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2016 NFL Mock Draft Tracker: Ten Options For The Cowboys' 4th Overall Pick

For the fifth year in a row, we kick off our mock draft tracker with a look at 10 names of early first-round candidates for the Cowboys. Plus we look back at the early predictions from the last four years to see what became of them.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

In January 2012 we kicked off our mock draft tracker when we looked at "Ten Options For The Cowboys' 14th Pick" and have repeated that exercise every year since, which makes this the fifth year that we've run this post.

And that means we have four years worth of early January mocks drafts that we can look back on and marvel at what became of all those early picks. So before we take a look at which players the pundits have mocked our way this year, let's look back at the predictions made in early January of the previous four years.

The following table shows who the 10 candidates in each of those years were, sorted in descending order by where they eventually ended up being picked in the draft. For your convenience, first-round picks are marked in green, second-round picks in yellow, and all later-round picks in orange.

January 2012 January 2013 January 2014 January 2015
Rd/Pick POS Name Rd/ Pick POS Name Rd/ Pick POS Name Rd/ Pick POS Name
1 (7) S Mark Barron 1 (4) OT Lane Johnson 1 (2) OT Greg Robinson 1 (15) RB Melvin Gordon
1 (9) LB Luke Kuechly 1 (7) OG Jonathan Cooper 1 (21) FS Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
1 (18) CB Marcus Peters
1 (10) CB Stephon Gilmore 1 (10) OG Chance Warmack 2 (37) DT Ra'Shede Hageman 1 (22) DE Bud Dupree
1 (16) DE Quinton Coples 1 (13) DT Sheldon Richardson 2 (46) DT Stephon Tuitt 1 (32) DT Malcom Brown
1 (17) CB Dre Kirkpatrick 1 (15) S Kenny Vaccaro 2 (48) DT Timmy Jernigan 2 (43) LB Benardrick McKinney
1 (24) OG David DeCastro 2 (49) DT Johnathan Hankins 2 (51) DT Ego Ferguson 2 (52) DT Jordan Phillips
1 (26) DE Whitney Mercilus 3 (73) QB Mike Glennon 2 (60) DE Kony Ealy 2 (58) DE Markus Golden
2 (35) OLB Courtney Upshaw 3 (82) DT John Jenkins 3 (72) DE Scott Crichton 2 (62) CB Quinten Rollins
2 (39) CB Janoris Jenkins 5 (137) DT Jesse Williams 3 (83) DT Louis Nix 3 (74) OT Owa Odighizuwa
7 (224) CB Alfonzo Dennard
- - OT Jake Matthews - - DE Vic Beasley 6 (180) OT Michael Bennett

What's interesting about this table is that the prospects are all over the place in terms of where they were eventually drafted. Of course, we know that that mock drafts aren't particularly accurate, especially not this early in the year. But it's still a little surprising how far off the pundits were in their assessments of where a player would eventually be taken.

We've heard all about how Aaron Donald climbed the draft boards in 2014, and how Byron Jones jumped out of obscurity into the first round. But that also happens in reverse. A lot. Prospects that pundits loudly proclaim to be "can't miss" first-rounders end up outside the first round for a variety of reasons.

One such reason is that mock drafts often "reach" for a prospect. Often, these mocks are from the same guys who will pontificate endlessly about how teams should draft the best player available come hell or high water, but in their very next mock, they'll have teams picking players purely on need.

This is particularly obvious in the 2014 mock draft roundup, where eight out of ten mock drafts had the Cowboys picking a defensive lineman, and not one of those guys ended up being taken in the first round.

Think about the positions you consider the biggest areas of need for the Cowboys this year. Perhaps a corner? Perhaps a QB? The experience over the last few years suggests that there will be a lot of reaches at these positions mocked the Cowboys' way.

Also particularly noteworthy about the table above: Morris Claiborne, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, and Byron Jones don't show up anywhere.

But having said all that, mock drafts are not completely useless. They may not be a good predictor of what will happen on draft day, especially not at this time of the year, but for those of us who enjoy talking about the draft, mock drafts can still be a lot of fun regardless, as they can help us familiarize ourselves with the potential draft picks and give us a general sense for where a player fits on the draft boards. With that out of the way, here are the 10 names for 2015:

