We are now in the first week of April — which means, obviously, the 2018 NFL Draft is only weeks away! This year’s draft brings lots of excitement as the Cowboys not only hold ten picks, including the 19th overall, but the city also hosts the event for the first time ever.
Many fans are counting on the Cowboys going defense for as much as possible during this year’s draft, especially after the signing of Allen Hurns. The one exception, though, appears to be offensive guard. Last year’s starter Jonathan Cooper inked with the 49ers in free agency. If the Cowboys go offense in round one, look for Isaiah Wynn or Will Hernandez to be the pick, although you can rule out wide reciever.
What about later in the draft, though? Last week we took a look at five middle-to-late round defensive prospects to know. This week, we are looking at the offensive side of the ball. Who are potential receivers, running backs, and offensive linemen to keep an eye on?
Nyheim Hines, RB, NC State Wolfpack
The 30 pre-draft visits are beginning for teams around the NFL and, naturally, we here at BTB are following who the Cowboys are bringing in closely. The usual suspects include Vita Vea, Da’Ron Payne, Calvin Ridley, and DJ Moore, among others; however there is one running back (at least so far) that Dallas has scheduled to bring in.
Nyheim Hines was one of the more electrifying players in college football during his time at NC State. The future NFL Draft pick originally began his career at wide receiver but transitioned to the running back position over the course of his three-season career.
NC State RB Nyheim Hines changing gears, bursting to defeat the angle & displaying his long speed to hit the home run - pic.twitter.com/wTOZpT9SVg— Michael Kist (@MichaelKistNFL) April 1, 2018
The 5-foot-9 and 197-pound athlete doesn’t posses the size to be an every-down back in the NFL, but he a guy that can come in and be a change-of-pace back while also being a contributor out of the backfield on third downs and in the redzone as both a back and as a receiver.
The former track-star rushed for 1,113 yards and 12 touchdowns while also returning 12 punts for over 130 yards and a touchdown. Hines has the speed to take a three-yard gain to the house while also being a solid option for the quarterback out of the backfield. If the Cowboys want to make their offense even more dynamic, Hines could be the pick at 81.
Every touchdown by Nyheim Hines for NC State. pic.twitter.com/YA19fTp82Y— James Simpson (@JS_Football) April 1, 2018
Ian Thomas, TE, Indiana Hoosiers
It is no secret that future Hall-of-Fame tight end Jason Witten is nearing the end of his illustrious career. It’s not yet clear how many years he has left, but the Cowboys should not sit around and wait for the legendary Cowboy to retire before they get a replacement in-house.
Rico Gathers is a candidate to eventually grow into TE1, but concussions derailed his 2017 season before it even began. The former Baylor Bears basketball star has all of the measurables you could ask for, but can he develop into a reliable and consistent target? We’ve seen flashes, but that question remains to be seen.
There is some solid tight end talent in this draft class. The headliners includes Dallas Goedert from South Dakota State, Mark Andrews from the Oklahoma Sooners, and former South Carolina Gamecocks target Hayden Hurst. Penn State star Mike Gesicki is also another talented prospect at the position, but there are concerns about his ability to block — which is critical in this Cowboys offense.
A name to be familiar with is Ian Thomas out of Indiana.
#Indiana tight end Ian Thomas is another sleeper in this tight end class worth knowing about. Nice double-move to get over top for the TD. Great job selling the sideline route by turning his hips and head in that direction. Then whips them back upfield. #Patriots pic.twitter.com/f82qLWlQym— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) March 27, 2018
The former JUCO product had little-to-no production as a junior (3 catches, 28 yards), but he put together a solid senior campaign for the Hoosiers this past fall. Thomas, 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds, hauled in 25 passes for 376 yards and five touchdowns in 2017. He clocked in a 4.74 40 and a 36” vertical at the NFL Combine.
Ian Thomas - Indiana— Maliik (@Obee1ne) March 21, 2018
Unclear if Jared Cook and/or Walford will be back, & if that’s the case, it’s a battle for TE1.
Athletic guy with good hands and open-field ability
If you’re looking for the Cowboys to grab a tight end late in the draft, Thomas could be your guy.
Daurice Fountain, WR, Northern Iowa
While the tight end Thomas isn’t on the Cowboys pre-draft visitor list like running back Hines, an underrated and potential late-round gem at the wide receiver position is.
Daurice Fountain, 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, is one of five receivers on the Cowboys’ current pre-draft visitors list, and he is an ideal choice at the position should the Cowboys pass up other options at WR in the first two days. Fountain is a guy that our own DannyPhantom mentioned as a possible sleeper in the fourth-round.
Dane Brugler described Fountain as a guy that could have made a name for himself at the Combine, if he had received an invite to Indianapolis.
It is too bad he won’t be at the Combine because Fountain would have put on a show with his leaping skills and speed. While very raw as a route runner, he is an ascending prospect with excellent size (6-2, 210, 34 1/2” arms) and speed, making him an ideal candidate for the bottom of the roster while he develops.
