Ideal 1st-Round Fits for Dallas Cowboys in 2017 NFL Draft
With the Dallas Cowboys returning 10 of 11 starters on offense (Doug Free being the only week-one starter from 2016 not expected to return), it's almost a given that the team will address defense in the first round of the NFL draft.
The only possibility of Dallas going with an offensive player at pick 28 would be if there is an exceptional offensive lineman available to them. With this being a weak offensive line draft, that's just not realistic.
Instead, Dallas will likely look to add an edge-rusher or a safety in the first round. With Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox leaving via free agency, safety has surpassed cornerback as the biggest position of need on the defense. However, the Cowboys' defensive line could always use more talent, especially since owner Jerry Jones told J Dub City (h/t ESPN) that the team is searching for a "war daddy" on their defensive line.
The Cowboys could use more depth at cornerback, but with a deep talent pool at the position, they will likely pass on one in the first round in favor of a pass-rusher or safety. Players such as Adoree' Jackson, Rasul Douglas and Kevin King could all be in play for Dallas in round two. There may not be a noticeable difference between the corners in the first few rounds.
With safety, pass-rusher and cornerback being the Cowboys' biggest needs, here is a list of players who make sense for Dallas at the end of the first round.
DE Charles Harris
After the NFL combine, it seemed there was little chance that the Cowboys would consider taking Missouri's Charles Harris.
According to Three Sigma Athlete, Harris finished in the ninth percentile in terms of athleticism for edge-rushers. With the way the Cowboys' value athleticism in their defensive line, it didn't seem likely that they would select a below average athlete.
But after a pro day in which Harris improved his vertical jump by 5.5 inches and his broad jump by nine inches, there are suddenly fewer questions about his overall athleticism. He's not an elite athlete, but his 37.5" vertical and 119" broad jump showed that he's an above-average athlete and that matches what is seen on film.
Harris is young in terms of his football skill as he's only been playing the game since his junior year of high school. He needs to be stronger in the run game as offensive tackles can overwhelm him at times.
He also needs to improve his effort level which can vary depending on the number of snaps he's playing. But Harris has the speed, bend and the hand usage to be a productive defensive end in the NFL.
While his ceiling may be capped some due to not having elite athleticism, he'll likely be a starting defensive end in the NFL who will notch six to eight sacks yearly. When drafting late in the first round, that should be the expectation. Harris has the skill set to be a solid No. 2 rusher in the NFL.
EDGE T.J. Watt
If the Cowboys decide to select an edge-rusher in the first round who has more athleticism than someone like Charles Harris, they won't have to look much further than Wisconsin's T.J. Watt.
Watt had one of the best combines of all the edge-rushers and his stock is soaring. His SPARQ score put him in the 94th percentile of all edge-rushers in the NFL, according to Three Sigma Athlete. His size, athleticism and bloodlines may allow him to be a target in the first round despite average tape.
Aside from the impressive measurables, Watt has NFL bloodlines and is a fierce competitor. He's got experience playing off the ball and on the edge, which will endear him to teams who value position flexibility. He's only a one-year starter, but the physical tools and the versatility make him a first-round prospect.
Watt is going to need time to develop, and he likely wouldn't help Dallas at all in his first season as he transitions to playing defensive end.
His hand usage is raw and his overall knowledge of the position is limited, but Dallas isn't afraid to select athletes high that demonstrate raw tools. Watt is a projection and nowhere near ready to produce, but the athleticism may be too much to pass up at pick 28.
DE Takkarist McKinley
It's no secret that the Cowboys have a need for a pass-rusher, specifically one who can offer speed off the edge. One player who could bring that explosiveness off the line of scrimmage is UCLA's Takkarist McKinley.
At 6'2", 250 pounds, McKinley ran a 4.59 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, which was one of the best for the defensive ends. What makes that time even more impressive is that he did so with a torn labrum that limited him all season.
McKinley lacks the bend you would like from an elite edge-rusher (7.48 3-cone), but his explosiveness and hustle make him a nice fit in Rod Marinelli's defense. He needs to improve his hand technique and his stiff hips, but his athleticism alone should allow him to be a useful player in his first few years in the NFL.
He'll need time to recover from his injury, and the coaching staff will need a lot of patience as he develops, but McKinley makes sense at the bottom of the first round. He likely won't be a double-digit sack player, but he can make a bunch of plays with his effort and athleticism.
DE Taco Charlton
Unlike some of the other aforementioned defensive ends on this list, Michigan's Taco Charlton likely projects as a left defensive end for the Dallas Cowboys.
While the Cowboys need defensive ends, they have a much bigger need at right defensive end. Tyrone Crawford and David Irving are the team's left defensive ends, and it could be argued that it's also Demarcus Lawrence's best fit as well. But if Charlton is the best defensive end on the board, he could make sense for Dallas.
Charlton's length, athleticism, and production at Michigan could endear him to Dallas in the first round. He's got a ton of upside and he's improved each year.
If the Cowboys plan on moving from Crawford in 2018 due to his overpriced salary, Charlton makes sense as an athletic rusher who has the length to be a force in the running game as well the passing game.
SS Obi Melifonwu
Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox left the team via free agency and the Cowboys have a clear need at safety. While both players had nice careers in Dallas, they also had weaknesses that led the Cowboys to allow each to leave.
It's clear the Cowboys want to become more athletic and there isn't a more athletic safety in this class than Obi Melinfonwu.
Like another Connecticut Huskies alumnus, Byron Jones, Melinfonwu crushed all of the athletic testing drills at the combine and at his pro day. His 44-inch vertical at 224 pounds was one of the most impressive measurements of the week.
At 6'4", Melinfonwu has the size to be a dominant strong safety and the feet to survive at cornerback. His best comparison in the NFL isn't Kam Chancellor, but instead a different former Seahawks defender; Brandon Browner.
In the right scheme, Melinfonwu can play as a safety against tight ends or he can play on the outside against some of the league's bigger, more athletic receivers.
His tape doesn't say first-round pick, but the tools and Dallas' familiarity with UConn defensive backs and their athleticism make him an awfully intriguing option at the end of the first round.
In an NFL that is so multiple, he makes a ton of sense as a matchup defensive back who can play numerous positions at a high level.
SS Jabrill Peppers
Last but not least is a player who nobody expected to be available to Dallas during the college football season.
Jabrill Peppers was a Heisman trophy finalist, but since the college season ended, his game has been picked apart to the extent that many wonder if his best fit isn't on defense but at running back.
Peppers was initially a cornerback at Michigan before head coach Jim Harbaugh moved him to safety and then eventually linebacker. He's such a unique player that he doesn't have a "true" position, but because of his athleticism and intelligence, he could probably play three different positions in the NFL.
On Dallas, Peppers' best fit would be as a run-and-chase safety who could be the eighth man in the box on run downs. He's a fantastic blitzer and his coverage skills should develop as he finds a permanent position in the NFL.
The Cowboys have an advantage on the rest of the league as they should know the player quite well as their safeties coach, Greg Jackson, worked with Peppers at Michigan in 2015. Jackson should have an idea of what Peppers can provide as a safety and where to use his skill set on defense.
Peppers is one of the best football players in the draft and is a fiery competitor who can be the emotional leader of a defense. He's going to need time to adjust to a new position in the NFL, but his ceiling is extremely high. He's going to be a star in the NFL.