“He will be long gone before we pick.”
“No way on earth he makes it to (insert Cowboys pick #), I don’t know why we are even discussing him.”
“Team X picks in front of us, no way they let him get to us.”
Every draft season, fans fret that no player worth selecting will still be on the board when their team picks. Cowboys fans always seem to be especially frantic during draft season. In 2017 Kevin King and T.J. Watt were never supposed to make it to Dallas’ selection at #28. They both did, but Dallas infamously opted to select Michigan DE Taco Charlton.
In 2018, Derwin James was a top 10 lock, and much needed WR’s like Calvin Ridley and D.J. Moore stood little chance to last until Dallas’ 19th selection. James got tantalizingly close (17th), and both wideouts were still available when Dallas selected Boise State LB Leighton Vander Esch.
In 2019, Dallas was without a first-round selection and fans had convinced themselves that the draft was just going to be closed for business by the time Dallas went on the clock with the 59th selection. Both consensus Cowboys Nation draft crushes, safeties Taylor Rapp and Juan Thornhill were still available when Dallas selected UCF defensive tackle Trysten Hill.
Fear not Cowboys fans. League rules prohibit 30 players from being selected in the top 17 picks. There will be players of substance on the board when Dallas makes its selection.
Here’s the easiest way to make peace with a draft: Take the number of your team’s first selection, and see if you can find that same number of players you can live with your team taking at that spot.
That doesn’t require any speculation of who might go where, because one of them has to be there when you pick no matter what happens. The Cowboys hold the 17th pick.
Let’s see if we can find 17 players that would be palatable at the 17th selection.
Guys You Would Be Thrilled to Have
These guys are the blue-chippers, extremely unlikely to be there at 17. However, for the sake of staying true to the exercise, we must count them.
Chase Young (DE, Ohio State), Jeffrey Okudah (CB, Ohio State), Derrick Brown (DT, Auburn), Isaiah Simmons (S/LB, Clemson)
Each the top-rated prospect at their respective positions, each fills a need for the Cowboys. These are pipe dreams, but if by some way of an iffy medical report, or well-timed gas mask video leak any of these guys is available when Dallas goes on the clock, the Cowboys war room is gonna look like Twerk Team tryouts.
We have 4 players for our list.
Guys You Would Be Pretty Happy to Have
AJ Epenesa (DL, Iowa), Javon Kinlaw (DT, South Carolina), K’Lavon Chaisson (EDGE, LSU)
Gone are the days of the ultra-specific Marinelli DL template. Defensive linemen who are good at what they do, regardless of shape or skillset will be welcomed under new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. The Cowboys defensive line (pre-free agency) returns basically only DeMarcus Lawrence and a bunch of role players. Anyone of these prospects could help the Cowboys defense right away.
Trevon Diggs (CB, Alabama)
Widely considered the #2 cornerback in this class behind Okudah, Diggs fills a need for the Cowboys regardless of what the team decides to do with unrestricted free agent Byron Jones. It’s a passing league, and cover men are always in high demand.
Henry Ruggs, III (WR, Alabama), Jerry Jeudy (WR, Alabama), Jalen Reagor (WR, TCU), CeeDee Lamb (WR, Oklahoma)
Most of you who lean towards drafting for need won’t be on board for taking a wideout in the 1st round. The assumption is that the team will retain the services of Amari Cooper and Randall Cobb, and most will consider that a full boat. However, all four of these WR prospects are absolute game-changers. You can limit yourself to the idea of playing Whack-A-Mole trying to fill defensive needs, or you can decide to turn your offensive strength (passing game) into a superpower. Take one of these game busters, and 10-personnel teams to death. Scoring lots of points is fun.
Our list of acceptable choices now sits at 12.
Selections You Can Live With
Grant Delpit (S, LSU), Xavier McKinney (S, Alabama)
Want to finally address that safety need that’s been a pain in the rear for the better part of two decades? Different flavors here, but McKinney and Delpit will probably both be plus starters in the league for many years. Pairing either with Xavier Woods makes the Dallas backend much stronger down the middle. Nobody can groan too much about picking either of these guys.
Kristian Fulton (CB, LSU), CJ Henderson (CB Florida)
Getting into the 3rd tier of cornerbacks here, but both guys are probably day one starters at a position of need for the Cowboys. In the middle of the 1st round, that’s solid drafting. It’s not a home run, but a solid RBI double.
Neville Gallimore (DT, Oklahoma)
While he may be considered a cut below Kinlaw and Brown as far as defensive tackles go, if you want a guy more in the 3-technique mold, this is the way you go. Yes, you just drafted Trysten Hill, but Mike Nolan’s defense is going to be creative enough to get two of those type of guys on the field, that is if Hill doesn’t prove to be a bust. Adding talent to a desolate defensive line can not be a bad thing.
Kenneth Murray (LB, Oklahoma)
You don’t consider linebacker a need? Well… a few things to think about here. Sean Lee is likely done, and if he does return, how much can you really expect from him? Leighton Vander Esch’s health is a huge question mark, and we could see Jaylon Smith used as a rusher on a ton of snaps in the new defense. You could find a lot of ways for Murray to be useful, and you have the rare chance to take the top player in his position group this late in the draft. Just take him and figure out how to utilize him once you do.
Tee Higgins (WR, Clemson)
If you are adding a wideout to this offense, you prefer the speedy types we discussed earlier. However, Higgins would bring some serious size, catch radius, and overall playmaking ability to the Cowboys offense. Diversity in a WR corps is always a good thing, and Higgins possesses skills the other Cowboys wideouts don’t.
We have now found 19 players who can help the Cowboys, and we haven’t even discussed players at positions the Cowboys are not in the market for, who will push prospects down to Dallas at #17.
Quarterbacks get pushed up the board every year due to the sheer importance of the position. LSU’s Joe Burrow is virtually entrenched as the #1 overall pick. Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Oregon’s Justin Herbert will almost certainly go before Dallas’ selection. Utah State’s Jordan Love and Washington’s Jacob Eason both also have an outside chance to squeeze into that top 17.
Offensive tackles are also a coveted commodity. As many as 3 of Jedrick Willis (Alabama), Andrew Thomas (Georgia), Tristan Wirfs (Iowa), and the mountainous Mekhi Becton (Louisville) could also be selected before the Cowboys go on the clock.
The Dallas Cowboys own the 17th selection. We have identified 19 prospects who can help them. We have also identified 6-9 prospects who while of no use to Dallas, could push talented players down the board into the Cowboys’ reach.
Fretting draft enthusiasts, relax. Let the board shake itself out. There will be useful players available when the Cowboys go on the clock.