As it stands, the speedy and athletic target should be on your radar, as he very well could be a choice for the Cowboys somewhere on day-three (probably the fourth-round).
Northern Iowa WR Daurice Fountain (#10) has hit it out of the park with his workouts. He's 6015/210 and ran 4.48 with 42.5 VJ and 11-2 BJ. The list of teams NOT linked to interest in him might be shorter than team who are. #NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/yxZiDyEyk1— Kevin Brown (@nfldraftnik) March 30, 2018
Cole Madison, OG/OT, Washington State Cougars
We know the top offensive guards: Wynn, Hernandez, Braden Smith, etc; but what about an under-the-radar offensive guard that could be on the Cowboys’ radar?
Cole Madison, a 6-foot-5 and 308 pound offensive lineman from Washington State, is one of five linemen currently on the Cowboys 30 pre-draft visitors list.
Washington State guard Cole Madison visited Cowboys today, Washington tomorrow, according to league source— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) April 4, 2018
Madison was a three-star tight end in the 2013 recruiting class but eventually transitioned to an interior offensive lineman. He was an All-Pac 12 selection in three of his four seasons in Pullman, including a second-team honor this past fall. According to his WSU bio, Madison started every game he played in (47), which is the second-most starts in program history.
His durability is certainly a plus and his Pac-12 honors signify that he has talent to be a solid lineman on the next level as well. Here is how his NFL.com draft profile describes the former WSU guard:
Madison’s athletic ability, foot quickness and ability to sustain blocks on the move make him a desirable target for teams who want offensive linemen who can excel in space. However, his lack of anchor in pass protection will likely be targeted by pass rushers looking to for holes to exploit. A move inside to guard could benefit Madison, if he can add strength and play with better knee bend.
Don’t be surprised if the Cowboys take multiple linemen in this class. Madison appears to be a legitimate option to be a selection for America’s Team.
Cole Madison was the second-highest graded tackle among draft prospects in 2017 pic.twitter.com/xO86IOuCsC— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) March 29, 2018
Ito Smith, RB, Southern Miss Golden Eagles
Let’s say the Cowboys miss out on Hines for whatever reason; maybe he’s gone before 81, perhaps the Cowboys don’t want to spend an early round pick on a running back, or anything else that could cause a Hines-to-Dallas scenario to not happen.
Ito Smith would be a helluva consolation prize, should Dallas choose to grab someone with a similar skill-set later.
.@DraftAnalyst1 reported that Southern Mississippi RB Ito Smith is drawing a lot of interest from the Carolina #Panthers: https://t.co/oaLMzNROgd— Edgar Salmingo, Jr. (@PanthersAnalyst) April 2, 2018
Here's my favorite highlight of his... the way he drops his hips, freezes the defender, and wills his way to TD... are you serious? pic.twitter.com/in5QoMtHw5
Smith, 5-foot-9 and 20 pounds heavier than Hines, was a four-year star at Southern Miss. The Mobile, Alabama, native slipped through the cracks and was overlooked by SEC programs such as nearby Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State, and Ole Miss coming out of high school. Instead of letting it derail his career, Smith used it to fuel himself en route to becoming a star for Brett Favre’s alma mater.
Not bad running up the gut from small-guy Ito Smith. Looked for a second like he was going to bull-rush the safety and try to mow him down. pic.twitter.com/CBA6o59lNB— Mark Leipold (@LeipoldNFL) March 25, 2018
Through four seasons in Hattiesburg, Smith rushed for 4,538 yards and 42 touchdowns for the Golden Eagles — including over 1,400 yards in each of his last two seasons and 30 total rushing scores in 2016 and 2017. The do-it-all star also recorded 1,446 yards and seven touchdowns on 140 catches during his collegiate career. Chris Trapasso of CBS Sports wrote that Smith could potentially be the “steal of the 2018 NFL Draft”:
Smith tied with Derrius Guice for Pro Football Focus’ 17th-best run grade in the country this season out of 224 qualifying running backs. Overall, (counting receiving and blocking), Smith’s grade was 25th, sandwiched between San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny at 24 and Alabama’s Damien Harris at 26.
In 2016, his run grade was the 52nd-best among 255 qualifying running backs, and his grade was tied with Donnel Pumphrey. In 2015, his run grade was 37th in the nation, and it was tied with ... Joe Mixon. His overall grade that year was the 12th-highest in FBS, just a tick lower than ... Alvin Kamara.
Clearly, Smith has a lengthy track record of effectiveness at the collegiate level, a major plus.
If I’m the Cowboys, I strongly consider taking a flier on Smith on day-three.
4536 Rushing Yards— Football Is Life (@FootbaIl_Tweets) March 30, 2018
1446 Receiving Yards
22 reps 225
10th player EVER in D1 with 4K rushing and 1K receiving@itosmith ... And some people still sleep pic.twitter.com/0aYR6L0XGn
Which later-round prospects do you like, BTB?