The NFL Draft is here, and the only true consensus this year is that there isn’t much of one in a closely-graded class. The Cowboys brass even said in their pre-draft press conference that they’re working with just 14-16 first round grades. Scheduled to pick 24th overall, it’s common for teams to be into their second-round prospects at that point, but if the Cowboys feel the right move is adding a player with star power they could consider trading up.
The other interesting note from the Cowboys presser was Stephen Jones saying the team sees the strength of this class in the middle rounds, where they hold four picks in the fifth. Any trade up in the first round would be using the dart throws the Cowboys need to build the depth of this roster.
Assuming Dallas keeps us all waiting well into the night for their first-round pick, here are the players - by position - they should hope are already selected to help slide the best prospects at their positions of need to 24th overall.
Offensive line, wide receiver, and defensive line aren’t included here, as we’ll consider them the Cowboys positions to target with their own first round pick.
- Malik Willis
- Kenny Pickett
- Desmond Ridder
- Sam Howell
This is an obvious place to start for any team that isn’t in the market for a franchise quarterback, like the Cowboys. Willis and Pickett are the predictable first-round names, but things could get much more interesting with Ridder and Howell.
Some bold predictions have Howell being the first QB to earn a starting job from this class, while teams like the Seahawks or Steelers could be interesting in Ridder. The Cowboys pick is scheduled after the Patriots, Packers, and Cardinals, all teams not looking for quarterbacks. The same is said for every team but the Lions picking after Dallas, which limits the options for a run on quarterbacks to really help the team this year.
Running Backs (2)
- Breece Hall
- Kenneth Walker III
This draft has a great chance of breaking a seven-year streak of at least one running back being drafted in the first round. So don’t count on either of these to go before the Cowboys at pick 24. Breece Hall from Iowa State and Kenneth Walker out of Michigan State are the best talents here, but both should easily slide into day two.
Tight Ends (2)
- Trey McBride
- Jelani Woods
This is another position where it is very unlikely any tight end will go before pick 24. A long run on receivers could help push McBride into the very back end of the first round, at the same time pushing the Cowboys into picking an offensive linemen or defense. Woods’ athletic profile makes him a candidate for one of the biggest steals of this draft, mostly because he’s widely expected to be available outside the first round.
The Cowboys could be targeting later round tight ends themselves, but like the rest of the league aren’t really weighing first-round options at the position, making this position unlikely to help.
Defensive Backs (5)
- Derek Stingley Jr.
- Trent McDuffie
- Kyle Hamilton
- Ahmad Gardner
- Kyler Gordon
This is a fringe position of need for the Cowboys, but one that feels unlikely to be addressed in the first round. Projections for this year’s defensive backs are all over the place, but the Cowboys could see at least four players come off the board here before their pick.
The question for Stingley Jr., McDuffie, Hamilton, and Gardner is where they’ll be drafted, with the hope for Dallas being they all fall in the first 23 picks. Gordon is the first-round longshot here, but his athletic profile and skills as a man coverage cornerback could make him an option for any team that gets wiped out at another position.
- Devin Lloyd
- Nakobe Dean
- Quay Walker
This is a deep linebacker class, but one without much star power at the top. Lloyd and Dean have been mainstays in the first round, with Dean’s teammate Walker being one of the fastest risers at the position.
The Cowboys are unlikely to draft another first-round linebacker after taking Micah Parsons last year, which puts this class on the list as a position group they can root for three names in round one.
The Cowboys positions of need stretch beyond the first round in this year’s class, making the way they go about addressing them more important than ever. This is a team with needs for equal parts star power, young starters, and overall depth. Getting the 24th overall pick right is the best way for Dallas to come out of this weekend with all three.
A best case scenario for the early to middle portions of the first round is as many of the players listed above having their names called - though some preferably not by the Giants, Eagles, or Commanders, who own a total of five picks before the Cowboys come on the clock.