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Digging deep: PFF Senior Bowl standouts that should interest the Cowboys

Like the methodology or not, the attempt to compare apples to apples is worth considering.

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NCAA Football: Senior Bowl-North Practice
You may want to learn to spell Ogbonnia Okoronkwo’s name.
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The Senior Bowl has long been considered one of the best venues for evaluating draft talent. It brings most of the top seniors together, and pits them against one another in front of NFL scouts and coaches. The Dallas Cowboys are among those who have done very well with what they have seen there. It was where they got an extensive look at Zack Martin before making him a first-round pick, and it was where Dak Prescott really popped onto their radar.

There are tons of articles analyzing the performances in Mobile, and lots of different conclusions. The evaluations of the players actually have three phases: One-on-one work (which is valued the most by some), team practice drills, and the actual game. Sometimes very different views emerge of players as they move from one facet to another.

Over at Pro Football Focus, they take a very interesting approach. They give all the players scores in each of the phases, and also break out some different scores in one-on-one matchups. This is unfortunately hidden behind their paywall, but we have taken a look for you. This will just focus on some key positions for the Cowboys in the draft, namely wide receiver, offensive guards, tackles, and, well, all the defensive positions. It is not intended to be an exhaustive, all inclusive dive, but rather a way to highlight some players that may be of interest to Dallas in the draft.

Wide receiver

This was one group where there were different standouts in each of the three phases. In one-on-one drills, James Washington of Oklahoma State was the big winner. In press coverage or off coverage, he simply dominated. He is shaping up to be a day-one selection, but remember (as with all these players) there are a lot of underclassmen also in the mix. Washington may be in play at 19 for Dallas.

In team drills, however, Washington did not do nearly as well. There were two other receivers that stood out, DaeSean Hamilton of Penn State and Michael Gallup from Colorado State. And the game itself yielded two other top performers, D.J. Chark of LSU and Tre’Quan Smith from UCF. All five are receivers who seem to fit the Cowboys’ template for size and strength. If they don’t go WR in the first round, keep an eye on who might still be on the boards later on.

Offensive guards

One name stood out in all of the different drills as well as the game: Will Hernandez. If you were not focused on how the quarterbacks were doing, the UTEP product was arguably the biggest offensive story of the entire week. He was just manhandling his opponents.

As much as Hernandez stood out, there were many outside of PFF who felt Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn was actually the best guard from the group. However, PFF had no grades on him in the game, and that may have to do with a torn labrum he is undergoing surgery to fix. Still, PFF’s grades on him in the practices were second only to Hernandez. His injury may cause him to slip, and he could be a solid value in the second - and an absolute steal if he was still around in the third.

Offensive tackles

While the guards were wowing observers, the tackles were overall rather lackluster. The drills for linemen focused entirely on pass protection, which may have some bearing, but still there was no name at tackle that really jumped out. This is an area of some interest to the Cowboys because of the glaring need for a swing tackle. And that may still be a place they will be looking later in the draft. The two best performers in the team practice were Brian O’Neill of Pitt and Army’s Brett Toth. But given the premium on tackles, O’Neill, who was highly regarded in collegiate play, will probably be taken by a team needing a starter. Toth is another story, given his two year active duty commitment to the service. And he may be just too tempting for the Cowboys to not take a late round chance on.

Defensive tackle

The Cowboys have been hesitant to spend a lot of draft capital on the DT position, but with the changes to the coaching staff, that may also be up for revision. There were also two names that consistently showed up in PFF’s grades. Virginia’s Andrew Brown and Texas’ Poona Ford were their best performers. Given the focus on pass rush in Mobile, both may draw some consideration from Dallas (especially since draft crush Vita Vae is widely expected to be long gone before their first pick).

Defensive end

Learn to spell the name of Ogbonnia Okoronkwo. The Oklahoma player was just a force, despite his relative lack of size (6’1”, 240 lbs). None of the offensive linemen had an answer for his speed and skill. It is not certain how he might be used in the NFL, especially in Dallas, but he could be a passing down rush option or the team could try to build him up enough to handle the rigors of more work.

One player where the PFF methodology had a very different view than many was with Marcus Davenport out of UTSA. Many thought he was disappointing early on, although he improved as the week progressed. But PFF had some of their highest marks on him, particularly in the team drills. He unquestionably has some rawness to him, and seems too much of a risk for the first round, but if he is not taken by someone else, he might be a major consideration in the second.

Linebackers

This group had few that were consistently strong across the board. But during the team practices, Darius Leonard from South Carolina State had the highest grade of any defensive player at any position. He also had a strong showing in the game as well. Those offset a relatively poor showing in one-on-one pass coverage, but the team and game situations likely reflect his ability all around, where run defense also comes into play. They also show a potential to handle the Mike spot, something the Cowboys should value highly as they decide what to do about free agent Anthony Hitchens.

Another name that might be worth watching later in the draft is Shaquem Griffin. The UCF product is going to get a lot of attention anyway as he attempts to become the first one-handed player in the NFL. But he is far more than a great human interest story. He scored higher than most of his competition, and was used in a variety of roles in Mobile, including pass rusher. The belief is that his future is as a special teams star, and the Cowboys have long put a high value on those kinds of players. In the later rounds, he might just be a target.

Defensive backs

Here there were no real stars across the board. Perhaps that is reflective of the way college offenses seem to be far ahead of the defenses, with ridiculously high scores now the norm. During the team practices, a couple of small school players, Taron Johnson of Weber State and Georgia State’s Chandon Sullivan, were the highest graded corners. The game saw Isaac Yiadom from Boston College and Florida’s Duke Dawson have the best day.

A pair of safeties were remarkably consistent in PFF’s eyes during both the team practices and the game. Marcus Allen of Penn State (no relation to the NFL Hall of Famer) and Trayvon Henderson from Hawaii had 2.4 (that is relatively high in their system) scores in both cases, which should warrant some attention for the Cowboys’ staff.

These are the players who were considered among the best during the week of Senior Bowl by PFF. Some of them are certainly going to be top draft prospects, while others may just warrant a closer look as we count down to the Cowboys going on the clock.