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Cowboys 2018 mock draft: The defensive lineman route

This mock focuses on what the Cowboys could do in seven rounds by drafting a defensive lineman early.

NCAA Football: Washington at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Over the next few days, we’ll be releasing several mock drafts. The purpose of these mock drafts is to look at the different directions the Dallas Cowboys can go in the 2018 NFL Draft.

With needs across the roster, there are plenty of names that could come in and produce from the start, but the Cowboys know that it is not that simple. Dallas will need to be ready to change their draft strategy on a pick-to-pick basis.

Disclaimer: In this article, we will focus on how the Cowboys could draft if their option in the first round is at the defensive tackle position. Keep in mind that these picks are not what I would do. Instead, these picks are what I believe the Cowboys will do.

Round 1, Pick 19: Vita Vea, Defensive Tackle, Washington

Vea has most certainly received a lot of love leading up to the draft. Perhaps it was the combination of how seamlessly he moves on tape and the 41 bench press reps he put up at the combine. Dallas has a hole at the 1-technique defensive tackle position. By using their first-round pick on a player that fits the position, the Cowboys would boast quite the defensive lineman group along with DeMarcus Lawrence and David Irving.

In the role he will be asked to play, Vea has the power to take on double teams and hold his own, but he also has enough skill moves that allow him to get in the backfield and create havoc. Vea may not be able to play as a three-down player from the start, but the Cowboys need someone in the interior to take up blockers on running downs. Vea can do that for his first year or so.

Round 2, Pick 50: Malik Jefferson, Outside Linebacker, Texas

Dallas met with Malik Jefferson for a private workout, so there is already some interest. While Jefferson will likely go in the second round, he is still very much a project. In 2017, he was asked to play a different role where he could be more aggressive and use his athletic ability to make plays in the backfield and take smart angles all across the field.

Currently, Dallas has two linebackers slated to start in Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith. Despite the signing of Joe Thomas over the offseason, Dallas should still look to address this position early in the draft. Jefferson would immediately contribute on the strong side, while also learning to better take on blocks and become more comfortable with the nuances that come with the linebacker position.

Round 3, Pick 81: Marcell Ateman, Wide Receiver, Oklahoma State

A recent pre-draft visitor, Ateman did not receive the attention he deserved in college. At Oklahoma State, Ateman consistently played second fiddle to James Washington, but he is still a pretty talented player himself. At 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, Ateman is a bigger receiver who wins when the ball is at the catch point.

His long-term outlook in the NFL looks to be a red-zone receiver who will be deployed on islands to go up and bring down the football over opposing cornerbacks. Ateman did not test well, as is evident by his 4.62 40-yard dash and 13 bench press reps. He has good ball skills and as it stands right now, the Cowboys really do not have a receiver to make those contested catches in the red-zone after the release of Dez Bryant. At the end of Day 2 in the draft, Ateman could have the Cowboys’ attention.

Round 4, Pick 116: Tracy Walker, Safety, Louisiana-Lafayette

A pre-draft visitor, Walker has potential to be a good starter at the next level. The main reason why the Cowboys have such profound interest in this smaller-school player is because of his length and technique in coverage. With this and his athleticism, it is clear that he could have versatility.

Looking at what defensive backs coach Kris Richard preferred to work with in Seattle, Walker embodies exactly that. At 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, Walker is a bigger guy. He also has the frame to add on more mass. He is definitely a project, but Walker has a really nice ceiling. Considering the options they already have at cornerback and safety, Dallas could afford to use a pick on a player like Walker to develop him into something.

Round 4, Pick 137: Skyler Phillips, Offensive Guard, Idaho State

Dallas needs to get a player at left guard that can create a blindside-protecting group on that side of the line. Being able to play next to Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick, this next offensive guard will have some help to develop. If the Cowboys want to wait until the middle rounds to add a guard, Skyler Phillips could be someone that interests them.

