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Cowboys mock draft (Ver. 1): Going against the recent grain of conventional wisdom

Recent mock drafts for the Cowboys are focusing on tight ends with the first pick, we go in a different direction.

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NFL: Combine Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

After the Dallas Cowboys left the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, they returned with a rumored infatuation for the tight ends in this class. It’s hard to argue against them, considering four tight ends could be selected in the first round.

There will be a time and place for a mock draft to consider taking tight end at No. 26, but there are other needs the Cowboys need to fill with players at different positions. Starting in round one, Dallas should consider drafting a player against conventional wisdom.

Here is a five-round mock draft, version one, for the Cowboys from PFF’s mock draft simulator.

Round 1 (No. 26): Emmanuel Forbes, CB - Miss. St.

From day one, Emmanuel Forbes has been a favorite to watch. It’s hard to find anyone that took the ball away better than Forbes. When it comes to the draft something that translates to the NFL level is production in college, especially at this position.

During his three seasons as a Bulldog, Forbes had 14 interceptions and 22 pass deflections. His natural instincts for the ball helped him score six touchdowns off interceptions, an all-time FBS record.

The glaring concern for Forbes is that he weighed in at 166 lbs at the combine. His playing weight was listed at 180 lbs but is still slight for the position. He is a willing tackler, but his play strength can be detrimental when tackling bigger players in open space.

However, the Cowboys would be wise to take a chance on the press-man corner instincts that made him great in college. Forbes has shown to hold his own against some of the SEC’s best receivers. Pairing him with Trevon Diggs and DaRon Bland would give Dallas a ball-hawking secondary the NFL hasn’t seen in a while.

Round 2 (No. 58): Rashee Rice, WR - SMU

Some of Dak Prescott’s best seasons in Dallas came with throwing to a wide receiver from SMU (Cole Beasley). The Cowboys fill that need again by drafting Rashee Rice as their third receiver on the depth chart.

Jalen Tolbert mentioned last season how he got a call from Prescott telling him he liked his game and wanted him in Dallas. Rice was seen working out with Prescott last offseason at SMU. Sometimes, the painting just paints itself.

As a senior, Rice had 96 receptions for over 1,300 yards and ten touchdowns. Rice’s frame at 6’1” and 204 lbs allows him to play on the outside, which helps CeeDee Lamb focus on being one of the league’s best slot receivers.

During his time in Green Bay, Mike McCarthy drafted a receiver similar to Rice from a smaller school—James Jones from San Jose State. If the Cowboys want to improve their weapons on the outside for Prescott, the combination of Lamb, Gallup, Rice, Tolbert and Turpin wouldn’t be a bad way to start.

Round 3 (No. 90): Ivan Pace Jr., LB - Cincinnati

If Leighton Vander Esch leaves in free agency and the Cowboys decide not to re-sign Anthony Barr, they have a blinking red light at linebacker. Following their usual pattern, they might bring in a veteran for a two-year bridge deal, but they still need to add explosive talent.

If a player has a wrestling background, especially at the linebacker position, it consistently shows up on film. As Damone Clark looks to develop in year two, Ivan Pace Jr. would look really nice playing alongside him. During his last two seasons at Cincinnati, Pace registered 262 tackles and 34.5 tackles for loss.

His measured size of 5’ 10 1/2” is considered small by NFL standards, but Pace talked about how he doesn’t feel his size affects how he plays the game. He is not the best in pass coverage but has coachable traits that Dan Quinn would love to get his hands on and mold him into an NFL starter. In the third round, there’s value in that.

Round 4 (No. 129): Ji’Ayir Brown, S - Penn State

Just like LVE, there’s a possibility the Cowboys lose Donovan Wilson to free agency. Stephen Jones mentioned his desire to keep Wilson, Jayron Kearse, and Malik Hooker together, but Wilson’s market might be out of Dallas’ price range.

As the scouts did with Wilson and Xavier Woods before him, they’ll draft another safety to develop and fill the void. Ji’Ayir Brown would be a quality replacement for Wilson if the Cowboys draft him.

Lance Zierlein of says, “he’s instinctive in coverage and urgent in run support. A non-stop motor fuels him throughout the game.” Zirelein also mentions Brown has a high football character and would fit as a leader in the locker room.

Dallas has Kearse and Hooker under contract for one more season before needing new deals. Depending on what happens, Brown would become a developmental guy to have if the unit looks completely different in 2024. The Cowboys would get a steal if he fell to the fourth.

Round 5 (No. 163): Luke Schoonmaker, TE - Michigan

Rumors from the combine indicate the Cowboys are in the market to take a tight end in the draft. This position certainly has depth and quality players past the first round.

If they don’t select one of the top four prospects for the position, Dallas could wait to choose someone like Luke Schoonmaker and be just as thrilled. The Cowboys selected Jake Ferguson in the fourth round a season ago, and he developed into a quality player as a rookie.

With the presence of Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot, Schoonmaker wouldn’t have the pressure to deliver right away. He won’t kill defenders as a pass catcher but would provide a run-blocking ability that McCarthy would love for his offense.

Coming from Michigan, Schoonmaker is more familiar with pro-style, run-blocking concepts than most tight ends in the draft. Like Ferguson coming from Wisconsin’s program, you expect these players to be above-average blockers coming in as rookies. With the chance to develop, Schoonmaker will fit right in with “Frick and Frack.”

Round 5 (No. 170): Eric Gray, RB - Oklahoma

Eric Gray might not be here in the fifth round, so insert any running back’s name into this spot. Regardless of what happens with Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys might draft a running back simply because the value of how deep the class is would be too good to pass up.

Someone like Gray can become a good NFL running back. He doesn’t have the explosiveness of a Tony Pollard, but that’s why he would be an excellent complement to his game. In his final season at Oklahoma, Gray saw an exponential increase in carries with 213 attempts for over 1,300 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns.

Gray is also proven to be a serviceable pass catcher hauling in 33 receptions for 229 yards and can stick his nose in as a pass blocker. If Gray isn’t the selection here, the feeling is some running back would be.

Round 5 (No. 176): Clayton Tune, QB - Houston

Between his time with the Packers and the Cowboys, Mike McCarthy has been a part of six quarterbacks selected in the draft. Ingle Martin, Brian Brohm, Matt Flynn, B.J Coleman, Brett Hundley, and Ben DiNucci are all the names. None have been successful outside of Flynn.

However, the quarterback position is one of the hardest to project in the draft, but one could argue for taking one every year. Like the draft, teams take as many darts as possible to throw at the board and hope they strike gold. A player like Clayton Tune would be worth the bet in the fifth round.

Part of Brock Purdy’s success in San Francisco was because he had so much experience at the college level. Sure, he lacked a lot of first-round traits, but few quarterbacks saw the playing time he did at Iowa State. Tune is similar in that aspect. He might lack qualities that would be a “no doubt about it” first-round quarterback, but he got a lot of playing time at Houston.

He was a four-year starter and three-time captain who accumulated almost 1,500 pass attempts, nearly 12,000 yards passing, and threw 104 touchdowns. Tune would be a similar draft pick to Mike White from a few years ago—bet on the traits, and hope he develops into a backup quarterback, especially if Cooper Rush leaves in free agency.

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