Grad School: A college football expert fills the draft needs of NFC East teams - Andy Staples, The Athletic
The Athletic determines who NFC East teams should target in each round of the draft. What do they have for Dallas? Here’s a taste of what they have in the first couple rounds.
Whether the Cowboys go edge or cornerback at No. 17 probably depends on what the teams above them do, but I’m going with LSU edge K’Lavon Chaisson because I think they can get an effective cornerback later. Chaisson was awarded the prestigious No. 18 at LSU last year, meaning coaches and teammates considered him one of the team’s best leaders. He’s explosive with great bend, and he can affect throws even if he doesn’t sack the quarterback. He still needs to grow as a run defender, but his pass-rushing upside is worth the tradeoff.
There should be a few options at cornerback at No. 51. One of Alabama’s Trevon Diggs, Utah’s Jaylon Johnson or Auburn’s Noah Igbinoghene should be available here. Of these, the 6-1, 205-pound Diggs probably has the ideal physical traits. Johnson probably is the most polished. Igbinoghene, who has only played the position for two years, may have the highest upside.
The 2020 NFL draft could have ‘the best receiver class in over a decade,’ and it’s not short on D-FW ties - Calvin Watkins, Dallas Morning News
The wide receiving class in this draft is extremely deep, and the Cowboys have their eye on several players.
On the Cowboys’ radar
Five notable wide receivers the Cowboys have spoken to during the draft process:
KJ Hamler, Penn State: Hamler met with team officials at the combine. Hamler said the toughest cornerback he faced was South Grand Prairie’s Jeff Okudah.
Josh Hammond, Florida: The Cowboys met with him at the East-West Shrine game. Hammond had one catch for 32 yards in that contest.
Tee Higgins, Clemson: Higgins talked with the Cowboys on a conference call. Higgins was the MVP of the ACC title game.
Michael Pittman Jr., USC: The Cowboys spoke to Pittman at the combine. He had 101 catches for 1,275 yards last season for USC.
Jalen Reagor, TCU: He was on a conference call with team officials as part of the draft process. Reagor averaged 14.2 yards per catch in 2019.
One of the wide receivers the Cowboys are interested in earns the top spot in a top 10 potential steals list.
1. WR Michael Pittman, USC
At 6’4”, 223 pounds, Pittman ran a 4.52 40-yard dash at the combine, which is impressive for a big-bodied wideout. With his solid route-running, strong hands in contested situations and body control on jump balls, he’s the complete package at the position.
Pittman doesn’t have the tantalizing speed to garner first-round attention, but take a look at some of the top wideouts in the game today. DeAndre Hopkins (4.57), Davante Adams (4.56), Michael Thomas (4.57) and Mike Evans (4.53) didn’t post eye-popping 40 times during their workouts, either.
Nonetheless, all of those playmakers attack the football when it’s in the air. They use physical leverage and adjust well to the ball after the quarterback’s release. Pittman shares those traits. If he’s the No. 2 option in an aerial attack, the wideout could start his pro career with a 1,000-yard season. Pittman has a high ceiling because his sharpened technique and physical tools are comparable to those of potential Day 1 prospects.
Even though the team lost Randall Cobb in free agency doesn’t mean there aren’t some interesting depth options already on the roster.
Smith (6-foot-1, 199 pounds) was out of football for two seasons after suffering catastrophic knee injuries while with the New York Jets. The former second-round pick out of Ohio State had a great training camp and preseason, and was a huge factor in the team’s Week 2 win over Washington, hauling in all three passes including a 61-yard touchdown bomb that had to be euphoria after thinking his career may never happen.
But Smith quickly faded out of the limelight as quick as he shot in it. An inability to contribute in a meaningful way on special teams rendered him useless on gameday to head coach Jason Garrett. Because fourth receiver Tavon Austin could’n’t play on any special teams outside returner, the fifth receiver had to, and Smith couldn’t contribute there.
With Austin gone and a new head coach in Mike McCarthy and special teams coach in John Fassel, perhaps now there will be a way to utilize Smith in the offense again. He’s a big play waiting to happen.
A look at some good fits for Day 2 of the draft, including a cornerback that might make a good choice in the third round.
