Lessons Learned from a Month of Cowboys NFL Mock Drafts
The NFL Scouting Combine is upon us, so in honor of that we’ll take a break from my weekly mock drafts and assess the first four mock drafts of this draft cycle. The idea here is to take a look back at all four mock drafts and determine the lessons that I’ve learned based on how those mocks have transpired. Those lessons could potentially be applied to what the Dallas Cowboys MIGHT do in April.
So we’ll do it round-by-round. With that you’ll find the list of each player taken in each mock and the links will take you to each mock draft. Let’s dig in and see what I’ve learned.
Round 1: Get your secondary on here
In two of my four mock drafts I took safeties — LSU’s Grant Delpit in Mock Draft 1.0 and Alabama’s Xavier McKinney in Mock Draft 4.0. But I’ll let you in on a secret — I could have taken one or the other in the other two mocks, as well.
In Mock Draft 2.0 and Mock Draft 3.0 I took players at different positions to explore other options. But if the Cowboys want to address the safety need in this draft, the first round looks to be the area to do it. Delpit and McKinney are consistently available and have the ability to start right away.
This could also apply to the corner position, one that I’ve consistently failed to address early in these mocks. The following players were available after McKinney in Mock Draft 4.0 — Florida CB C.J. Henderson and Ohio State CB Damon Arnette. Go back to Mock Draft 1.0 and you can find Alabama CB Trevon Diggs taken after Delpit, along with TCU’s Jeff Gladney.
The point is, based on what I’ve seen in four mock drafts, defense is the likely pick here, with an emphasis on the secondary. But what the Cowboys MIGHT take here may receive some calibration next month when we find out IF the Cowboys are going to be able to keep Byron Jones, who is reportedly in high demand when it comes to free agency.
Round 2: There are solid ways to improve the defensive line
All four picks have been linemen here, but the first three mocks featured defensive linemen — Utah’s Bradlee Anae, TCU’s Ross Blacklock and Texas A&M’s Justin Madubuike.
To me, this slot shapes up to have some of the best value in the draft for the Cowboys, relative to where they are picking (No. 51) and what they might need.
If the Cowboys choose to go defensive line here, they need to grab a player that make an impact as either a starter or as a rotation player. There may be a need for both end and tackle, depending upon what happens in free agency. Having seen both Blacklock and Madubuike in person, I think either can be a good fit on Dallas’ defensive line. There is other talent, too.
In Mock Draft 2.0 Alabama DT Raekwon Davis was available. But it felt like there was a significant drop-off after that, if the mocks were any indication. What it tells me is that if the Cowboys are targeting more help for their defensive line, it may need to happen sooner rather than later. Defensive line help, specifically on the edge, is hard to come by and flies off the board fast.
One thing to keep in mind is that we don’t know EXACTLY what the Cowboys intend to do with their defense. Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy has talked of a base defense with a four-man front, and new Cowboys defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said that he wants to put the “best 11 players” on the field. And we’re not sure what that means yet. And that may certainly play a role in the defensive players taken in this draft.
Round 3: The wide receiver wheelhouse
Wide receiver is a sneaky need for the Cowboys in 2020, and it becomes more pronounced if the Cowboys lose both Randall Cobb and Tavon Austin to free agency. I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that Cobb stays because Mike McCarthy is the new coach (although it certainly helps the cause if the Cowboys intend to keep him). If Cobb stays, and assuming the Cowboys re-sign Amari Cooper (a pretty easy assumption), then their top three wide receivers from last season would be under contract and the need for a wide receiver in this round, much less this draft, may be lessened.
But the point here is that there is considerable depth at wide receiver. Along with Denzel Mims and K.J. Hill, one could also find Texas’ Collin Johnson, USC’s Michael Pittman Jr., Oregon State’s Isaiah Hodgins and more. The Cowboys don’t have to reach to find a receiver that could help them this year, in much the similar fashion that Michael Gallup helped them his rookie season. But the value at this position drops considerably after the fourth round.
Round 4: Time for a project?
When you get to the fourth round you’re starting to look at upside and player development on a larger scale. Just about every player on the third day of the draft comes with things coaches have to help players improve upon. All of these selections to this point have that in common. You’ll also see them run the gamut from help at tight end to help at safety.
Johnson actually might be the best bang-for-your-buck player here. You’re looking for players that have good foundations you can build upon. Of this group, Richie Grant might be that player. The perfect prospect matters less here than one with the right foundation and a multiple scheme fit, since they will likely have to help on special teams, too.
Round 5: Find the value and depth
All four of my selections here have something in common. They’re value and depth at positions where the Cowboys already have some, but you can never have quite enough.
It leans toward corner here, but much of that was because I had a hard time finding good corner depth in earlier rounds (we’ve already talked about how the bottom falls out of the secondary talent after the second round, at least in these mocks). The other is at offensive line, where the Cowboys should be churning draft talent until they find backups and potential starters to hang onto for the future. Offensive lines can get old in a hurry, and we can’t ignore Tyron Smith’s back trouble.
But in the sixth round you shouldn’t be married to a position as much as finding the best available player on your board.
Round 7: Power up with the Power 5
Will any of the below players make the Cowboys’ 53-man roster come September? That’s very hard to say. But I can tell you this: The Cowboys have a “type” of player they want in the latter rounds, especially the final round. Those are players with Power 5 conference pedigrees, ones that played in great systems that produce great players, even ones that weren’t perceived as great coming out of college (Alvin Kamara, anyone?). All four of these players fit the mold here.
They may not be the players the Cowboys end up taking, but be warned that they’re looking for a type of player here, and at the end of the day the Cowboys will lean toward those Power 5 guys.
My next mock draft will appear on March 4, right after the NFL Scouting Combine.