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2018 mock draft tracker: There is a front-runner for the Cowboys first-round draft pick

Tracking mock drafts is always a fun exercise for Cowboys fans.

NCAA Football: Illinois at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re looking for who the Cowboys may draft in the first round of the 2018 draft, we are seeing one player becoming a front-runner. Of course there is a lot of time to go until the draft, and free agency and the Combine can change things dramatically, but early on mock drafters are starting to connect the Cowboys and defensive tackle Maurice Hurst from Michigan.

In general, the mockers mainly have the Cowboys looking at four positions - defensive tackle, wide receiver, linebacker and offensive line. Occasionally a safety or corner will pop up, but in general they are sticking with the four positions mentioned above.

Defensive tackle is the dominant pick, and inside that sphere is Maurice Hurst. He’s being compared in some ways to Aaron Donald, but mainly because of size and motor. Donald is a special player and one that is hard to match. The Cowboys have Maliek Collins at the 3-tech, would they pick another one and shuffle Collins over to the 1-tech permanently?

If you like receivers, we got a variety showing up in mocks from the past week.

But for my money, if Roquan Smith falls to the Cowboys at 19, as predicted in one of our mocks, the Cowboys have to make that pick.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES

Taven Bryan, DT, Florida
Walter Football (Campbell), Jan 29 The Cowboys could use an interior disruptor at the point of attack. Bryan (6-4, 295) broke out in 2017 with 40 tackles with six tackles for a loss and four sacks. In speaking with some scouting sources, Bryan has drawn comparisons to the Chiefs' Chris Jones or the Broncos' Derek Wolfe. Some announcers have compared the 6-foot-4, 295-pound Bryan to J.J. Watt, and in terms of style of play, Bryan is reminiscent of Watt, although not consistently. Bryan has a tremendous get-off with serious explosion off the snap. He also has developed strength with active hands to shed blocks. Given his length, Bryan can play end or tackle, plus is an ideal candidate for five-technique. I heard from sources weeks early that Bryan was going to declare for the 2018 NFL Draft, and scouting contacts project him to the first or second round. Bryan is a great athlete who is big, strong, fast and agile. He had a late start in football, however, from growing up Wyoming, and that shows up in him never demonstrating good instincts. Bryan is inconsistent while lacking feel and pass-rushing moves. Considering his late start in football, he would have likely been better off in his long-term football career to return to school and gain playing experience before going to the NFL and taking on pro offensive linemen. Some team sources have told me they were grading Bryan as a second-rounder, but think he could end up being a first-round pick because of his great skill set, which is expected to shine at the NFL Scouting Combine and in pre-draft workouts.
Vita Vea, DT, Washington
NJ.com (Hughes), Jan 24 The Cowboys need an awful lot of help on defense. If Demarcus Lawrence leaves in free agency, a pass rusher is an option here. I think Lawrence comes back, though, so it's the best player available: Vea.
Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan
Draft Wire (Easterling), Jan 24 This defense needs help at all three levels, but they’d be wise to build from the inside out. Hurst has been one of the most disruptive defensive linemen in all of college football, and could be the difference-maker Dallas desperately needs at the point of attack.
San Diego Union-Tribune (Brown), Jan 24 The “undersized” narrative following Hurst is similar to the one Aaron Donald dealt with in 2014. Hurst has been close to un-blockable at the collegiate level and could be the missing piece to a dominant Cowboys defense. Top needs: DT, WR, TE
Draft Blaster (O’Conner), Jan 27 The Cowboys’ offensive line was just not the same this year, but some of that was injuries and developing chemistry. They have enough key pieces that they don’t have to panic and address the position early in the draft. With three of their five positions locked down, they should be looking to add two offensive linemen through the draft and another in free agency and then let the competition unfold. They have found their edge guys on the defensive line, but have a big need in the middle. They also will need to find a WR and TE to replace key players at the end of their careers.
SEC Country(Riley), Jan 29 Hurst might not be drafted this high simply because of his position. But the Cowboys need defensive tackles who can play, and Hurst is one of the best football players in this draft class.
Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama
CBS (White), Jan 25 One year after drafting Taco Charlton to improve the defensive line, the Cowboys go back to the well to add one of the best defensive tackles in this draft class. Payne showed in the College Football Playoff how dominant he can be, and he'll be a huge boost for the Cowboys' rush defense while also having the ability to get pressure on the quarterback in passing situations.

LINEBACKERS

Roquan Smith, ILB, Georgia
Draftek (Longball), Jan 24 There's an old axiom in baseball that your defense should be strong up the middle . . . and if you review MLB rosters (not to mention contract $), you will notice the substantial investments in catcher, pitcher, shortstop, and second base, and center fielder. "So Long Ball, what does MLB have to do with the NFL Draft?" Thought you would never ask! Peruse NFL rosters and contracts ("follow the money") and the larger defensive investments are on the perimeter (EDGE and CB), but if the positions of DT, ILB, and S are disregarded, offenses would run up the middle all game long! In our last episode, we mentioned Dallas' 2017 record without Sean Lee (1-6) . . . now factor into that equation the fact that during Lee's 7-year career, he has never played in all 16 games during a season ! Anthony Hitchens has attained UFA status in 2018, as has Kyle Wilber. Damien Wilson will join them in 2019 . . . that leaves Lee, Jaylon Smith, and a couple of guys named Fred (actually, Tre'von Johnson and Justin March-Lillard) at LB on the roster. Will "The Most Frightening Player in College Football" fall into the Cowboys' lap at #19? The factors that might turn this wet dream into reality are as follows: The # of QB's reached for during RD1, plus the # of EDGE, WRF, and OL prospects coming off the board (which happened in this simulation). This sideline-to-sideline nightmare would make Doomsday III "strong up the middle" once again!

WIDE RECEIVERS

Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
NFL.com (Brooks), Jan 26 The Cowboys need to make a decision on Dez Bryant's future this offseason. If the team parts ways with him, Sutton could step in as the team's new WR1.
James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State
CBS (Trapasso), Jan 25 The Cowboys need speed on the outside. Washington will undoubtedly bring that to Dallas' offense. He averaged 19.8 yards per reception in his collegiate career.
Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
FanRag (Rogers), Jan 22 It’s no secret Dez Bryant has declined recently, but even if he hadn’t the Cowboys would still need help across from him. Dak Prescott took a step back in his second year, but that shouldn’t fall entirely on him. Landing Ridley, arguably not only the best receiver in this class but also the most pro-ready, will help the Cowboys’ offense get back on track next season.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Frank Ragnow, C/G, Arkansas
Walter Football(Staff), Jan 28 The Cowboys really missed Ronald Leary this past season. They can fill that need with a versatile blocker from Jerry Jones' alma mater.

Who ya got out of these mocks, BTB?