Source Player Rationale
Drafttek Jared Goff, QB, California The chant in Dallas has now gone to "We want Johnny!" Well, the blonde-haired, mustachioed Las Vegas getaway bandit is still skipping concussion protocol in Cleveland. Whether Goff or Lynch is the #1 QB prospect in this year's draft, just study the failure rate of QB's drafted in later rounds.
Rob Rang, CBSSports Myles Jack, OLB, UCLA The Cowboys face a critical decision with their first-round pick in 2016. This club is clearly more talented than the others selecting in the top five and therefore a gambler like owner Jerry Jones might be tempted to add an immediate impact defender like Jack rather than select a quarterback to groom behind the 35-year old (and increasingly injury-prone) Tony Romo. Jack suffered a serious knee injury Sept. 23 but if teams are satisfied with his rehabilitation he'll draw top five consideration. Voted the Pac-12's Offensive and Defensive Freshman of the Year in 2013 while moonlighting at running back and starring at outside linebacker, Jack has the playmaking pedigree Jones loves.
Eddie Brown, UT San Diego Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Ole Miss Jerry Jones clearly doesn't shy away from talent – Nkemdiche has plenty – regardless of off-the-field issues (See: Hardy, Greg and Gregory, Randy). Nkemdiche reminds me of a slightly less polished version of Leonard Williams, the Jets first round pick from a year ago. How he carries himself during the pre-draft process and reacts to the scrutiny from both teams and media will determine where he lands on draft weekend, but I don't expect him to fall out of the first round.
Walter Football Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
I've had Myles Jack slotted to the Cowboys in my past few updates, but I think Laquon Treadwell is also a possibility. We've seen now that the Cowboys will struggle to do anything offensively if Dez Bryant is out of the lineup. And even when Bryant is playing, he could use a dynamic No. 2 receiver across the field to take some attention away from him. Treadwell had a terrific finish to his 2015 campaign, as he's completely over the injury that sidelined him late last year. 
Steve Serby, NY Post A’Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama Cornerback is a possibility, given that Morris Claiborne has been a bust and Brandon Carr’s last interception came in 2013. But an athletic, 6-foot-2 ¹/₂ , 315-pound bully to help keep people off Sean Lee and improve a run defense, ranked tied for 22nd with the Bears, fits the bill.
Dan Kadar, SB Nation Jalen Ramsey, CB/S, Florida State The Cowboys could use a player like Ramsey at either safety or cornerback, and he'd make an impact straight away. If they like him at corner, it would allow Byron Jones to be a full-time safety. If the preference is to put Ramsey at safety – which I view as his better NFL position – Jones can stay at cornerback. Regardless, Ramsey would go a long way in fixing Dallas' secondary woes.
Matt Miller, Bleacher Report Paxton Lynch, Quarterback, Memphis The Cowboys, when healthy, have a roster good enough to make a playoff run. This is more like drafting Tim Duncan after an older David Robinson goes down with an injury than anything else. Smart teams use the advantages given to them, and the Cowboys can draft a clear quarterback of the future here and not be rushed into playing him. It's really a no-brainer.
Ryan Kang, DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon The 6-7 Buckner could be a modern day "Too Tall Jones" for the Cowboys.
Rob Staton, Seahawks Draft Blog Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame The Cowboys are better than their record suggests and have the luxury of taking possibly the best overall prospect in the draft. Jaylon Smith is incredibly athletic and instinctive and could be an instant star in the NFL. Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State The Cowboys get a good defensive end who can get after the QB.
Repeated mentions
Josh Norris, Rotoworld Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss Treadwell and Dez Bryant on the same team? Why?.... Why not. Terrance Williams’ contract is up and he is an average talent at best. Jason Witten is very close to transitioning from Dad Running to Dad Power Walking. Treadwell is an ultra-physical receiver both before and after the catch.
Chris Burke, Myles Jack, OLB, UCLA The 2015 season was miserable for the Cowboys, but picking within the top five is a decent consolation prize for a team that can be in playoff contention again soon. Even with Bosa off the board, Dallas has its choice of dynamic defensive playmakers here. Assuming Jack's health checks out, he might provide the most bang for the buck. The UCLA star is a rangy and athletic option at linebacker.
Dane Brugler, CBSSports Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss The Cowboys will consider a quarterback here and need help on defense, but the window is closing with Tony Romo and Dallas needs to surround him with more talent. Treadwell, who is similar to Dez Bryant with the way they attack the football, would be an ideal fit opposite Dez.
Peter Schrager, Foxsports Paxton Lynch, Quarterback, Memphis Cowboys fans got a glimpse of what life without Tony Romo could be like this season, and it wasn't pretty. No veteran journeyman or practice squad fixture (Kellen Moore) can replace a franchise quarterback. Especially in Big D. Barring a trade (Manziel?) or a notable free-agent acquisition, the Cowboys should look to pick Romo's successor this year. Lynch is 6-foot-7, surprisingly mobile and very accurate. He's a mold of clay, still, and could use a few years of learning from Romo before being elevated to the No. 1.

10 prospects for the No. 4 pick is a lot. There are usually less than 10 true blue-chip prospects in a given draft, but who's to say at this point which of the 10 players is a blue-chipper and which isn't? And what about the players who have yet to move into top-ten consideration over the course of the pre-draft process?

All of which is good news in a way, because it means the Cowboys will likely be spoilt for choice with their fourth overall pick.

No player has yet emerged as a as a clear-cut favorite for the Cowboys, but of the 10 players listed here, who'd be your favorite come April?

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