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Cowboys 2018 Draft: Five middle-to-late round defensive prospects to keep an eye on

We know about the blue-chippers, but keep an eye on these guys, too.

NCAA Football: Texas at Baylor Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys are adding weapons for Dak Prescott, as well as some key additions along the offensive line, during the second week of free agency. Allen Hurns is the big fish and they got him on a great team-friendly deal, and Deonte Thompson brings value as a burner — both as a deep-threat and in the return game.

On the offensive line, Cameron Fleming comes to Dallas on a one-year deal after starting for the Patriots at right tackle in the Super Bowl. Additionally, the Cowboys are bringing in former 49ers and Browns guard and 2014 third-round selection Marcus Martin as depth in the trenches. Joe Looney will also continue to wear Silver and Blue — and perhaps continue dressing up as Ezekiel Elliott as well.

That’s all great, and it should only make this offense even more exciting moving forward. But, what about the defense? The Cowboys did place the franchise tag on DeMarcus Lawrence after a DPOY-caliber season; the team also placed a second-round tender on David Irving. But, questions still remain.

Two of the biggest needs for the Cowboys this offseason are linebacker and interior defensive line. Finding a backer that can not only be reliable when Sean Lee or Jaylon Smith are dealing with an injury but also become a solid contributor is a must. Bringing in a run-stopper in either free agency or this April is also a priority. Adding a safety after moving Byron Jones to corner would also be ideal.

We know the obvious names to know: Roquan Smith, Tremaine Edmunds, Rashaan Evans, and Leighton Vander Esch at linebacker and Vita Vea and Da’Ron Payne at defensive tackle, but here are some more names on the defensive side of the ball that will likely be available on days two and three.

DeShon Elliott, SS, Texas Longhorns

Iowa State v Texas Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

DeShon Elliott is already receiving a lot of Cowboys talk, and a big part of that is because the former Longhorns defensive back is one of the Cowboys’ 30 pre-draft visits. That’s interesting because the Cowboys’ pre-draft visits and workouts tell us a lot about what the team ultimately does in April.

Elliott, 6-foot-2 and 209, began his collegiate career in Austin as a highly-regarded four-star All-American prospect, and he had a solid career in the state capital. The Rockwall native dealt with injuries during his freshman season, but still made 13 tackles, picked off two passes, and forced a fumble in seven games. He went on to make 93 tackles, 11.5 tackles-for-loss, 2.5 sacks, and a whopping seven interceptions over the next two seasons.

The 2017 Jim Thorpe Award (college football’s best defensive back) finalist is ranked as Dane Brugler’s sixth-best SS prospect. If the Cowboys aren’t able to sign a Tre Boston or Kenny Vaccaro or make a trade up for Derwin James, Elliott is a solid option on day two or early day three.

Dorance Armstrong Jr., EDGE, Kansas Jayhawks

NCAA Football: Texas Tech at Kansas Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

At one point, Dorance Armstrong had the potential to be a possible first-round selection this Apri; however the 6-foot-4 and 245 pound pass-rusher will likely be on the board on day three. The Houston native had a solid freshman season in Lawrence — 23 tackles, five TFLs, 3.5 sacks — but it was his sophomore campaign that put his name on NFL radars.

In 2016, Armstrong was one of the best pass rushers in college football. The Kansas defensive end was a constant terror for Big 12 quarterbacks each and every Saturday, as Armstrong made 56 tackles, a career-high 20 tackles-for-loss, and a career-best 10 sacks. He was unblockable, and some thought he could be a day one pick in 2018.

Armstrong had another solid season in 2017 — 63 total tackles, 9.5 TFLs, and two sacks — but it was a significant drop-off from his eye-popping sophomore season. Still, though, Armstrong opted to put his name in April’s NFL Draft. The former KU end has the tools — 6-foot-4 and 245-pound frame, 34 3/4” arms, and 4.87 40 — and shows the signs of possibly becoming a force if he reaches his ceiling.

Genard Avery, ILB, Memphis Tigers

NCAA Football: Memphis at Navy Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Genard Avery was under-the-radar coming out of high school, and former Memphis Tigers linebacker is under-the-radar coming out of college. The Mississippi native was overlooked by both Mississippi State and Ole Miss, as well as the other SEC schools in the area, so he opted to play for Memphis — and he had a solid career for the Tigers.

Avery gradually became an impact player for Memphis over his career and is now preparing for an NFL career. As a freshman, Avery made 18 tackles, five TFLs, and six sacks in eight games a freshman. His production jumped to 53 tackles, 6.5 TFLs, and three sacks in 2015.

Over the next two seasons, though, the Magnolia State native emerged as a big time player: totaling 159 tackles, 32 tackles-for-loss, 13.5 sacks, and two interceptions (both were pick-sixes) over his final two seasons in Memphis. He earned first team all-conference honors and is now on his way to becoming a gem for whichever team picks up this April. Avery is the ideal safety/linebacker hybrid that is becoming more and more common in professional football.

He doesn’t have the size as some of the others in this draft class, but he always finds a way to make an impact. Would you like to see the Cowboys grab the 6-foot-1, 255 pound backer?

Fred Warner, OLB, BYU Cougars

NCAA Football: Louisiana State vs Brigham Young Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Another option for the Cowboys at linebacker played his college ball at BYU. Fred Warner, 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, was a four-year player for the Cougars. He grew into an all-conference player and one of BYU’s best players each time he took the field.

After making 89 tackles, 13 tackles-for-loss, four sacks, and three interceptions his first two seasons on campus, Warner’s last two were even better. The California native started all 26 games for the Cougars over his junior and senior seasons, totaling 173 tackles, 19.5 TFLs, 2.5 sacks, and four interceptions.

Whenever the Cougars lined up on defense, the opposing quarterback was forced to find number 4 on the field, as Warner was more than capable of making a play to get his team a jolt of momentum. Warner plays with instincts and explosiveness, and could play a hybrid-type role in the NFL. Expect him to be a day two pick.

P.J. Hall, DT, Sam Houston State Bearkats

NCAA Football: East-West Shrine Game Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

P.J. Hall is the third native Texan on this list, and he has the talent to be an impact defensive tackle for a team that grabs him on day three this April. The defensive lineman from Seguin began his career at defensive end, but has since transitioned to the interior.

In 2017, Hall totaled 60 tackles, 19 tackles-for-loss, and six sacks. He also forced one fumble, picked a pass off, and blocked four kicks for good measure. The 6-foot-1, 310 pound tackle has ideal size to be stuffer in the middle of a defense — something that could help the Cowboys greatly.

Hall plays with great leverage, explodes at the snap, and dominated the FCS level for all four seasons of his collegiate career. Brugler’s 22nd best DT prospect is trending up and will be day three selection for a team looking to add a big-bodied lineman to their squad. Could that be the Cowboys?

Who interests you the most, BTB?

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