With the 2018 NFL Draft a little over two months away and the NFL Scouting Combine on the horizon, the evaluation process has begun to warm up. Teams have had ample time to analyze and critique their roster, coaches and executives, which means it’s time for them to turn their attention toward players and prospects currently outside the organization.
The Dallas Cowboys — like every other team — will formulate their own thoughts and opinions on the draft class. In doing so, they will have to make some tough decisions on how to differentiate prospects who are graded closely, which is exactly what we are going to do today.
It’s still early, but let’s take a look at a few draft-day decisions the Cowboys have to make.
NOTE: Each pick decision is made independent of others.
Round 1: Vita Vea or Isaiah Wynn?
Two of the names most associated with the Cowboys’ first-round pick, Vita Vea and Isaiah Wynn, are fantastic players in their own right.
Vea is a nose tackle with a masterful blend of strength and power. He routinely bullies and bludgeons opposing offensive linemen using a controlled violence that is unrivaled in this class. Standing at 6-foot-4 and 344 pounds, Vea incorporates surprising quickness in his game, making him an above-average pass rusher and a nose tackle with three-down ability.
I take an in-depth look at the manhandling, RB-battering, soul stealing, run game-eating ways of Vita Vea. He’s not your typical NT, he’s so much more.
— John Owning (@JohnOwning) January 8, 2018
Wynn was an excellent left tackle at Georgia, but with a less than ideal frame, Wynn will slide to guard in the NFL. The Georgia product is a well-rounded prospect who is equally effective in pass protection and as a run blocker.
*Checks* Yep, Isaiah Wynn is still a good player. Mugs No. 41 here. Playing with a proper base allows him to generate force while remaining balanced, giving him the ability to strain and drive the defender back. pic.twitter.com/7dkLMyEr2u
— John Owning (@JohnOwning) February 24, 2018
Both players have the ability to immediately step in and make a noticeable impact for the Cowboys. Wynn would likely slide into the currently vacant left guard position, while Vea would be positioned as the starting nose tackle. Both positions desperately need an upgrade and have quality depth, so it would still be possible to find a potential starter at either position later in the draft.
Ultimately this comes down to preference — and there’s no real wrong answer — but a nose tackle is currently positioned to make a greater impact than a comparatively talented left guard. Selecting Vea would immediately improve Dallas’s porous run defense and make life easier on Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith.
Verdict: Vita Vea
Round 2: Anthony Miller, Will Hernandez or Deadrin Senat?
Round 2 and beyond are where things get really interesting for the Cowboys, since there is a greater variability in the talent available. As available players become less talented, team fit becomes even more important.
Depending on what Dallas does in the first round, Anthony Miller, Will Hernandez and Deadrin Senat warrant consideration when the team is on the clock in the second.
Miller is one of the most dynamic playmakers in the draft. Using creative steams, impressive change-of-direction ability and superb quickness in and out of his cuts, Miller is able to generate a ton of separation. When the ball is in the air, the Memphis product demonstrates an ability to play above the rim and win at the catch point. Listed at 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, Miller doesn’t have prototypical size, but his skill set and competitiveness more than make up for it.
Anthony Miller did the CB dirty here on the sluggo route. Sells the slant with a quick head turn toward the QB and accelerates vertically as soon as the CB starts to break. Whew pic.twitter.com/ENgYL3xSxf
— John Owning (@JohnOwning) February 3, 2018
Hernandez may be the meanest prospect in this class — and that’s a good thing. The UTEP product plays through the echo of the whistle and is always looking to finish his opponent. At 6-foot-2 and 348 pounds, Hernandez isn’t the quickest interior lineman, but his footwork is smooth enough to compensate. If the Cowboys’ new offensive line coach, Paul Alexander, is looking for a guard who can vertically displace defenders with regularity (outside of presumed top-10 pick Quenton Nelson), Hernandez is the guy.