He is a blue-collar type of a player who plays with a mauling attitude at 6-foot-3, 325 pounds. At Idaho State, Phillips played each guard and tackle position. With his versatility and experience, the Cowboys will greatly value that depth.

Injuries and inconsistency upfront, and the Ezekiel Elliott suspension, led to the Cowboys losing their identity of dominating while running the football in 2017. To get back to that, the Cowboys need to add a player who runs around with a mean streak. Phillips can be that guy and he can be found somewhere around the end middle of Day 3.

Round 5, Pick 171: Poona Ford, Defensive Tackle, Texas

Another Texas product, Dallas could serve to benefit by double-dipping at the defensive tackle position. They really do not have a lot of depth in the interior right now. Brice Price, Lewis Neal, and Richard Ash did not necessarily do much in the time they were on the field, so that is where a player like Poona Ford come help out.

At 5-foot-11, 300 pounds, Ford is going to be a difficult player to move once he adds on more weight. He has long arms for a guy of his stature and awesome upper-body strength. Dallas simply needs more depth on the defensive line. And having a rotation of players who can rotate in and out, stay fresh, and give their all whenever they are on the field would be huge for their defensive front.

Round 6, Pick 192: Troy Fumagalli, Tight End, Wisconsin

It’s surprising how Troy Fumagalli has not gotten the respect he has deserved this draft season. Regardless, the Cowboys could get a really nice tight end in the later part of the draft here. With James Hanna opting for retirement and Rico Gathers’ future up in the air, it would not hurt for the Cowboys to add a tight end at some point in this draft.

Jason Witten still has four more years on his deal, but he has been slowing down consistently each year since 2012, where he had over 1,000 receiving yards. While Fumagalli is missing a finger, he has spectacular hands to go along with unique strength.

At Wisconsin, he was asked to be a huge contributor in the run-blocking department. He delivered thanks to his excellent technique and ability to chip in and close out defensive ends. At the very worst, Fumagalli could be a productive run-blocker from the start with the potential to develop into more of a natural tight end.

Round 6, Pick 193: Zach Sieler, Defensive End, Ferris State

Doing this mock draft, it’s surprising that Sieler was still available here. Despite playing at a small school in northern Michigan, Sieler has a lot of traits that could translate well to the NFL. With unique size at 6-foot-6, 290 pounds and athleticism to go with it, Sieler could be a nice rotational piece in Dallas’ 4-3 front.

Sieler was simply dominant at Ferris State. With unique power to go along with bend, Sieler is a vicious defensive end. There should be some refinement to his technique, but Sieler could turn into a really nice player if he is developed.

Round 6, Pick 208: Roc Thomas, Running Back, Jacksonville State

A top-five recruit in the country in 2014, Roc Thomas’ college career did not go as planned. He did not panned out in Auburn, but the move to Jacksonville State revitalized his NFL future. With unique lateral skills and the athleticism to go with it, Thomas has the makings of a player who can come on the field on third down and make plays out of the backfield.

His testing was not spectacular in the combine. Because of that, his draft status will more or less reflect on his past and what he brought to the table once he was in high school. Expect the Cowboys to draft a running back who can add a pass-catching element to their offense. Thomas is a guy that would make sense. And if everything works out, maybe he will develop into the player many thought he would become a few years ago.

Round 7, Pick 236: Zachary Crabtree, Offensive Tackle, Oklahoma State

It will be a question of how he will be used in the NFL, but Crabtree has some traits that could translate to the NFL. On tape, he struggled to keep up with quicker and more agile defensive ends. At 6-foot-7, 310 pounds, Crabtree is a little slow with his movements. When he does not make initial contact, he struggles to win in space against defensive ends.

However, Crabtree was a top recruit in the country a few years back and he has experience at the tackle spots from his time in college. While he was a tackle in college, Crabtree’s future in the NFL is at swing tackle and at guard at the next level.

What does your “defensive lineman route mock draft” look like?

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