Taking Stock of Dallas Cowboys' 2018 NFL Draft Picks
With just four games left in the season, the Dallas Cowboys have to win them all to have any hope of making the playoffs for a second consecutive season.
One loss will knock them out of the playoffs hunt entirely. Even winning all four doesn't guarantee them a spot as they don't possess tiebreakers with multiple teams ahead of them.
It's most likely the Cowboys will fall just short of making the playoffs, which means the offseason and the NFL draft are just around the corner. However, it's never too early to start looking ahead to what the Cowboys could do in the 2018 draft, which will take place in Dallas.
Where the Cowboys' picks will fall is yet to be determined, but we know what round they own selections in and what positions they will likely address.
With just a month left of the season, let's take an early look at the 2018 draft class.
Reviewing the 2017 Draft Class
Before we preview the 2018 draft and the Cowboys' selections, let's look back at the team's 2017 draft to see how well they did.
Below is the entire list of their 2017 selections, including the round and where they were drafted:
Round 1, No. 28: Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan
Round 2, No. 60: Chidobe Awuzie, CB, Colorado
Round 3, No. 92: Jourdan Lewis, CB, Michigan
Round 4, No. 133: Ryan Switzer, WR, North Carolina
Round 6, No. 191: Xavier Woods, S, Louisiana Tech
Round 6, No. 216: Marquez White, CB, Florida State
Round 7, No. 228: Joey Ivie, DT, Florida
Round 7, No. 239: Noah Brown, WR, Ohio State
Round 7, No. 248: Jordan Carrell, DT, Colorado
This draft class won't rival the 2016 version that included Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott, but the future is bright for this group.
Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, and Xavier Woods have all started at some point this season and look to be the future of the team's secondary. Taco Charlton, the team's first selection, has started to come into his own in the second half of the season and has two sacks in his last five games.
The team is even starting to get more production from Ryan Switzer, who returned a punt for a touchdown last week against the Washington Redskins.
The Cowboys have also been fortunate to get production out of their undrafted free-agent class. Players such as Cooper Rush, Lewis Neal, and Blake Jarwin have all contributed at some point this season.
There may not be many "stars" from this group, but it's a solid class that will likely produce as many as four starters down the road.
The following list depicts where the Cowboys would draft after Week 13 of the NFL season. The selections and current draft order are provided by Tankathon.com:
Round 1: Pick 15
Round 2: Pick 46
Round 3: Pick 83
Round 4: Pick 114
No Round 5 Selection: Traded to the New York Jets
Round 6: Pick 176
Round 7: Pick 207
The Cowboys traded their 2018 fifth-round pick to the New York Jets for the seventh selection in the sixth round of the 2017 draft (pick 191 overall).
Dallas used that on Xavier Woods from Lousiana Tech. After the rookie season the talented safety is enjoying, the Cowboys would do that trade again in a heartbeat.
Part of the reason they were able to give up a fifth-round pick in the 2018 draft is due to the belief the team will acquire multiple compensatory selections.
The Cowboys lost multiple starters in free agency in 2017 and that factors into the league's calculations. Dallas lost Ronald Leary, Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox, Terrell McClain and others.
Because of their losses in free agency, NFL.com's draft analyst Lance Zierlein projects the Cowboys to gain one fourth-round selection and three fifth-round picks.
Depending on the site you use, the number and rounds vary because of the league's complex formula. But it's safe to assume the Cowboys will receive at least a few compensatory selections this season.
Positions of Need
Heading into the 2018 offseason, the Cowboys may not have as many needs as you may think.
On offense, the team is basically set, except at left guard. Dallas may use a middle-round pick on a running back and a few on the offensive line, but expect most of their 2018 draft picks to be saved for the defense.
One common need that has been discussed lately is at wide receiver. However, it's hard to imagine the Cowboys using a high draft pick at that position considering how much money they are projected to spend there in 2018.
According to Spotrac, Dallas is projected to spend the most money on their wide receiver corps in the league in 2018. The unit is projected to account for more than $26 million in 2018 cap space.
Assuming Dallas saves at least two of their top-100 picks for defense, you can assume they will likely look at two positions: nose tackle and linebacker.
Defensive end will always be considered because of the positional importance, but with the recent play of DeMarcus Lawrence and David Irving, it's no longer a "need."
Instead, look for the Cowboys to target a linebacker in the first few rounds, assuming Anthony Hitchens isn't re-signed. Sean Lee will be 32 next season, while Jaylon Smith isn't a sure thing by any means.
Dallas will take a linebacker at some point in the draft—they have done so in nine of their last 10 drafts—but expect them to do it earlier than usual this year.
The other position the Cowboys need to consider is a 1-technique defensive tackle. The rest of the defensive line is set and has an unusual amount of depth to it, but the one position that could use an infuse of talent is at defensive tackle.
If there is a dominating 1-technique who can hold up against the run and play with the type of fire and effort defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli covets, don't be shocked if the Cowboys use a high pick on the defensive line once again.
5 of the Best Options for Round 1
Defensive Tackle Vita Vea, Washington
If the Cowboys don't spend free-agent money on a defensive tackle, they could opt to use a first-round pick to shore up the position. Washington's Vita Vea would be a terrific selection anywhere after the top 15 if Dallas goes in that direction.
