The Dallas Cowboys have out themselves in a unique position entering this year's NFL Draft. They had very few pressing needs and the ones they did have, they’ve taken steps to remedy them this offseason. This means the Cowboys can enter the draft with an open mind and draft pure, collecting as much talent as they can.
Despite that door being wide open, it’s still fun to try to figure out what direction they will go, but before we can do that, we need to get a sense of the landscape of talent in this year’s draft class. Today, we’ve put together a little chart to help get a better feel for where the talent is in this draft at each position based on a collection of 117 big boards that are used to construct a consensus big board courtesy of NFL Mock Draft Database.
The graph shows how many prospects (x-axis) should be selected by certain points in the draft (y-axis). The color-coded chart shows where players at certain positions are expected to go with the color representing each round of the draft up to where the Cowboys are picking in that round.
What does all this reveal? Let’s examine...
Where it’s the deepest
This is a really deep draft class for edge rushers as there is talent to be found in every round. This isn’t a position of need for the Cowboys as they have a slew of guys who will be scrapping for reps; however, some of them are nearing the end of their contracts. Free agent Dante Fowler signed a second-straight one-year deal and Dorance Armstrong only signed a two-year deal last offseason meaning he’s entering the last year of his deal. Even DeMarcus Lawrence will only have one year left on his contract after the 2023 season.
With a talent pool this deep, it’s possible a player they really like falls into their lap and is just too good to pass up. And while they don’t necessarily need them to contribute this upcoming season, he could come in handy the following year. Don’t be surprised if they take a development guy in round four who they have graded a round earlier.
Similar to edge, this is another great draft class and it would be shocking if the Cowboys didn’t dabble in the cornerback market. They just traded for Stephon Gilmore so there isn’t a huge need, but he’s only here on a one-year deal, so it would behoove them to make plans for the future. The amount of cornerback options should allow the team to be patient and go after those traits they covet (lengthy and instinctive) even if he’s not a year-one starter.
Wide receiver is always a position that offers plenty of options and this year is no different. While there is a handful of players available in the first couple of rounds, there’s also a tight group of candidates lingering in round three. Following the red curve on the graph, there are 12 wide receiver prospects ranked within the top 90, which is where the Cowboys are currently picking in the third round.
Similar to corner, the Cowboys have already taken action to shore up the position by trading for a proven veteran, with Brandin Cooks being the guy at receiver. This can allow them to be patient and wait things out.
Sneaky good depth
We’ve all heard about how deep this running back draft class is, but now we can visualize it. It’s one of the leanest groups throughout the first three rounds of the draft, which is largely attributed to its weak positional value. But what really stands out is how it takes off after that. There are nine, count them, nine prospects projected to come off the board in between where the Cowboys pick between rounds three and four (yellow squares above). This tells us that addressing the running back position could wait until rounds three or four as there will be plenty of good options available.
These positions are interesting as they both offer roughly the same amount of options throughout the first three rounds for the Cowboys. Depending on the demand these positions could get scarce fast or offer up a great value. The Cowboys should be in play for either of these positions as depth in the trenches is always welcomed. And while the offensive tackle class typically offers a solid amount of prospects, it’s intriguing to see the defensive tackle group this deep. In fact, there are a few options that might line up rather well with where the Cowboys are picking. Could this be the year the Cowboys finally select a DT in the first round (hasn’t happened since Russell Maryland in 1991)? Based on the landscape of this draft, we wouldn’t rule it out.
Top heavy, but runs dry fast
This is a position that gets a lot of buzz due to a few names fans wouldn’t mind hearing be called on Day 1. While it’s true, this is a position group that has some talented players that could go in the first round, it runs dry pretty quickly. After the first six players are taken from the board, the remaining prospects are ranked outside the top 120 players.
If the Cowboys feel like they need to come away from this draft with one of the better prospects, they’re going to need to react fast. If not, then there are a bunch of development options later in the draft.
Not so great
Similar to tight end, you get to the red pretty quickly with these groups, but unlike tight end, there aren’t any elite prospects available early. There is only one player (Alabama safety Brian Branch) ranked within the top 26 spots in the draft. If the Cowboys are looking to find starting-caliber players from these positions, they might feel compelled to attack them on Day 2 while the getting’s good. And considering that left guard is one of the few weak spots on the roster, this could be the position/timing the Cowboys make a move on.