BRYCE HALL, CB, VIRGINIA
The Cowboys are in a tricky position. They have a desperate need at EDGE and a lot of needs that could be survived but all feel pressing. They have enough talent at cornerback, interior defensive line, tight end and safety that they could get by next year without feeling forced into grabbing a starter at each position. I’d be hunting high-risk, high-reward picks in the later rounds which Bryce Hall certainly is. He’ll be devalued because he’s scheme-specific — he has to play in Seattle’s cover 3 mold — and his injury history. Hall, however, fits what Dallas valued under DB coach Kris Richard last year: tall, long, speed, ball skills.
With Byron Jones out of the building, they need another player who can win in deep third coverage — that’s Hall. If Hall can’t stay healthy or if he struggles then the Cowboys missed on a Round 3 pick (82nd overall), which is an unsure thing to begin with. They would back with Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis. If Hall hits as an outside starter in their system, it’s huge value outside of the top 80.
The Cowboys have a lot of different wild card players at defensive end. Would they dare to go after another one?
What if there was a five time Pro Bowler, former All Pro free agent at a position of need for the Dallas Cowboys? What if this player also had experience playing under one of the Cowboys new defensive coaches? Well, this is all true! And it all relates to defensive end Cameron Wake. Wake spent the 2019 season with the Tennessee Titans, putting up career lows across the board. His numbers and price tag led the Titans to cut him back in March, making him free game for the rest of the NFL.
No one has bit yet, but it almost makes too much sense for the Cowboys to do so. Wake was a double-digit sack guarantee all the way through 2017, and even tallied 6 sacks in his 2018 season. The days of Wake playing every down for a defense are long gone, but he could be a specialty sack artist for a Cowboys defense which needs one opposite of DeMarcus Lawrence.
The Cowboys won’t have the same level of tough offseason decisions next year, but there are a few players who they’ll have to think long and hard about.
Of the eight who can become unrestricted free agents, Awuzie, Lewis and Woods would be at the top of the list. They have much to prove and the most to gain. Awuzie, a second-round pick in 2017, has started 36 of 41 games and has had one interception in each of his first three seasons. He struggled down the stretch in 2019 and was replaced in the base defense in the biggest game of the season against the Philadelphia Eagles. Lewis, a third-round pick in 2017, has started 13 of 46 games, spending most of his time as the team’s slot corner. He has four interceptions and has made big plays in key games despite less playing time than Awuzie. Woods, a sixth-rounder in 2017, has started 33 of 45 games, including all 29 he has played over the past two seasons. He has five interceptions.
From the GM’s Eye: With first-round QBs, a matter of risks (high) and odds (low) - Michael Lombardi, The Athletic
Identifying some of the hits and misses over the years at the quarterback position leads to an interesting observation.
What became more interesting than examining the quarterback names and remembering all the debate regarding the talent level of each was determining who made the pick, then who coached the player. Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh said years ago that “very few people can coach a quarterback, and even fewer can evaluate them.” When I reviewed this list, Chiefs coach Andy Reid jumped out as the perfect example of Walsh’s belief. He can scout the talent, then coach the player. From Donavan McNabb to revitalizing Alex Smith’s career to Mahomes’ current MVP and Super Bowl-winning run, Reid is outstanding in all phases.
We tend to focus on the player, not the coach, but the right coach with the right player makes all the difference. Teams spend all this money on finding the perfect quarterback. Perhaps they should spend more time understanding how to find the ideal coach.
If anyone ever asks you why you support such a “disappointing” franchise, remind them that no teams wins on Sundays at a greater rate than the Dallas Cowboys.
1. Dallas Cowboys Record: 520-388-6 (.572)
Tom Landry, the first coach in franchise history, had a 29-year run as the boss and compiled a 250-162-2 record. Dallas reached five Super Bowls in the 1970s, winning two of them. Then in 1989, Jerry Jones bought the team, fired Landry and hired Jimmy Johnson. Dallas soon enjoyed enormous success, hoisting the Lombardi Trophy three times in a four-year period—two with Johnson and the last under Barry Switzer in 1995. At that point, the franchise boasted a 318-206-6 mark and .606 winning percentage. That’s effectively the peak, though. Since then, the Cowboys are 202-182 (.526) with 10 playoff berths yet haven’t reached the NFC Championship Game once.
Who exactly are the wide receivers in the 2020 NFL Draft class? We discussed them all on the latest episode of Talkin’ The Draft.
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