he needs someone to knock all that rust off. Getting a chance to sit and learn on the Cowboys would be a perfect situation for him. He needs to add strength to his upper body as well, but he’s got a ton of untapped potential.