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5 early candidates for Cowboys in 2nd round of NFL Draft

John Owning

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Oct 14, 2017; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Tigers wide receiver Anthony Miller (3) and Memphis Tigers wide receiver Phil Mayhue (89) celebrate a touchdown during the second half against the Navy Midshipmen at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. Memphis Tigers defeated the Navy Midshipmen 30-27. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports
Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Even though the NFL Draft is seven rounds, the media and fans spend the majority of their time focusing on the first. Earlier this month, we did the same by looking at five early candidates for the Dallas Cowboys in the first round of the NFL Draft.

Now it’s time to break away from the rest of the media and discuss the prospects who may realistically be available when Dallas is on the clock at pick No. 50. There may not be a ton of top-end talent in this class, but there is a logjam of worthy prospects in Rounds 2 and 3. The Cowboys have a great opportunity to capitalize and select a player who can make an immediate impact on the field.

Since it’s still early in the process, the evaluations on each of these prospects are still evolving, but as of now, each would be a worthwhile target for the Cowboys in the second round.

Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis

Miller is a game-breaking talent who can elevate the Cowboys offense. Listed at 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, Miller doesn’t have the size of a typical outside receiver, but he has the route-running ability and toughness to thrive on the outside.

With the explosiveness to eat up cushions and the suddenness to create separation at the top routes, Miller is a difficult cover for any cornerback. In Memphis’s two games against Central Florida, Miller had some good battles with Mike Hughes — a cornerback prospect who is a first-round talent.

When targeted on short and intermediate throws, Miller shows his ability to create yards after the catch. On deep balls, Miller displays excellent ball tacking and an ability to compete with bigger cornerbacks at the catch point.

While there are rumors that Dez Bryant may not be back, Miller would be the perfect complement to Bryant’s physical style.

James Daniels, C, Iowa

Even though most of his experience is at center, James Daniels would have to slide out to guard with the Cowboys. While forcing a player to switch positions — especially along the offensive line — is always a risky proposition, Daniels displays the traits necessary to make the switch.

Daniels is a fluid mover who thrives working laterally and in space. Daniels may be the best offensive lineman at executing reach blocks in this entire class, reaching three-techniques with regularity.

Moreover, he takes great angles and does well to latch on and secure at the second level.

In pass protection, Daniels explodes out of his stance and hits his landmarks with ease. Against quicker defensive tackles, Daniels shows fluid feet and effective ability to mirror lateral movement.

Ideally, Daniels would slide right in as the starter at left guard from Day 1 if drafted. At worst, Daniels will start his career backing up the center and both guard positions as he develops and becomes more comfortable with his technique at guard.

Picking Daniels would allow the Dallas to regain its crown as the best offensive line in football.

Kemoko Turay, EDGE, Rutgers

Before getting into Turay’s titillating talent on the field, it is important to take into account his alarming injury history. Shoulder injuries significantly limited Turay’s sophomore and junior seasons, and any talk of taking Turay with the 50th pick will be contingent on how his medicals check out at the NFL Scouting Combine.

If Turay’s medicals don’t reveal any short- or long-term worry and he excels in the on-field testing inside Lucas Oil Stadium — as he is expected to — don’t be surprised if Turay starts to get top-50 consideration. The Cowboys have been looking for an explosive right defensive end (who can stay on the field) since DeMarcus Ware departed for Denver, and Turay could be the player to finally fill that void.

Turay’s modest career stats (just seven sacks in the last three seasons) may lead some to sour on the Rutgers product’s pro prospects, but he has exhibited an exciting skill set. Turay’s lack of production can be mostly attributed to injuries and his usage in Rutgers’ defense — Turay was forced to process a lot of keys on a given play, causing him to delay his rush for a half-second or drop into coverage.

Listed at 6-foot-5 and 252 pounds with 33 5/8-inch arms, Turay combines an impressive upfield burst with notable pliability in his lower half and a graduate-level understanding of how to soften the corner with his hands. Turay has a developed pass rush plan with impressive footwork and hand technique.

Turay’s upfield burst causes offensive tackles to move their center of gravity, thus making them more susceptible to being off-balance and moved aside.

