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Cowboys Draft: Three first-round candidates that can take the defense to the next level

Can a blue-chip defensive prospect fall into the Cowboys laps at 19?

NCAA FOOTBALL: NOV 12 USC at Washington Photo by Christopher Mast/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With the draft over three months away, it’s a little early to be making predictions for who the Cowboys should select come April. Between injuries, free agency, combine results, and pre-draft visits, there is still quite a bit of information coming our way before we can put together an educated guess. But that is not going to hold us back. Examining some of these college stars and imagining them in a Cowboys uniform is just something many of us can’t resist. With that in mind, here are three players that make sense as possible draft candidates for Dallas.

DT Vita Vea, Washington

In a perfect world, position need would match “best player available” and the Cowboys could select the most talented player on the board that conveniently fits the teams biggest need. One thing Dallas could desperately use is a 1-tech defensive tackle that could line up with DeMarcus Lawrence and Maliek Collins.

After losing Terrell McClain to free agency and the retirement of Stephen Paea, the Cowboys moved Collins to the 1-tech spot. That was a mistake. Collins is best suited to be a pressure-creating 3-tech defensive tackle and the shuffling of players created a decline in effectiveness from the team’s interior line. The absence of McClain and Paea was felt as the team’s linebackers were subjected to more abuse. One way to deflect this wear is to bring in a legit monster in the middle. That is where Vita Vea comes in.

The DT from Washington has a great combination of size, strength, and speed. While he’s big and powerful enough to close off running lanes, his quickness at the point of attack could be what intrigues the Cowboys. He’s not just your run-stopping blob in the middle. Vea has been compared to All-Pro DT Haloti Ngata, and while the front office hasn’t shown much interest in investing in this position, Vea’s skill set makes him worth it.

CB Josh Jackson, Iowa

The Cowboys took a big step in remodeling their secondary last season with four defensive backs taken in the draft. By seasons end, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, and Xavier Woods were all seeing a lot of action.

But that was just the first step.

The Cowboys should still look to bolster the secondary with some young college players and it could come as early as the first round. The front office likes having the best of things and that is exactly what Iowa’s Josh Jackson is. The Iowa cornerback racked up 18 pass break ups, 48 tackles, and an impressive eight interceptions in 2017. And his three-interception performance against Ohio State put a stamp on his draft stock.

DT Maurice Hurst, Michigan

In 2014, the Cowboys watched helplessly as defensive tackle Aaron Donald shot up the draft board. Early talks centered around trading back to get him, only to come to the realization that he’d likely be gone before the Cowboys had a chance to pick at their regular spot. Donald ultimately would be selected three picks before Dallas was on the clock. So what did the Cowboys do? They selected another offensive lineman because he was the best player on their board. That decisions ended up being a good one as they got one of the best players in the league at his respective position in All-Pro guard Zack Martin.

Maurice Hurst could end up being this year’s Aaron Donald.

While he’s lingering in the late part of the first round in several mock drafts, he’s a player you could see rise in coming months. Hurst has an outstanding first-step and can get into the backfield before you know it. His size may make some teams hesitate, but this was the same type of narrative with Donald. Hurst would finish the season with 58 tackles, with 13 of them being for a loss. He also had 5.5 sacks. In four years at Michigan he has accumulated 129 tackles and 13.5 sacks.

Josh Liskiewitz from Pro Football Focus had Hurst as the highest graded player in college this season. Here is his explanation for such a high grade:

“He graded so well because he consistently destroyed blockers, both against the run and pass. He had 45 total QB pressures, the 2nd most for a defensive tackle this year was 36,” Liskiewitz said.

”He also ranked eighth in the country in our run stop percentage metric, demonstrating how dominant he was against the run as well. He essentially held the highest defensive grade in the country wire-to-wire from September through the end of the regular season.”

Taking a player like Hurst doesn’t help the Cowboys at the 1-tech spot and makes things a little crowded with Maliek Collins also vying for reps, but that shouldn’t dissuade the team from passing up on a talented defensive linemen.

A lot of fans weren’t happy last year when the team selected a Michigan defensive lineman in the first round. How would they feel about this one?

Do any of these three choices intrigue you? Who is your “first impression” pick for the Cowboys in the first round?

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