[Editor’s Note: Version 1.0 below was originally published on February 14]
The Dallas Cowboys entered the 2019 season with high expectations after making a run in the playoffs the year prior. Unfortunately, the season was mired with controversy and poor decisions. When they narrowly missed the playoffs, the franchise decided to part ways with longtime head coach Jason Garrett and hired Mike McCarthy. McCarthy was previously the head coach of the Green Bay Packers and was let go two years ago before taking a season off. The direction the team will take in this year’s draft will largely depend on how McCarthy wants to move forward and the holes that he feels the team has. Keeping that in mind, I looked at how McCarthy has selected in the past when putting together this Cowboys 7-round mock draft.
The reality is Dallas has three glaring weaknesses: wide receiver, tight end, and safety. However, before the team can address those needs there are a number of questions that need to be answered. Quarterback Dak Prescott, wide receiver Amari Cooper and cornerback Byron Jones are all awaiting new contracts. Being able to sign both Cooper and Prescott is unlikely after the contract the team gave running back Ezekiel Elliott. One element that will determine the direction of the draft will be Prescott and the franchise tag. If the team can get a long term deal done with Prescott, they could instead use their franchise tag on someone like Cooper or Jones. That would drastically change their 2020 plans.
The Cowboys have the fifth-most cap space in the NFL coming into 2020, but Prescott will command a good amount of that. There will also be some costly veterans that will need to be considered by the team. Defensive end Robert Quinn, wide receiver Randall Cobb, defensive end Michael Bennett, and others are expected to hit free agency. On top of that, tight end Jason Witten, who is turning 38 years old, will likely retire again.
Pro Football Network’s NFL Draft Insider Tony Pauline recently reported that the Cowboys were actually looking to make a “splash” in the upcoming draft.
“I can tell you this – a source close to the team told me, ‘Jerry wants to make a big splash in the draft.’ That leads me to believe Jones could look to trade up from the 17th overall pick.” said Tony.
It is possible that the team makes a move in the first round, but until we know more, let’s look at this mock draft with Dallas starting at 17.
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Dallas Cowboys 7-round mock draft
Round 1, Pick 17: Laviska Shenault, WR Colorado Buffaloes
As mentioned above, the Cowboys could be entering 2020 without a true WR1 thanks to the potential loss of Cooper, and a hole in the slot with the loss of Cobb. At pick 17, there is one player who could help alleviate some of what Dallas will be losing this offseason, Laviska Shenault. Taking Shenault means that the Cowboys will be selecting a WR in the first round for the first time since 2010 when they selected Dez Bryant.
In only nine games in 2018, Shenault had 86 receptions for 1,011 yards and six touchdowns. He also added five rushing touchdowns as well. However, he took a step back in 2019, only catching 56 passes for 764 yards and four scores, while also adding only two rushing TDs in 11 games. Although his stats fell off a bit this past season, a lot of that had to do with injury and how Colorado decided to use him.
Pro Football Network Senior Draft Analyst Brad Kelly recently did an expose focusing on Shenault and his potential. One key point to keep in mind when looking at Shenault is his versatility.
“Shenault didn’t align at just one position. Instead, he took reps as a boundary receiver, slot receiver, H-back, running back and “Wildcat” quarterback” wrote Kelly.
With all that the Cowboys could lose in the offseason, getting a versatile receiver who could play in multiple spots would definitely help. Shenault has quickness and shows a second gear when he gets into the open field. He is not a speedy receiver like Tyreek Hill, but is instead tough and can create plays when breaking off tackles.
When he catches the ball, Schenault will make someone miss and will always be a threat to score. He is strong and uses that strength to create opportunities. With the recent success that Deebo Samuel had in the NFL playoffs, a player like Shenault, who can play out of the backfield as well as in the slot, has become a hot commodity. In the Super Bowl, Samuel actually set the record for the most rushing yards by a wide receiver with 53 yards on three carries.
With receivers like CeeDee Lamb and Jerry Jeudy being selected before the Cowboys are on the clock, I was able to focus on the next best option. If the Cowboys do make a splash and move up, then Lamb or Jeudy could likely be their target. However, Shenault will only help this explosive Cowboys’ offense. There are always concerns with a player like Shenault. A lot of his production was from simple, quick gadget plays, and basic go routes. He also has a worrisome injury history. Nonetheless, the Cowboys and their new head coach will have a player that they can develop into a legitimate star in the first round.
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.
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 feet 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: Thaddeus Moss, TE LSU
The Cowboys will likely be aware of the decision Witten will be making regarding his future before the 2020 NFL Draft. For the purposes of the 7-round mock draft, I assume that Witten will likely retire. That would leave the Cowboys with another offensive hole that will need to be replaced.
