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2 Cowboys draft targets listed as “most difficult to evaluate” by former scout

Just how much risk should the Cowboys be willing to take in this year’s NFL Draft?

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The Dallas Cowboys list of prospects and positions they’re targeting in the first round of the draft generally consists of offensive line and wide receiver prospects to fill the voids left by Connor Williams, La’el Collins, Amari Cooper, and Cedrick Wilson. Picking 24th overall doesn’t mean the Cowboys can guarantee they’ll be able to draft for immediate need, and could see a top prospect slide at another position. Linebacker and cornerback should still be considered depth needs on Dan Quinn’s defense, both with first-round prospects that Dallas must consider as this year’s “Lamb or Parsons” pick.

Sometimes highly-ranked prospects come with red flags, making them “difficult to evaluate” in the words of former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks. Brooks released his five toughest evaluations from this year’s class, and two names should be very familiar to Cowboys fans. They are Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean and LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr.

Dean is one of two linebackers that have been steady first-round picks in mock drafts as the leader of a Georgia defense full of Sunday players that beat Alabama in the national championship. The other is Utah’s Devin Lloyd, who played with less NFL talent around him, and is a pre-draft visitor for the Cowboys.

Bucky Brooks’ concerns with Dean stem from his physical readiness to play at the next level without fellow blue chip prospects Quay Walker and Jordan Davis.

Size matters in a league that loves prototypes at every position. While production certainly carries weight, it is hard for some coaches and scouts to select players who fall below the line when it comes to height, weight and length at certain positions.

As a dominant playmaker with outstanding instincts, awareness and communication skills, Dean was the unquestioned leader of a championship defense that featured an absurd number of blue-chip players. He is a tackling machine with a track record of gobbling up runners at every turn. But he is also an undersized defender (5-11, 229 pounds) without a verified 40 time to confirm his speed and explosiveness between the lines.

While most coaches and scouts value production at a premium, the NFL draft definitely has a beauty-pageant aspect to it. Typically, top prospects must pass the eyeball test to earn high marks in draft rooms.

The Cowboys plan on keeping Micah Parsons as a jack-of-all-trades defender, which makes the thought of pairing a rangy player like Dean with him at linebacker enticing. Dallas brought back veteran Leighton Vander Esch this offseason, giving them some insurance at the position to push it down the list of needs. In a draft so critical for the team’s future, the Cowboys need proven talent with a clear path to contribute in year one. This year’s Georgia defense is a great place to start, and if their evaluation of Dean is high enough he may be too good to pass up late in the first round.

NCAA Football: Georgia at Tennessee Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports

Derek Stingley Jr. also comes from a talented SEC defense, and checks a lot of the boxes Dallas looks for in their top picks. What should be a straightforward scouting report on a top ten prospect has been anything but for Stingley, with major concerns over his injury history and overall competitive nature.

Stingley played just ten games for the Tigers over the last two seasons, but impressed at his recent pro day. The Cowboys are looking for last year’s second-round pick Kelvin Joseph to take a step up this year, but Stingley may be too good to pass up. Any team that gets Stingley will see immediate results in man coverage.

Brooks shares the following insight to the league’s outlook on Stingley:

A spectacular freshman campaign during LSU’s national title run in 2019 prompted some scouts to immediately tout Stingley as the best cornerback in college football. He displayed the footwork, balance, body control and ball skills of an All-Pro on the island, blanketing a talented collection of pass catchers in the SEC, including teammates Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson during intense practice battles.

In most instances, a player with a game that is ideally suited for the NFL would be celebrated at every turn, but Stingley’s injuries and inconsistency over the past two seasons have led some scouts to wonder if he can regain his all-star form when he reaches the pros. Sure, the talent is intoxicating, but plenty of “can’t-miss” prospects have underachieved and left scouts heartbroken in the past.

It would be a surprise if the Cowboys didn’t address offensive line and wide receiver early in the draft, but being open to all options is the right team-building approach. Their 12 win season but early playoff exit are a distant memory now, but this month’s draft is on the horizon, and the team should be prepared for a player like Dean or Stingley to still be on the board at 24.