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2018 mock draft tracker: Da’Ron Payne vaults into lead for Cowboys first-round pick

The big man from Alabama has taken over the lead in the race for pick #19 by the Cowboys.

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NCAA Football: Alabama at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

We waited a while this week to update our 2018 Mock Draft tracker because we wanted to catch the fallout from the recent combine. We checked out 15 updated mocks since the combine ended on Monday, and we have a clear leader, though we won’t call him consensus just yet. Earlier this week, we posted Todd McShay’s mock where he gave the Cowboys defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne from Alabama. That trend continues in our mock tracker where five of the 15 mockers go with Payne. Following up behind Payne is Vita Vea with three mentions, and Calvin Ridley with two.

Payne would certainly beef up the middle of the line but would also come with added athleticism. Is it enough to entice Stephen Jones to go for a 1-tech with some 3-tech traits? It’s interesting that the Cowboys have traditionally shied away from defensive tackles in the first round, but out of 15 mocks, nine of them have a defensive tackle as the pick. That points to how much of a hole observers believe the Cowboys have in the middle of their defensive line.

Calvin Ridley is the only receiver mentioned this week and if he falls to #19, the Cowboys would almost have to take him given how much they are looking at receivers in this draft, and with the Dez Bryant situation still unsettled.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES

Vita Vea, DT, Washington
PFF (Palazzolo), Mar 6 At 340-plus pounds, Vea is more than just a run-plugger, though he can certainly wreck blocks in the run game. He has the power to push the pocket and his pass-rush productivity of 10.3 ranked eighth in the draft class last season. Vea finished fifth in run-stop percentage at 12.1 while grading at 91.6 against the run, showing that he can disrupt and finish plays. He adds a much-needed big body to the Dallas defensive line rotation.
CBS Sports (Brinson), Mar 6 The Cowboys locked down Demarcus Lawrence on the franchise tag but now need to improve the interior of their defensive line with a big body who can soak up some offensive blockers.
CBS Sports (Wilson), Mar 6 At 6-foot-4 and almost 350 pounds, Vea is one of the biggest players in the draft. He makes sense in Dallas where the Cowboys' defense ranked 25th a season ago.
Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama
SB Nation (Kadar), Mar 6th If the Cowboys want to add a player on the defensive line in this draft, they’ll likely have to do so in the first round. The talent really dries up on the line, unlike positions like wide receiver or defensive back in this draft. Payne is a plugger up the middle who offers a little more as a pass rusher than he’s often given credit.
USA Today (Ruiz), Mar 6th Payne wasn’t much of a pass rusher at Alabama — at least in terms of production — but he dominated the national title game and has aced every test during the draft process. The Cowboys are still looking to build up their defensive line.
NFL.com (Jeremiah), Mar 6th Payne showed off his athleticism at the combine and he'd be a good fit for the Cowboys.
Athlon (Fischer), Mar 6th Some falling offensive linemen may be of interest to Jerry Jones but adding one of the most athletic defensive tackles in the draft will be hard to pass up. We all know Payne will be fine against the run but he has a chance to really boost his pass-rushing skills alongside Demarcus Lawrence.
Sporting News (Iyer), Mar 8th The Cowboys keep loading up on speed and quickness for Rod Marinelli's defense. Although they have a dominant edge player in DeMarcus Lawrence and a dangerous swing man in David Irving, they need another big body who can blow up plays in the backfield. Bringing in Payne would give Dallas quite a pile up front after taking end Taco Charlton in the first round last year.
Taven Bryan, DT, Florida
NFL.com(Zierling), Mar 8 While Maurice Hurst has been the selection here in many mock drafts, Bryan is an even more explosive athlete and has a higher upside in Rod Marinelli's defense from the three-technique spot.

LINEBACKERS

Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
CBS Sports (White), Mar 8 Smith ran well at the combine as expected, logging the second-best 40 time at his position at 4.51 seconds. The Cowboys would be thrilled for him to fall this far, as he gives them a complement to Jaylon Smith at the linebacker position for years to come.

DEFENSIVE END

Arden Key, DE, LSU
USA Today (Davis), Mar 7 Demarcus Lawrence had a breakout 2017 with 14½ sacks but is basically on a prove-it deal after being franchised. Key also has doubters after leaving Baton Rouge but made a good impression at the combine when he weighed in at a sculpted 238 pounds, though he'll surely need to add some weight back to hold up in the NFL.

CORNERBACK

Joshua Jackson, CB, Iowa
Draft King (Pickney), Mar 6 There was some discrepancy about Jackson's 40-yard dash time at the Combine (4.49 later downgraded to 4.56), and while that might stop Jackson from being the first DB off the board, there is every reason to believe Jackson will still end up being among the first 32 players off the board.

WIDE RECEIVER

Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
CBS Sports (Trapasso), Mar 7 A relatively poor combine sinks Ridley slightly, but the Cowboys are happy to pick him to pair with Dez Bryant to stretch defenses vertically in 2018 and beyond.
Yahoo Sports (Williams), Mar 6 Player analysis: Ridley is so smooth that he doesn’t look that fast on tape. He’s a polished receiver who makes every route look the same. I can hear Jerry Jones now: “You see who we drafted, huh? Got my triplets again. How ’bout dem Cowboys?!”

GUARD

Isaiah Wynn, G, Georgia
Bleacher Report (Miller), Mar 6 Offensive guard is a need for the Dallas Cowboys but maybe not the team's biggest area of concern—that's a toss-up between wide receiver and the defensive line—but the idea of pairing Isaiah Wynn with the current starters is too good to pass up. Wynn, a left tackle at Georgia, has the perfect build for a left guard and brings excellent athleticism into a scheme that fits his movement skills and length. If fans want to see Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott at their best in 2018, giving them a top-tier left guard like Wynn and rounding out the offensive line is a way to get it. With no receiver representing a value here and the team placing the franchise tag on Demarcus Lawrence, guard isn't quite the luxury pick as some may see it, but rather a true best-player-available selection.

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