The evaluation of incoming NFL prospects is a year-round business.
Prospects are studied before they are even eligible to be selected, and the opinions on prospects change as we gain more information on each player.

The general consensus on top prospects usually begins to take shape midway through the college season. Names slide up and down (and off) the board as some players declare NFL eligibility, and others return to school. The next big shuffling of placement usually comes after the Senior Bowl.

The big event in player evaluation, however, is the National Scouting Combine. With really only Pro Days and player visits to follow, prospect rankings really begin to take their near-final shape after the big event in Indianapolis.

With the combine recently concluded over the weekend, here are some very random observations from the week-long scouting extravaganza, from a Cowboys perspective of course.

CJ Henderson, A New Consideration at #17

Before the combine, the Florida cornerback was widely thought of as a prospect likely to be taken somewhere in the 20’s just behind the Cowboys 17th overall selection. Henderson confirmed his ideal size (6’1″/204), strength (20 bench reps), and athleticism (4.39 sec 40, 37.5″ vertical leap, 127″ broad jump) in Indianapolis, and has probably bumped himself up into the next tier of picks.

After consensus top corner Jeffrey Okudah (Ohio State), the battle to be the next cornerback selected likely boils down to Henderson, and LSU’s Kristian Fulton. Most of us have considered Fulton an option for the Cowboys 1st selection. It is time to wedge Henderson into the conversation as well.

AJ Epenesa is No Longer an Early Option

In my late January entry ‘Finding 17 Options for Pick No. 17,’ I listed Iowa defensive end AJ Epenesa as a player the Cowboys should have on deck as a contingency plan should they get wiped out on more highly coveted prospects. I would like to retract that notion at this time. Take him out of the ’17’, and give his spot to Henderson.

Let me be clear. The tape is still king. It always will be. If a guy has good tape, but he falls slightly below ideal athletic markers for his position, it’s not a major concern. Epenesa, who we knew wasn’t some twitched up, bouncy freak didn’t fall slightly below ideal athletic markers. AJ Epenesa fell all the way down into the 15th percentile in overall SPARQ score. 5.04-sec 40-yard dash, an unimpressive 17 reps on the bench, a 7.34 sec 3-cone, and a 4.46 short shuttle.

The college production is there, but AJ Epenesa is a bad athlete. You don’t take bad athletes in the 1st round, and I’m not sure you take them at all unless something else about them is just overwhelming. This is a lesson that has been taught to us repeatedly, and a single-player like Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Orlando Brown (2018 draft) overcoming alarmingly poor athletic testing doesn’t change the discussion.

AJ Epenesa’s athletic neighbors are Kony Ealy, Chad Thomas, Sam Hubbard, Deatrich Wise, Zach Allen, and Da’Quan Bowers. Yikes. Epenesa is not an option at #17.

Duvernay Would Be a Nice Consolation Prize at WR

The ace wideouts, Jeudy, Ruggs, Lamb, and Reagor did nothing to disappoint. Those guys only solidified their stock and forced me to swallow the jagged pill that is the very realistic scenario where the Cowboys are unable to add a speedy wideout early in the draft.

Texas WR Devin Duvernay has a Randall Cobb feel to him and would be an awesome fit in the Cowboys offense. Personally, I liked the player but just wanted to know exactly how fast he is. Duvernay was a 10.27 100m sprinter in high school, but not all sprinters (especially those who double as football players) are able to maintain that type of speed once they settle into their grown man bodies in college.

Duvernay’s 4.39 forty was exactly what he needed to quell and doubts about his speed. Devin Duvernay in the 4th round would make missing out on the top wideouts much easier to stomach.

Doubletake at Safety

We have spoken at length about LSU’s Grant Delpit and Alabama’s Xavier McKinney being the two safeties in the top tier at the position. Minnesota’s Antoine Winfield and Kyle Dugger of Lenoir-Rhyne are widely considered to be guys who make up tier two.

Well after impressive showings by Dugger and Winfield, I’m not certain that they aren’t first-tier guys. Watching the safeties test and perform in drills, I also kind of realized there are just a bunch of big, athletic, fluid dudes in this class at safety, and I need to watch some more tape.

Clemson’s Tanner Muse jumped stood out, as did Southern Illinois’ Jeremy Chinn.

The Cowboys have a need at safety, and they do seemingly every year, but it certainly isn’t a two-horse race to fill the spot, regardless of what the mocks say. Lots of talent at safety in this draft.

I would not be shocked in the least to hear a name other than Delpit or McKinney be called the 1st safety off the board. Wouldn’t shock me to see either of those two guys slide into round 2 either.

Running Backs Frustrating to Watch

I swore I wasn’t going to do it to myself. I did it. I watched the running backs. I salivated. I gritted my teeth. I may or may not have cried just a bit.

This is not a cheap shot, I swear. It’s just incredibly frustrating to watch a 3rd consecutive fantastic crop of running backs come down the pike, knowing Dallas can’t take advantage of one because they committed $50M in guaranteed money on their own.

Georgia’s D’Andre Swift, Florida State’s Cam Akers, Boston College’s AJ Dillon, and Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor all look like plug and play studs. All the way down the board today 3 guys like Miami’s DeeJay Dallas, just a really nice running back class. Seeing guys like this enter the league on a yearly basis, at the position with the easiest transition, and still setting the market on a running back’s contract is borderline insanity.

It’s not Ezekiel Elliott’s contract alone that makes my stomach do flips, it’s the mindset that that pact was born from. This Cowboys front office appears to be on a perpetual quest to recreate the 90s, dynasty teams. Their entire philosophy from roster building, to an overall strategy, seems to still be stuck in that era.

Maybe the voice of a reinvigorated Mike McCarthy can breathe some new life into the Joneses.
Maybe we begin to see a slight shift in philosophy starting with this year’s draft.

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