The Dallas Cowboys are coming into the 2020 NFL season with quite a few new names. Not only will they have a different head coach for the first time in nearly a decade, but they will also have a revamped defensive line. With veteran names like Gerald McCoy, Dontari Poe, Aldon Smith, and HaHa Clinton-Dix all being added through free agency, the team tried to plug some of the holes on their roster.
With the 17th pick in the first round, they will likely continue to put an emphasis on their defense. In this updated version of the Cowboys 7-round NFL mock draft, we take a look at who Mike McCarthy and Jerry Jones should consider targeting to catapult Dallas into Super Bowl contention.
Even after adding a few pieces in the offseason, the Cowboys still lost a good amount of their impact players during the offseason. Names like Jason Witten, Byron Jones, Robert Quinn, Jeff Heath, Randall Cobb, and Travis Frederick have either signed elsewhere or retired. Offensively, they found a way to bring back both Amari Cooper and Dak Prescott, by extending one and franchise tagging the other.
With Cooper, Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and a still dominant offensive line all in place for 2020, this year’s draft should be full of defensive players. Among some of their needs are a second EDGE rusher, a nose tackle, and a long-term solution at safety. Even though Clinton-Dix is only 27 years old, he is not the long term solution at the position after signing only a one year deal. The reality is, the team needs depth at the position. At the end of the upcoming season, Dallas will only have backups, Thompson and Wilson, not scheduled to become unrestricted free agents in 2021.
Obviously, the surprise retirement of Frederick has left a small hole on the o-line. If they can find an impact player early on in the draft, they shouldn’t hesitate to bring in his replacement. On top of that, they will need to find a slot receiver to replace Cobb and could even do with another QB on the roster.
Round 1, Pick 17: K’Lavon Chaisson, OLB, LSU
Originally, I had the Dallas Cowboys drafting a wide receiver in this position, but with the return of Cooper, the team will look to their defense in the first round. Now, I strongly believe there is a chance that Jones decides to trade back with this pick and is able to add more draft capital. With a few QB-needy teams still looking to add their franchise player, Dallas could drop a few spots and land an impact player.
If, however, they do decide to pick here, I think they will bring in LSU pass rusher K’Lavon Chaisson. If you watch tape on Chaisson, you would be able to see that he is exactly the kind of explosive player that this defensive line needs. He made 60 tackles (13.5 for loss) with 6.5 sacks, and two pass breakups as a sophomore in 2019 while earning first-team All-SEC honors.
With the arrival of McCarthy, longtime defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli was replaced with Mike Nolan. Since 2013, Marinelli has been running a 4-3 defense with Dallas, however, Nolan is famous for his success running a 3-4 defense. Ten times, his defenses have finished in the top ten in takeaways. They have been in the top ten in points allowed on six separate occasions and another six times, they were top ten in yards allowed.
Chaisson is best suited in a 3-4 defense. Luckily, Nolan is expected to run a hybrid 3-4/4-3 with Dallas, which means Chaisson should still be a good fit nonetheless. Sloting him alongside DeMarcus Lawrence, who had a down year last season, will give offensive lines serious trouble. With Aldon Smith missing the last four years, his conditioning is still a question mark and Chaisson could compete for a starting role right away.
Pro Football Network’s Senior Draft Analyst Tony Pauline had this to say about the talented young pass rusher.
“When healthy and on his game, Chaisson impacts contests with big plays. He’s a terrific 3-4 outside linebacker prospect with big upside.”
Like Pauline mentions, he needs to stay healthy. He missed the entire 2018 season with injury, but when he is on the field, Chaisson could be a game-changer.
Other picks considered: S Grant Delpit, CB Kristian Fulton, OT Tristan Wirfs, S Xavier McKinney
Round 2, Pick 51: Kyle Dugger, S, Lenoir-Rhyne
There were a number of talented safeties available in the first round, but this year’s class is so deep that the Cowboys could afford to wait for the second round. The board actually fell perfectly for Dallas, with this year’s Senior Bowl standout Kyle Dugger being available to them with pick 51. Dugger’s hype has done nothing but climb over the last few weeks, but if he makes it past Miami at the top of the round, he should still be here for Dallas.
The casual football fan might not know who Dugger is or even what school he comes from. That is because Dugger played for a smaller division II school, Lenoir-Rhyne. Even though he had a difficult time getting on the field at the beginning of his career, he has since emerged as a top safety prospect. In his senior season, he had 31 tackles, four passes defended, and two picks, one of which he returned for a score. In his entire career with Lenoir-Rhyne, Dugger totaled 237 tackles in 42 games with 10 interceptions.
One thing that makes Dugger such a promising prospect is his intelligence and size. He measured at 6′ and 217 pounds during weigh-ins at the Senior Bowl. Fellow Pro Football Network Draft analyst Scott Gorman recently wrote a piece about Dugger, highlighting his talents.
“Another big part of his game is his tremendous length. His size (6’0″, 217 lbs) and speed will allow him the ability to match up with both slot men and receiving tight ends at the next level.”
The Cowboys young defense is coming off a season that could be considered a disappointment after their impressive 2018 breakout year. They were 10th in the league in passing yards allowed, with 223.5 per game, but were 26th in takeaways with only 17 during the season. Dugger’s speed and length could have an immediate impact on that takeaway number.
Before the Senior Bowl took place, Dugger was considered a fringe top-100 player. He has slowly been climbing up draft boards, and a strong showing at the Combine will likely cement him as a second-round option. With Dugger being drafted by Dallas, he will be the first Bear drafted since John Milem by the San Francisco 49ers in 2000.
