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Mapping the Cowboys draft strategy using the 30 pre-draft visits

Who has come in to visit shows some clear indications of what the Cowboys are interested in doing.

2018 NFL Draft Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Two weeks. That is how long remains until the Dallas Cowboys go on the clock for the first time in the NFL Draft. It is currently not going to happen until day two, of course, with no first-round pick and not much trade ammo to use for a move back into the first.

That, of course, makes it that much harder to find good value with the six picks the team does have. One of the tools they have used to good effect lately is the 30 pre-draft visitors allowed by the NFL. At this point, we know of 27 names, with the team holding back three visits for last minute looks at players, and they may not use them all.

But those players who have come to the Star give us some indications of what the team is planning to do. And if we look at where those names are seen as falling in the overall draft, it further clarifies things. Here is a table of all the invites, with where they are seen landing in the draft according to the big board at CBS Sports (at the time this was written).

Cowboys pre-draft visitors

Position Round 2 Round 3 Round 4 Round 5-6 Round 7-UDFA
Position Round 2 Round 3 Round 4 Round 5-6 Round 7-UDFA
Safety Taylor Rapp Will Harris Khari Willis
Juan Thornhill
Johanathan Abram
Chauncey Gardner-Taylor
Wide receiver Deebo Samuel Mecole Hardman Jon'Vea Johnson
Emanuel Hall
Running back Damien Harris Mike Weber Tony Pollard
Defensive end Jaylon Ferguson John Cominsky
Defensive tackle Gerald Willis Trysten Hill Kingsley Keke
Tight end Jace Strenberger Drew Sample
Dawson Knox
Linebacker Christian Miller
Cole Holcomb
Dre Greenlaw
Darius Harris
Cornerback Derreck Thomas
Chris Westry

A few notes:

The team did not even bother with players who are likely to go in the first round, which only makes sense.

Obviously, different boards will have some of these players in different rounds. But the CBS board has been a pretty good one in the past, and this is more about getting a general idea of where these players’ talents would slot them.

Each round is a broad swath, of course. Some, like DT Gerald Willis, are right at the top of their round. He is seen at the 66th player overall, which could certainly bring him into play at the Cowboys’ earliest pick, 58, if they have just a little higher value on him.

Given that, there are some things that this table tells us.

First, they really want a safety in the second. All four of the second-round names here are candidates to go before the Cowboys get on the clock, so they will be watching for someone to slide to them, or maybe will consider a trade up to grab one. Fortunately for them, the position is one that is often undervalued by teams, so the chance of being able to sit in place and still get someone they like is pretty good. And there are some other intriguing names that did not make the trip to Frisco that are seen as second-round level players, like Deionte Thompson and Darnell Savage.

If getting a safety doesn’t work out, it looks like the preferred fallback positions are wide receiver, running back, and defensive end. The one to watch is WR Deebo Samuel. According to CBS, he is the best value of the three non-safety names in the second round Dallas has taken the time to invite. If there isn’t a run on wide receivers before the Cowboys go on the clock, he could well be available. This is a WR class that is not particularly strong at the top but deep in the later rounds, so some teams may wait. Of course, that may also be the thinking at the Star.

The third round looks like something of a sweet spot for Dallas at tight end and wide receiver.

While only Mike Weber shows as a fourth-round name here, the team has two picks late in that round, so they may be looking at using one or both to trade up, or as where they hope to grab a player they like that has slid down a bit.

It was a bit of a surprise to see so many linebackers invited, but none are seen as premium values. The Cowboys have used their visits to take a closer look at possible priority UDFA signings, so that could apply here, and to the two cornerbacks they had in.

There may be other targets, since the team also had several players in for Dallas Day, and talked with many others at the combine and pro days. One name from that group that could be a target in the fourth is DE Ben Benogu out of TCU, but we’ve seen his name rise in some mocks.

This does seem to show that safety is by far the biggest priority for them, with wide receiver and tight end a second tier, while waiting on day three for the others. Of course, they likely have a lot of different reads on the players than CBS does. But based on what we have seen in past years, this gives us a decent map of just where they likely want to go when their turn comes up in each round.