Wondering why we're so high on OG Will Hernandez? See here as he buries the UT DL here on a big run block (he's the LG)… We also covered him back in our first big board update of the season on September 22nd. Here's the full article (it's free) https://t.co/1drByn8t7W pic.twitter.com/DAR3w6RS8K
— Andre B Simone (@andresimone) January 27, 2018
If the Cowboys end up not selecting Vea in the first round, Senat would be a worthwhile target in the second. Listed at 6-foot and 301 pounds, the South Florida product is one of the best run defenders in the class. Senat uses a consistent base, proper pad level and hand placement to consistently play with good leverage and ability to shed blockers at a moment’s notice.
Deadrin Senat can play.
Plays with a consistent/good base, proper pad level and ideal hand placement. Controls blockers very well at the POA pic.twitter.com/jBoN8h3vuq
— John Owning (@JohnOwning) February 20, 2018
While Hernandez and Senat have clear paths toward producing in Year 1 for the Cowboys, Miller’s projection is a little bit muddier. He likely won’t start initially and there are a lot of other mouths to feed on the Cowboy offense. Yet, Miller’s skill set is needed. Senat is a decent player, but there are comparable nose tackle talents who can be picked in later rounds.
If Dallas passes on taking a guard in the first round, the front office should be jumping for joy if Hernandez is available when Dallas is on the clock in Round 2. Sandwiched between Tyron Smith and Travis Fredrick, Hernandez would elevate the Cowboy running game back to 2016 levels.
Verdict: Will Hernandez
Round 3: Fred Warner, Andrew Brown or Keke Coutee
Two months out, it is almost impossible to predict who will be available in the third round, but let’s take our best shot.
Fred Warner, Andrew Brown and Keke Coutee are fun prospects the Cowboys would be dumb to ignore in the third round.
Listed at 6-foot-3 and 227 pounds, Warner doesn’t have the prototypical size of an off-ball linebacker, but he makes up for it with impressive mental processing ability. Miscast as an overhang/slot defender, Warner wasn’t often able to display the skills that will get him paid in the NFL. Luckily for him, he was invited to the Reese’s Senior Bowl and was able to demonstrate his ability to play in a traditional off-ball LB role. Warner impressed throughout the week, demonstrating the ability to quickly identify and attack his keys. Furthermore, Warner is one of the better coverage LBs in the class and could fit in a nickel role early.
Fred Warner may not be the best at taking on blocks, but he is a stud in coverage, which is exactly what is needed in the NFL. pic.twitter.com/O4fw8UIS3z
— West Coast Scout (@CaddytotheLama) February 24, 2018
Brown also used the Senior Bowl to showcase his NFL traits, because the college defense he came from didn’t adequately cater to his skill set. Stuck in a two-gapping role at Virginia, Brown was unable to showcase his athleticism and ability to penetrate and disrupt. In Mobile, Brown showcased those traits and more. He was one of the clear winners of the week. Listed at 6-foot-4 and 285 pounds, Brown will likely be cast as an under tackle (three-technique) in the NFL.
Virginia DL Andrew Brown is a powerful dude. Converts speed to power on this rep and rolls the guard to ruin the depth of the pocket. Love him in an attacking role. pic.twitter.com/dbX1TpEdKj
— Joe Marino (@TheJoeMarino) January 31, 2018
If Dallas passes on the wide receiver position with its first two picks, Coutee should be on the team’s short list in the third round. Listed at 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, Coutee is one of the best deep threats in the entire draft. Coutee’s outstanding explosiveness allows him to eat up and blow by a cornerback’s cushion with ease. The name of Coutee’s game is separation, since he uses game-breaking speed to separate vertically, enhanced by his quickness and change-of-direction ability at the top of routes.
Today is the day I became a KeKe Coutee fan. Absurd deep speed and will get his fair share of chunk plays in the NFL. pic.twitter.com/AXvWv7sbxj
— John Owning (@JohnOwning) February 24, 2018
While Warner and Brown deserve consideration, Coutee is the best option of the bunch. The Cowboys have desperately needed a signifcant deep threat to take the top off the defense. The Texas Tech product can fill that role plus more. A consistent deep threat will open up the intermediate routes for Jason Witten and Dez Bryant while giving Dallas the ability to generate more chunk plays.
Verdict: Keke Coutee