File this away for future reference. Once again, the pre-draft visits and workouts for the Dallas Cowboys showed us in advance what the team would do in the 2018 NFL Draft - especially with their first four picks. Despite the release of Dez Bryant just days earlier and the surprise retirement of Jason Witten, first reported on day two of the draft, Dallas stuck to its plan. And you can go back at that compilation linked above and see the shape of things to come.
First the team took Leighton Vander Esch to shore up the linebacking corps. LVE was one of only three linebackers that were brought in on the official 30 visits - and he and Darius Leonard were the only two that the team also was reported to have done a private workout with. The third name, Rashaan Evans, was apparently the second choice for the team at 19, with Leonard a fallback in case things did not work out in the first round. The fact that two first-round talents were included in the visits was a hint that the position was something of an all or nothing proposal, which was reflected in the rationale the staff gave for going with LVE. His name was really no surprise, as the local Cowboys media was telling us for a couple of weeks that he was emerging as a front-runner.
The second round pick, offensive line (and projected guard) Connor Williams was one of the Dallas Day visitors, which allowed him to be something of a stealth prospect. But he was also by far the most highly ranked of all the local names brought in under the rule that lets teams have unlimited visits with area prospects. With the official visits and the workouts, the team was considering four linemen with first-round grades, and with a linebacker in the first, they were banking on the depth of the interior linemen talent to allow one of their targets to slide to them at 50. That worked out, barely, as Williams was the last with real day one starter potential. (The Cowboys’ situation was helped a great deal by the Oakland Raiders taking Kolton Miller in the first round, which was seen by many as something of a reach.)
Then the third round brought them wide receiver Michael Gallup. He was another player that had a private workout with the team, and both those and the visits offer a whole list of players who were seen as anywhere from first to fourth round values. In waiting until pick 81 to get a wideout, Dallas clearly was reading the depth of this draft at the position, and they found a player who has the talent and the traits to help replace Dez Bryant’s production - especially what Bryant produced over the last few years.
The first real surprise to most of us was defensive end Dorance Armstong Jr. with the first of their two fourth-round spots. But again, the visits gave us a clear indication that there was a priority on the defensive line as well, with eight D line included - and while the emphasis was thought to be on tackles, it is worth noting that three of them were ends. You can never have too many pass rushers.
The visits and workouts also hinted at some of the later selections, too. They doubled up on linebacker and wide receiver. And the plan also had an influence on the two trades the team made. They got Tavon Austin for a bargain, trading one of their three sixth-round picks for him. He is being listed as a running back by the team, which reflects the fact that the Cowboys had two “change of pace” RBs, Nyheim Hines and Ito Smith, in for visits. And when the Raiders called about trading Jihad Ward for Ryan Switzer, that allowed them to pick up a DT that they regarded highly when he was drafted.
The only two picks that weren’t really foreshadowed by the visits and workouts were QB Mike White and RB Bo Scarborough. They appear to be more value moves, with White seen by many as one of the best available after the first round, and Scarborough providing huge value in the seventh round as a battering ram that can spell Ezekiel Elliott. He also seems in the perfect place with the offensive line likely fixed by Williams’ acquisition.
This is why BTB has a tradition of watching the visits and workouts like a hawk. They showed a pretty clear blueprint for the draft, one that the team followed with a surprising level of discipline. They don’t really hide their intentions leading up to the draft - if you are willing to pay attention.