Deep Sleepers Dallas Cowboys Should Target in 2017 NFL Draft
The Cowboys have had success as of late finding players on the third day of the draft.
In 2016, not only were they able to grab their franchise quarterback in Dak Prescott, they also added Anthony Brown in the sixth round. Other players such as Charles Tapper, Kavon Frazier, and Rico Gathers have a chance to help the team in the near future.
When looking at potential late-round picks for the Cowboys, it's important to look at what type of player the team is interested in selecting. For the most part, Dallas likes to swing for the fences by selecting guys who score well in the SPARQ model or have elite speed.
2016 sixth-round pick Darius Jackson is an example of one of the team's SPARQ projects. Jackson finished with a SPARQ score of 143.3, ranking in the 96.2 percentile of NFL athletes at running back, according to 3sigmaathlete.com.
Here's a list of some of the best deep sleepers in the 2017 NFL draft that the Cowboys could target.
Baylor WR Ishmael Zamora
Baylor's Ishmael Zamora is one of the most intriguing players in the entire draft. He declared for the draft as a redshirt sophomore, partially due to off-the-field issues. He was suspended for the first three games of 2016 after he was charged with a Class C misdemeanor for kicking and beating his dog in August.
On the field, Zamora has the size, speed, and natural ball skills to be a true No. 1 receiver in the NFL. At 6'3", 220 pounds, he reportedly ran a 4.4 40-yard dash to go along with a 40 inch vertical.
In terms of talent, Zamora reminds me of Pittsburgh Steelers' receiver Martavis Bryant. Like Bryant, Zamora is best when he's used as a vertical threat down the field. He's just too big and fast for cornerbacks to handle alone.
Aside from his off-the-field issues, Zamora needs a ton of refinement as a receiver. Baylor's offense doesn't ask their receivers to run many complex routes, and it usually takes some adjustment to get used off coverage.
He doesn't have a lot of experience playing the position as he started just eight games in his college career. His hands are also suspect, as he dropped 10 of his 73 catchable targets in 2016, according to Pro Football Focus.
Zamora will likely be a fourth- or fifth-round pick based just off of his ceiling as an NFL receiver. He's going to require a lot of patience, as his development process could be a long one, but he's one of the few true No. 1 receiver prospects in this entire draft class.
The Cowboys could use a late-round pick on Zamora to challenge Brice Butler for the fourth receiver in the offense.
Ohio LB Blair Brown
If the Cowboys are interested in adding a linebacker on Day 3 of the draft, they could look at one of the best nickel players in the entire draft; Ohio's Blair Brown.
At just 5'11", Brown's size would have been the reason he didn't get a shot in the NFL a decade ago. But with teams using their nickel defense as their base defense, Brown now has value.
He's a blur on the field and possesses the movement skills to match up with running backs and smaller tight ends in the passing game. He's also a fantastic blitzer and thrives when he's allowed to run and chase on passing downs.
Brown only ran a 4.65 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, but his 10'04" broad jump is outstanding for a player of his size.
However, he's not just a great athlete. In 2016, he had 128 tackles for the Bobcats, including 15 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks.
Not only did he rack up a bunch of tackles, he was also highly efficient. According to Pro Football Focus, Brown finished first in tackling efficiency with just three missed tackles in 2016.
With the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins all using three-receiver sets as their base offensive personnel, it would be wise for the Cowboys to consider a player like Brown, as he can use his explosiveness to make plays all over the field.
He's exactly what the NFL is looking for in their linebackers, but his lack of size will likely have him dropping into the fourth or fifth round of the draft.
Iowa TE George Kittle
Unlike the other three teams in the NFC East, the Cowboys still employ a two-tight end set as their base personnel on offense. With Geoff Swaim and James Hanna rehabbing this offseason from major injuries, and both questionable to be ready for training camp, the team could look to add another tight end late in the draft to provide some insurance.
One player who fits perfectly with what the Cowboys want from their second tight end is Iowa's George Kittle. He's one of the best blockers in this class and provides the athleticism the team wants at the position.
Kittle wasn't used much as a receiver in college, catching only 48 passes in 25 career games, but he has the athletic profile to improve in the NFL.
At the NFL combine in February, Kittle ran a 4.52 40-yard dash while having a 35-inch vertical and posting an 11-foot broad jump. He improved on those numbers at his pro day as he improved his vertical to 38.5 as well as posting a 7.00 three-cone drill. Kittle is one of the best athletes at the tight end position.
Kittle could come in right away and help in the running game. His experience in Iowa's run-heavy offense will allow him to contribute in an NFL offense during his rookie season. The receiving aspect of his game will need time to develop, but he can still contribute in the run game and on special teams in his first year.
Georgia KR/PR Isaiah McKenzie
The Cowboys haven't returned a kickoff for a touchdown since September 15, 2008. It's been over 3,000 days since Felix Jones returned one for a score against the Eagles in his rookie season.
In 2014, Dwayne Harris did add some spark to the return game, but he is returning kicks for the divisional rival New York Giants.
It is becoming painfully clear the Cowboys have to improve in the return game. In 2016, the Cowboys finished 23rd in average kickoff return yard (20.5) and 22nd in punt-return average (7.1). Over the past three seasons, there has been 57 kick and punt-return touchdowns, with zero by the Cowboys.