Vea is more of your traditional nose tackle, but he can play as a 1-technique in Dallas. He excels at the point of attack and occupying double teams.
With the Cowboys already having a deep defensive line, Vea might be the missing link in unlocking the potential of the rest of the defense. He is limited somewhat as a pass-rusher, but his ability to stop the run easily makes him a value in the first round.
Linebacker Roquan Smith, Georgia
The Cowboys have been after a speedy weakside linebacker for a while. If the team fails to make the playoffs in picks in the teens, linebacker Roquan Smith from Georgia would make a ton of sense.
Smith is another undersized linebacker (listed at just 225 pounds), but he can fly to the football and make plays.
Sean Lee isn't getting any younger and has proved he just can't stay healthy. Smith has the athleticism to be a weakside linebacker in the NFL and the instincts to be an All-Pro linebacker.
If the Cowboys are lucky to have Smith sitting on the board when they are on the clock, they should sprint to the podium to select the 2017 SEC defensive player of the year.
Defensive End Harold Landry, Boston College
The Cowboys' roster is littered with left defensive ends. They have so many quality ones that they are forced to play Tyrone Crawford as a right defensive end and David Irving as a penetrating defensive tackle. But the one player/position they still don't have is that true right defensive end.
That's exactly what Boston College's Harold Landry can provide, though. He is an undersized defensive end who excels as a pass-rusher. He's got a variety of moves, but they are all predicated off of his outstanding speed.
Landry is a similar player to what the Atlanta Falcons have in Vic Beasley. Marinelli would love to get his hands on Landry and unleash him in a rotation with Lawrence, Irving and Collins.
Defensive End Arden Key, LSU
Dallas isn't afraid to take risks in the draft, especially at a pivotal position such as defensive end.
LSU's defensive end Arden Key is a player who has the talent to go in the top five, but a few off-field concerns (including his weight, per Sports Illustrated) might allow him to fall in the draft.
Key is a prototypical right defensive end in Marinelli's scheme. He's listed at 6'6", 265 pounds in the team's official website and is still growing into his body. He's disruptive and productive and his best football is yet to come.
Pairing him with a great defensive line teacher such as Marinelli could allow him to produce like former LSU defensive end Danielle Hunter. This is a risk worth exploring for the Cowboys.
Offensive Guard Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame
The Cowboys are likely to use their first-round selection on defense, but the one spot the team could consider is at left guard.
Jonathan Cooper has been serviceable this season, but he's a free agent in 2018 and is best suited as a reserve player. Dallas knows its offensive line is the bread and butter of the team, so don't expect any hesitation on pulling the trigger on another offensive lineman.
The one name that could intrigue them is Quenton Nelson from Notre Dame. He is a massive guard at 330 pounds who can play in any scheme. Because of his size, though, his best spot in the NFL might be as a left guard. Without a doubt, he is the best guard in the class.
Even if the Cowboys are drafting in the mid-to-late teens, guards typically fall in drafts. If Nelson were to be available for them, expect Dallas to seriously consider selecting their fourth offensive linemen in the first round in the last decade.
7-Round Mock Draft
In this pre-offseason mock draft, we are just using the Cowboys' original draft selections—not including the fifth-round pick the team sent to the New York Jets.
There were no compensatory picks used in this mock draft and there was no trading. So, here is the first 2018 mock draft of the season:
Round 1: Defensive tackle Vita Vea, Washington
Round 2: Linebacker Malik Jefferson, Texas
Round 3: Running back Sony Michel, Georgia
Round 4: Offensive tackle Jamarco Jones, Ohio State
Round 6: Cornerback Kevin Toliver, LSU
Round 7: Defensive end Mike McCray, Michigan
Not surprisingly, the Cowboys use their first two selections to bolster their front seven.
Defensive tackle Vita Vea is one of the more impressive defensive tackles this draft has to offer. At 340 pounds, he moves like a much smaller player and plays with the motor Marinelli will covet. He would be a steal in the middle of the first round.
In the second round, the Cowboys grab the talented Malik Jefferson from Texas. He is a great athlete who has the size to play in the middle or as a weakside linebacker in the Cowboys' scheme, but he needs some seasoning.
He would be placed behind Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith for the 2018 season and would have the opportunity to sit and watch before he's forced on to the field. His upside is what makes this is a worthwhile gamble.
At some point, the Cowboys are going to need to find a younger player to become Ezekiel Elliott's backup.
After the success of the New Orleans Saints with Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, maybe it's time to consider drafting a running back who can play with Elliott, rather than behind him.
Sony Michel is a part-time player at Georgia, but he's got the skill set to thrive in the NFL as a "slasher" who can be the lightning to Elliott's thunder.
On the third day of the draft, the Cowboys love to add depth to positions that are already strengths.
In the fourth round, Dallas grabs tackle Jamarco Jones to compete with Chaz Green to be the team's swing tackle.
In the sixth and seventh rounds, Dallas selects cornerback Kevin Toliver to compete with Marquez White for a roster spot and defensive end Mike McCray to battle with Charles Tapper on the defensive line.