Turay has some warts in terms of defending the run, but he can make an immediate impact as a pass rusher in the NFL. When slated against the best senior talent at the Reese’s Senior Bowl, Turay thrived and was arguably the best pass rusher in attendance.

With Turay, David Irving, DeMarcus Lawrence and Taco Charlton, the Cowboys would have a young and potent pass rush nucleus that could pay dividends for the next several years.

Derrick Nnadi, NT, Florida State

If the Cowboys miss on Vita Vea in the first round, Derrick Nnadi could be a nice consolation prize in the second. The Cowboys don’t typically invest in a nose tackle this high in the draft, but there’s a real chance that will change this year.

Nnadi is one of a couple of defensive tackles who could garner the Cowboys’ attention in the second round, but let’s focus on the Florida State product. Listed at 6-foot-1 and 299 pounds, Nnadi has a stout frame that is packed with power. Nnadi is a monster against the run, using his thick base to generate a ton of power along with his strong hands to discard blockers at the point of attack. Nnadi plays with proper pad level and hand placement, which allows him to leverage correctly and effectively. Nnadi’s low center of gravity allows him to hold his ground against combination blocks and keep his linebackers clean.

As a pass rusher, Nnadi leaves much to be desired, but he will provide the occasional pressure when singled up against an offensive lineman with a suspect anchor.

Nnadi is a little bit undersized when compared with the traditional nose tackle in an even front, but the Cowboys have shown no qualms with playing a sub-300-pounder there in the past. Nnadi’s power, motor and consistent technique will allow him to thrive between the A-gaps in the NFL.

While Nnadi probably won’t be Plan A for Dallas in the second round, he is a great fallback plan since he can immediately improve Dallas’s run defense and make life easier on Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith.

Shaquil Barrett, EDGE, Denver Broncos

This is kind of cheating, but with the Broncos expected to give Barrett, a restricted free agent, a second-round tender, the Cowboys would be smart to explore signing Barrett to an offer sheet. If Denver declines matching Dallas’s contract offer, the Cowboys would have to send a second-round pick as compensation.

Sign me up.

Some may scoff at sending that kind of draft capital for a player who had just four sacks last season, but further investigation reveals that it may be a wise move.

Tyron Smith is the most talented left tackle in football. Throughout the 2017 season, Smith faced some of the best pass rushers in the NFL, which included Chandler Jones, Olivier Vernon, Robert Quinn and Melvin Ingram. However, it was Barrett who gave Smith the most fits.

With Shane Ray injured, Barrett got the start at ROLB, and he finished the game with two quarterback hits, six QB pressures and five stops, per Pro Football Focus. Smith allowed five QB hurries in the game, three more than any other game in 2017. Barrett was able to vary his pass rush and keep Smith off-balance all game long. Barrett was equally effective against the run and pass, showing what he can do with an elevated snap count.

When Ray returned from injury, Barrett’s usage declined, which is why raw stats stagnated after a great start to the season. Still, Barrett was very effective on a per-snap basis, finishing the season 11th among 3-4 OLBs in pass rushing productivity (10.6) and eighth in run stop percentage (7.8).

Barrett is ready for a full-time role. Despite the fact that he has played as a standup outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense for the entirety of his NFL career, he has the requisite traits to put his hand on the ground and maintain his effectiveness.

The New England Patriots have long taken advantage of how the NFL overvalues draft picks, and the Cowboys would be smart to do the same.

Would you rather take a gamble on a 25-year-old who has already proven the ability to be effective against the highest level of competition, or a 20-to-22-year-old who has an enticing skill set but has yet to prove anything in the NFL?

The answer should be easy. If the Super Bowl proved anything, it’s that teams will have to exhaust every means to acquire talent to be successful. If the Cowboys wish to do the same, attempting to acquire Barrett would be a good start.

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John Owning is the NFL content editor here at FanRag Sports. He is Arizona State University graduate and current Galt, California resident. When he is not teaching Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, he is usually knee-deep in some NFL or college football tape. He has written for Bleacher Report and Football Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @johnowning.

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