The Cowboys have ignored the safety position for years, opting for late-round draft picks, and bargain free-agency players instead of investing legitimate capital. That will change with the addition of the tall, versatile Division II breakout star. With FS Xavier Woods likely to take another step forward, matching him with Dugger could finally give the Cowboys that needed defensive boost.
Other picks considered: WR Brandon Aiyuk, S Antoine Winfield Jr, LB Jordyn Brooks, TE Brycen Hopkins
Round 3, Pick 82: Bryce Hall, CB, UVA
The Cowboys continue to build up their defense by bringing in CB Bryce Hall from Virginia. Obviously, the departure of Jones to Miami will hurt the Cowboys in pass protection. As of right now, the Cowboys have Jourdan Lewis, who has been a solid contributor, and Chidobi Awuzie, who struggled mightily in 2019. They also resigned Anthony Brown to a three-year deal and added former Jet Maurice Canady.
Some might argue that this is the position that Dallas should address in the first round. The problem is that a lot of the talented CBs will be taken before they are on the clock at 17. With this year’s class being as deep as it is, they are instead able to add to their defensive line with Chaisson and grab a super talented player late in the third round.
Before his season-ending injury, Hall was being discussed as a potential first-round talent. The fact that his stock has fallen this far is something the Cowboys will happily take advantage of. Tony Pauline said that Hall is “fluid in his backpedal, stays on the receiver’s hip out of breaks, and has a burst to the ball out of his plant”.
Even though Hall was seriously injured, it is not something that has occurred often in his career and shouldn’t be a huge concern for Dallas. Instead, they will plug him into their lineup and hope he can replace a bit of the production lost with Jones.
Other picks considered: G John Simpson, DL Leki Fotu
Round 4, Pick 123: Tyler Johnson, WR, Minnesota
As mentioned above, the Cowboys lost their slot receiver during the offseason. As good as Cobb was in 2019, Dallas will be able to replace him with someone that has quite a bit of upside. Minnesota’s Tyler Johnson is the kind of late-round wide receiver that could have an immediate impact.
Johnson compiled 86 receptions for 1,318 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2019, garnering him first-team All-Big Ten honors. In the final game of his senior season, Johnson would impress everyone by hauling in 12 passes for 204 yards and two touchdowns.
The reason Johnson will fit so well into McCarthy’s offense is not his speed, but actually his route running. He’s an impressive slant route receiver who will be able to help in the red-zone. His 32 TDs over three college seasons are evidence enough that he knows how to get into the endzone.
He can lineup on the outside, but is better suited in the slot. Johnson is not the kind of receiver that will blow the top off of a defense but instead will go up for those contested catches. Not only will he be an upgrade in the slot, but he could also be the dependable option Prescott lost when Witten signed with the Raiders.
Other picks considered: S Julian Blackmon, G Netane Muti, CB Troy Pride Jr.
Round 5, Pick 164: Nick Harris, C, Washington
In the fifth round, the Cowboys will start to try and figure out what to do to replace Frederick. Washington’s Nick Harris is a step in the right direction. Harris combines a stocky build and natural leverage with remarkably quick feet. The most important attribute that Harris brings to the table is how well he plays with his other linemates. That will be crucial when lined up with the talent Dallas currently has on the offensive line.
The Cowboys drafted Connor McGovern last season to play a similar role, but with him having a hard time staying healthy, Harris could battle for a starting spot.
Other picks considered: DL Raequan Williams, EDGE D.J. Wonnum, LB Willie Gay Jr.
Round 5, Pick 179: Shaquille Quarterman, LB, Miami
Thanks to the success they have had with linebackers in the past, the Cowboys likely did not expect to be looking to draft at the position again this year. But with the health of former first-round selection Leighton Vander Esch in question, and 33-year-old Sean Lee likely considering free agency, the Cowboys find themselves short at the position. Outside of Vander Esch, the only other linebacker currently under contract for next season is Pro Bowler Jaylon Smith.
Pairing Smith with Miami’s Shaquille Quarterman could be the answer to all of Dallas’ troubles. Quarterman was considered the physical and emotional leader on the Canes defense because of his intensity. Similar to both Lee and Vander Esch with Dallas. While not flashy or excessively flamboyant, Quarterman commands attention from blockers. He will meet rushers in the middle and has no problem being physical.
Other picks considered: S Geno Stone, EDGE James Smith-Williams, WR Kendrick Rodgers
Round 7, Pick 231: Cole McDonald, QB Hawaii
To round out our Cowboys 7-round mock draft, the team spends their last pick on the upside that Hawaii QB Cole McDonald shows.
Why would Dallas draft a QB? Well, the reality is that they still haven’t signed Prescott to a long-term deal. If they are incapable of getting a deal done, they could end up in the same boat as the Washington Redskins with Kirk Cousins. You can only franchise a player for so long until his production is affected.
I think that eventually the team will expend Prescott, but bringing in an insurance policy like McDonald could help alleviate some of the pressure for now. At 6’3″, 215 pounds, McDonald is a big-armed QB who totaled 4,135 yards and 33 touchdowns his last season. He impressed at this years combine, running a 4.54 40-yard dash. His vertical jump was recorded at 36 inches – scoring as the best quarterback in the field. No quarterback has topped 36 inches since 2016.
If ever things deteriorate between Prescott and the Cowboys organization, McDonald could start developing into a potential starter while learning behind Dallas’ offense.
Other picks considered: S Kamren Curl, DL Robert Landers, EDGE Trevis Gipson