The 2017 NFL draft kicks off next week, and the Dallas Cowboys will anxiously wait their turn in the first round with the 28th overall pick. Throughout the draft process, both fans and analysts have clamored for certain prospects to be the pick, but the reality is that we do not know the specific player the Dallas front office is going to pick until they are on the clock. However, my latest piece on Cowboys Blitz is going to narrow down and separate the numerous options speculated for the Dallas Cowboys with their first round pick based on confidence, interest and thresholds.
The Elimination Process
1. Eliminating the “lock” first round picks before 28:
First, I took my top 300 big board, which will be released on Draft Breakdown later this week, and eliminated all of the players who do not have a realistic shot of being drafted in the first 32 picks. The next step in narrowing down options for the 28th overall pick was to eliminate all of the “lock” first round picks that will most likely be drafted before Dallas is on the clock. Those players included Myles Garrett, Solomon Thomas, Jonathan Allen, Reuben Foster, Malik Hooker, Jamal Adams, Marshon Lattimore, Gareon Conley, Derek Barnett, Charles Harris, Mike Williams, John Ross, David Njoku, OJ Howard, Forrest Lamp, Cam Robinson, Garett Bolles, Mitchell Trubisky, Haason Reddick, Patrick Mahomes II and Christian McCaffrey.
2. Eliminating positions of strength and prospects who most likely will not meet Dallas’ first round thresholds:
After taking the first step in narrowing down options, I ended up with 48 prospects. The next step was to eliminate all prospects who most likely would not meet their size, speed, or length thresholds. This eliminated players like Carl Lawson, Teez Tabor and Budda Baker. In addition, the positions of strength on this team include quarterback, running back and interior offensive linemen, which eliminated potential first round prospects who play those respective positions. As a result, only 35 prospects remained in play.
3. Eliminating prospects who were not pre-draft visitors:
In what is called “lying season” during this time of year, the Dallas Cowboys really do tell the truth and show their hand per se with who they select as pre-draft visitors. Only two of their first round picks since 2005 were not pre-draft visitors: DeMarcus Ware and Morris Claiborne. As a result of the Cowboys’ history of drafting pre-draft visitors in the first round, I eliminated the remaining prospects who did not visit or have not yet been reported to visit Dallas before the 2017 NFL draft. I used the updated pre-draft visit list created by KD Drummond on USA Today’s Cowboys Wire. This eliminated Corey Davis, Carlos Henderson, Zay Jones, Evan Engram, Ryan Ramczyk, Taylor Moton, Tim Williams, Jordan Willis, Chris Wormley, Caleb Brantley, Raekwon McMillan, Jarrad Davis, Zach Cunningham, Duke Riley, Marcus Maye and Jabrill Peppers. Only 19 players remained in play after these eliminations. Now that the elimination process was complete, I separated the remaining players into different categories based on how I think the Cowboys will prioritize each player.
Separating the remaining prospects:
The odds-on favorites (not in any order):
Takkarist McKinley, EDGE, UCLA
– With Charles Harris now expected to go in the top 20 of the 2017 NFL draft, Takkarist McKinley moves up the leaderboard in terms of potential targets with the 28th pick. Lately, it seems as if McKinley is the most popular pick for the Dallas Cowboys in mock drafts amongst media members, and it makes sense. McKinley is a speed demon who screams off of the edge with his explosiveness and unparalleled energy. If a coach like Rod Marinelli can teach McKinley to rush with a plan, he could be a dangerous right defensive end for this team.
TJ Watt, EDGE, Wisconsin
– The evaluation of TJ Watt was an interesting one because he primarily played as an off-ball linebacker. For Dallas, he is going to be an edge rusher on their board. Watt’s athleticism, bend, motor and ability to play all three downs with his ability in run support should make him a highly valued commodity on draft day. Given the fact that this past year at Wisconsin was his first season as a full-time defender, Watt still has plenty of room to learn and grow as a potential edge rusher in the NFL.
Kevin King, CB, Washington
– If Dallas goes the cornerback route at 28, the favorite has to be Washington’s Kevin King. With Dallas trying to adopt the Seattle mold on defense, King, a 6’3 cornerback with 4.43 speed, fits their prototype on the outside. I could make an argument that King is not ready for NFL snaps right away with his raw technique and clunky footwork/COD, but I also acknowledge that he has the highest upside of any cornerback in this draft class given his rare combination of length and playmaking ability on the outside.