The two things that Witten has done exceptionally well near the end of his career have been catching short passes and blocking. The Cowboys will be able to replace those aspects with the talented Thaddeus Moss of LSU.
Moss, son of NFL legend Randy Moss, is a 6’3″, 250-pound athlete who is a complete physical specimen who throws his body around at the line. He is an accomplished run-blocker and physical player over the middle of the field. His skill set is a perfect match for what Witten did in this offense.
Moss doesn’t have a lot of tape of his college career. He is declaring as a junior tight end. He started his play at NC State in 2016, sat out a season because of his transfer to LSU and then missed 2018 because of a foot injury. This season, he caught 47 passes for 570 yards and four touchdowns, two of which came in the National Championship Game. He set school records for catches and receiving yards by a tight end.
Other picks considered: WR Jalen Reagor, G John Simpson, DL Leki Fotu
Round 4, Pick 120: Kenny Willekes, EDGE Michigan State
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.
It is not clear if Dallas will be making the defensive change, but it is quite likely. This past Senior Bowl, one standout player on defense was Kenny Willekes. Generally known for playing in a 4-3, Willekes made waves when practicing and succeeding in a 3-4. Detroit Lions DL coach Bo Davis, Willekes’ North team coach had this to say about his progress, “It takes a little bit to get used to, but he’s doing a good job”.
Since there’s a strong possibility both Quinn and Bennett will play elsewhere in 2020, the Cowboys will need to replace two of their top three defensive ends this offseason. Willekes will need to be developed before becoming an immediate impact player, but he has the skillset to do so. Willekes finished with between 8.5-10.5 sacks in each of the past three seasons.
The only issue Willekes might face is the fact that he has short arms. They were actually the shortest of all DL measured at the Senior Bowl. This could make coming off the edge in the NFL a little bit more challenging, but a strong performance at the combine should squash those concerns. The Cowboys will likely look to a deep defensive end free agency class to add depth to the position and help Willekes develop into a strong NFL caliber player.
Our scouting team who watched Willekes at the Senior Bowl practices had this to say about the polarizing player.
“Willekes was constantly chirping on the sidelines, hyping his players up, running down the ball … He’s a gritty player who won’t ever be the best athlete on the field, but you can believe he’ll be the hardest working. Willekes demonstrated quality speed off the edge and will be a plug and play starter for an NFL team. The only question will be his upside”.
The Cowboys will take a chance on that upside in the fourth round.
Other picks considered: S Julian Blackmon, G Netane Muti, CB Troy Pride Jr.
Round 5, Pick 164: Michael Ojemudia, CB Iowa
Currently, Byron Jones is the best cornerback on the Cowboys team. The problem? He also is heading towards free agency and will demand a large contract to retain his services. Though he didn’t record an interception in 2019, Jones is tied with Richard Sherman for second in the NFL among players with at least 326 coverage snaps in snaps per target. He is also fourth in the league in snaps per reception. Arguably, Jones is one of the best CB in the NFL.
The Cowboys simply don’t have the talent or depth in the secondary that could make a Jones departure more palatable. However, they will surely look to the 2020 NFL Draft to try to make a potential split easier. Drafting Iowa CB Michael Ojemudia in the fifth round should help in that regard.
Ojemudia is physical, he’s intelligent, and he’s effective in zone coverage. He impressed at the Senior Bowl with his strong style of play. He also played well overall for Iowa in 2019, collecting 52 tackles, three interceptions and nine passes broken up. He is a developmental corner that could develop under the Cowboys defensive scheme.
The best-case scenario for Dallas would be using the franchise tag on Jones and hoping that he could mentor and help develop Ojemudia for 2021.
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: Calvin Throckmorton, OT Oregon
To round out our Cowboys 7-round mock draft, the team spends their last pick on some offensive line depth with Oregon’s Calvin Throckmorton.
Near the end of the 2019 season, the Cowboys were struck with a number of key injuries on the offensive line which hampered their run game and ultimately their playoff chances. The 2020 NFL Draft is loaded on the offensive line, especially in the first couple of rounds. Being able to secure a talent with the potential of Throckmorton in the seventh round is a steal for Dallas.
Throckmorton started at every position on the line in 2018 except for left guard. At the Senior Bowl, he actually practiced at nearly every position on the line as well. PFN’s team at the Senior Bowl reported that he had a strong week.
“He shifted around the entire offensive line playing both tackle spots and guard spots. He had a strong week and his upside is there as an NFL starter”.
His stock will likely rise if he performs well at the combine. His versatility to play tackle could come into play, but there’s no doubt that Throckmorton could excel early as an interior player in the NFL.
Other picks considered: S Kamren Curl, DL Robert Landers, EDGE Trevis Gipson