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Cowboys 2018 Draft: Three first-round candidates, and the winner is...

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The draft is getting closer. Who do you have the Cowboys taking in the first round?

Portland State v Washington Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

With the 19th overall pick, the Dallas Cowboys select.....(shrugs shoulders) honestly, I have no idea.

Usually this is the time of the year that I proudly proclaim my prediction for the teams first-round pick. Entering last year, I had a little streak going when I correctly predicted Zack Martin (2014), Byron Jones (2015), and Ezekiel Elliott (2016). I would bet my bottom dollar that had the Atlanta Falcons not jumped up and stolen Takkarist McKinley, my streak could very well still be alive. Of course there is no way of truly knowing that, unless the Cowboys draft board gets leaked somehow, but when does something like that ever happen?

Unfortunately, my chances of starting a new streak this year isn’t looking very good as there are so many players the Cowboys could end up picking this year. If you look at the team’s Official 30 visitors, a third of them are first-round projected players. That’s throwing a lot of different names in that hat.

Last season, the team had two-thirds of their visitors be either a defensive end or cornerback (10 players each) with the bulk of them being first- or second-round players. So, it didn’t come as a surprise when the team took a defensive end in the first round and a corner in the second. We knew the positions, we just weren’t quite sure of the names.

This season, the positions are scattered. The Cowboys have at least a couple different first-round candidates at several positions on their invite list. And when you look at all the mocks over the last few months, there are multiple options at many different positions, containing players that wouldn’t catch us off guard if we heard their name called. Players like:

  • Wide Receiver - Calvin Ridley and D.J. Moore
  • Guard - Isaiah Wynn and Will Hernandez
  • Defensive Tackle - Vita Vea and Da’Ron Payne
  • Linebacker - Leighton Vander Esch and Rashaan Evans
  • Defensive End - Harold Landry and Marcus Davenport

Not only could they be going in several different directions position-wise, but there are choices at each of those positions. So, how are we going to figure this out? I have managed to narrow it down to three players who could be targeted at 19, but first let’s eliminate a couple honorable mentions.

Note: I’ve included a mini-board for each position group, color-coding them as follows:

Blue = 1st round grade, Purple = 1-2 grade, Green = 2nd round grade, Orange = 2-3 round, Peach = 3-4 round, Light Green = 4+ round

5. Leighton Vander Esch

Having a player like Vander Esch would really help the state of the Cowboys linebacker position. With Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith both having injury worries, beefing up the depth would be a great idea. The problem with this pick is that it would be based off of need. Don’t get me wrong, Vander Esch is a great athlete and is coming off a breakout year at Boise State, but taking him at 19 is a reach.

There are a couple first-round worthy linebackers in this draft (Roquan Smith and Tremaine Edmunds), but they should be gone when the Cowboys are up.

4. Isaiah Wynn or Will Hernandez

The Cowboys need a starting left guard. There are a handful of starting left guard choices in the first round. Seems like a perfect fit, right? It would be more ideal to be able to find a guard later and use this prime draft resource on something other than another first-round linemen, but is that feasible? There are some decent options in each round, but the talent level slowly starts to drop off. If you want a good one, it’s better to get one early.

While a linemen pick wouldn’t be terrible here, it still doesn’t strike me as the direction to go to get the most talented player from this pick.

With players like Austin Corbett and Braden Smith who could be lingering around on Day 2, the Cowboys can drive themselves into position to grab one of these players at a much cheaper draft cost.

Alright, let’s get down to the top three choices...

3. Harold Landry

The edge rusher from Boston College is being considered here because he is a great football player. Some would question whether it’s a smart use of resources with players like DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, David Irving, and Taco Charlton all vying for snaps in the trenches. But there are two important things to remember. First, all those players listed above still bring about their own uncertainties. Are the Cowboys going to sign Tank long-term? Will they be able to afford or even want to keep Irving? Is Crawford going to be a cap casualty soon? And can Taco show improvement in year two to be counted on as a future piece of this defensive line?

The second thing is, the Cowboys have been really patient over the years when it comes to not reaching for a defensive end in the draft, despite them needing one for years. Now, one of the better ones in the draft could fall right in their lap and you want to let him go on by? Not me. A talented pass rusher is like bacon - you can never have too much of it.

The Cowboys have brought Landry in for an official visit and it wasn’t just because he has a legendary last name. They’re interested.

2. Calvin Ridley

There are receivers who have blazing speed and there are receivers who have good hands. There are receivers who are skilled route-runners and there are receivers who are dangerous after the catch. Calvin Ridley is all of those things. If you’re hoping the Cowboys take a receiver in the first round, this is the guy you want to fall.

There are two issues with taking a first-round receiver. Number one, the lack of production from a long list of recent first-rounders has me scared. The college to pro transition has shown itself to be a risky expenditure. Just because the three first-round WRs last year had a combined zero touchdowns doesn’t mean the next the crop is cursed. But there is risk and you don’t want to squander this pick.

But more than that, it’s the extensive list of quality receivers that can be found on the second day of the draft. As soon as the second round of the draft concludes and teams start looking at their boards, many of the top players available are going to be wide receivers. The talent of these receivers at that part of the draft is going to be very appealing for teams looking to add players at that position. How terrible would it be to draft Ridley at 19, only to find Sutton fall to 50. Then what? There should be a receiver fans are excited about waiting for them in both the second or third round.

The Cowboys need to fill other spots on this roster and should be patient. Show the world that there is no panic in big D despite the release of big D and find themselves a fundamentally sound WR on Day 2.

And the winner is...

1. Vita Vea

It’s rare that I’m still purring for a January pet cat three months later. Trust me, I’ve tried to talk myself out of it. Listening to the front office downplay the importance of a 1-tech defensive tackle sure makes you think twice. A big body just plugging up the middle while other more-talented players do all the work - is that really what the team should spend their first-round investment on? While those are compelling enough arguments to lose some of the love for Da’Ron Payne, it does nothing to sway the value of what Vita Vea would bring to the Cowboys.

Vea is not only a talented player in his own right, but the trickle down effect he would provide for the entire defense makes him a valuable asset to this team. I want 2016 Maliek Collins back. I want Tank to partner with 2016 Collins. I want second-year Taco and contract-year Dino to run wild. And I want all this to happen while Vea is pummeling through two offensive linemen.

I’ve tried to convince myself that viable DT choices are available later, but the talent drops off considerably from 19 to 50, especially when it comes to a 1-tech who can be a difference maker.

In the end, it’s all about trusting my board and Vea is the top dog. If I’m Will McClay and Vea is gone by 19, I’d expect to hear some compelling arguments made from Scott Linehan and Sanjay Lal about how they see this WR class. If they feel good about waiting, then I’d give Rod Marinelli another star-caliber pass rusher to have at his disposal.