Adoree’ Jackson, CB, USC
– One of the sneaky favorites for Dallas’ first round selection is USC cornerback Adoree’ Jackson. He is listed as a cornerback, but the real value of Jackson is his gadget potential on offense and elite return ability on special teams. If Dallas takes Jackson at 28, I expect them to have a plan for Jackson to play inside as a nickel cornerback early on and work his way outside, while returning kicks and playing offense in the same role Lucky Whitehead had in 2016. Of all the options for Dallas, this one would be the most interesting, and it is not even close.
Obi Melifonwu, S, UConn
– I almost eliminated Obi Melifonwu in the “lock first round picks before Dallas is on the clock” stage, but the Cowboys did have some luck in 2015 when another Connecticut defensive back and Combine standout fell to them in the bottom half of the first round. As the freakiest of all freak athletes in this draft, Melifonwu is going to be labeled as a “workout warrior,” but he brings so much more to the table than people think. He is going to be used as a chess piece to cover tight ends, play in the box, or cover over the top. Some have even made the connection to cornerback given his man coverage skills. Of all the options on here, Melifonwu is the least likely to be there at 28, but if he makes it to Dallas, there is a good chance he is off of the board by the 29th pick.
Tyus Bowser, EDGE, Houston
– One of the biggest mysteries surrounding the Dallas Cowboys and the 28th pick is Houston’s Tyus Bowser. The mystery is if he actually visited Dallas, and the rumor is centered around this Instagram post, which was posted two weeks ago. Like TJ Watt, Bowser primarily played as an off-ball linebacker in college, but his on-field traits show a potential superstar as an edge rusher. Of all the edge rushers remaining on this list, I think Bowser fits their prototype as a right defensive end the best. With his freakish athleticism, endless motor, uncanny bend and closing speed off of the edge in the limited snaps he had as a rusher, I think Bowser is going to be highly rated on the Cowboys draft board. The connection I’ve made since the Combine with Bowser is the fact that the Cowboys had a similar player in Leonard Floyd in the top 10 of their 2016 draft board. I’m not sure if Bowser is going to be in the top 10, but I think someone in that war room is going to stand on the table for him.
Wild card candidates on the outside looking in:
Malik McDowell, DL, Michigan State
– Malik McDowell was a late pre-draft visit, as reported by The Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Charean Williams, and it makes sense because of the person who runs this defense, Rod Marinelli. The problems with McDowell center around his effort and drive for the game, which resulted in plenty of inconsistent tape at Michigan State despite his unquestionable talent. If Marinelli believes he can bottle up McDowell’s talent, I could see him standing on the table for this kind of player.
Quincy Wilson, CB, Florida
– Quincy Wilson is a prototypical press man cornerback with advanced coverage mechanics, desired length, and elite ball skills. I wonder how high Wilson is on their draft board because of the speed concerns some have, but the combination of his length and playmaking ability on the outside makes him a wild card candidate to be the pick here.
Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama
– Another late visit for the Dallas Cowboys was Alabama defensive back Marlon Humphrey, as reported by ESPN’s Todd Archer. This pick would be a shock to some, but I think it makes plenty of sense given his athleticism and ability to grow as either a cornerback or safety. If drafted at 28, I think people will look at Humphrey similar to Byron Jones in that he could play either position right away.
Taco Charlton, EDGE, Michigan
– Taco Charlton would probably be a left defensive end if drafted by the Cowboys at 28, which is why I think he is on the outside looking in with his chances of being the pick. The only chance I could see Charlton being the pick is if the board is wiped out and they cannot find a trade partner. There is no denying Charlton’s production, but his ceiling as a pass rusher is limited with his lack of elite athletic ability.
Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU
– I’ve made it known that I am not Tre’Davious White’s biggest fan, but I do acknowledge that the Cowboys could feel totally different. White is the kind of person that can sell Jason Garrett on his character and maturity as a “right kind of guy,” but I think there are cornerbacks they will have higher on their board because of his lack of a distinctive on-field trait.
“Half court lobs” with a better chance of being second round targets:
– Marcus Williams, S, Utah
– Chidobe Awuzie, CB, Colorado
– Fabian Moreau, CB, UCLA
– Derek Rivers, EDGE, Youngstown State
– Tarell Basham, EDGE, Ohio
– Justin Evans, S, Texas A&M
– Curtis Samuel, RB, Ohio State
– Juju Smith-Schuster, WR, USC