In the seventh round, the Cowboys could grab the draft's best returner: Georgia's Isaiah McKenzie. In his three seasons as a Bulldog, McKenzie returned five punts for scores and one kickoff for a touchdown. He also averaged 11.7 yards per punt return in his college career and could be an explosive player on offense.
McKenzie projects to be one of the quickest receivers in the NFL, and his elite production in the SEC could help him earn a spot on the Cowboys' 53-man roster. He could potentially replace Whitehead as the team's returner and find himself a role on offense in no time.
McKenzie could quickly become one of the league's best returners early in his career. In the sixth or seventh round, that would be a big steal for any team looking to upgrade their special teams unit.
UCLA LB Jayon Brown
Much like Ohio's Blair Brown, UCLA's Jayon Brown is an another undersized linebacker who excels on passing downs. His ability to fly to the football and anticipate throws could make him a steal late on Day 3 as a nickel or dime linebacker.
At 6'0", 231 pounds, he's built more like a secondary player rather than an off-the-ball linebacker.
Brown has experience playing special teams, and that's likely where he would play in his first few years in the NFL. But with NFL defenses primarily using their nickel defense as their base personnel grouping, Brown could find a home as a coverage linebacker down the road.
However, like Deion Jones in Atlanta, Brown's game fits today's NFL, and that could mean that he starts early in his career. He's got the speed to be one of the best coverage linebackers in the NFL.
With the Cowboys trying to become more athletic and faster on defense, Brown could find his way on to the field quickly, as Sean Lee is the team's only reliable linebacker.
Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson are solid players, but neither excels on passing downs. Jayon Brown could immediately provide an upgrade at the position.
Oregon TE Pharaoh Brown
In the late rounds of the draft, the Cowboys are looking for high upside players they can stash on their practice squad, hoping to hit a home run.
They know they are one of the best in the league after the draft in signing undrafted free agents. That allows them to take a bunch of chances with their sixth- and seventh-round selections. One possibility is former Oregon Ducks tight end Pharaoh Brown.
Brown suffered a horrific leg injury in 2014 that nearly cost him his leg. But two years later, Brown was back on the field for the Ducks.
He played in nine games in 2016, catching 33 passes for 426 yards and five touchdowns. When healthy, he's a mismatch problem in the middle of the field at 6'6", 255 pounds. He can win in the air and down the middle of the field with ease.
He's not the cleanest prospect on and off the field, which is another reason why he's likely to fall into the deep portions of Day 3 if he's drafted at all.
He was accused of three acts of violence while at school in Oregon. The Cowboys will need to sign off on his character before they would even consider drafting him. He will probably be selected in the sixth or seventh round.
Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly
Chad Kelly has given NFL talent evaluators plenty of reasons why they shouldn't select him in the draft. He has a long list of injuries, from two torn ACLs in his left knee, a sports hernia injury and a wrist injury that will require surgery.
On top of his injury concerns, Kelly was dismissed from Clemson after not meshing with his coaches. He was arrested in 2014 for disorderly conduct. He was also involved in a brawl at one his brother's high school football games. The list of concerns goes on and on.
However, Kelly has unreal talent. He's got an elite arm talent and his accuracy is one of the best in the class. He's a superb competitor who believes he can win any game. He beat Alabama, LSU and Auburn in the same season in 2015 as he went on to throw for 4,000 yards and 31 touchdowns.
Kelly has tons of off-the-field issues, but his talent is undeniable. If he were a clean prospect off the field, this would be a player who could have been selected in the first round.
Kelly may not be selected at all, but he is certainly worth the risk in the sixth or seventh round.
Ohio State WR Noah Brown
Despite playing at one of the biggest schools in college football, wide receiver Noah Brown has a relative unknown throughout his college career and the draft process so far. He's a former Scout 4-star recruit who never quite lived up to expectations in Columbus.
But there was one night in Oklahoma where he showed his NFL potential. In an impressive win against the Sooners, Brown scored four times, including one spectacular catch where he pinned the ball against the back of a defender for a score, which may be the best play of the entire year.
Brown never accumulated over 75 receiving yards in a game in his career and only had a total of 33 catches in his entire three-year career at Ohio State.
According to Pro Football Focus, Brown dropped three out of 35 catchable passes in 2016. His sample size is small and he is raw as a route-runner, but he has the physical tools to dominate in the NFL.
He wasn't used much in the Ohio State passing attack, but the NFL should suit his game much better. Brown knows how to win when the ball is in the air and can use his body to box out defenders. He just turned 21 years old and is impressively built, and his aggressiveness will allow him to thrive as a rookie.
If the Cowboys were to take Brown on Day 3, he would compete with Butler as the team's fourth receiver. Brown has the profile to be a future No. 1 receiver if given time, and in the fifth or sixth round, he's easily worth the gamble.
Pitt DE Ejuan Price
Pittsburgh's Ejuan Price is one of the best pass rushers in the draft that no one is talking about. In his last two years with the Panthers, Price has recorded 24.5 sacks to go along with 42.5 tackles for a loss. He's been one of the nation's best rushers as he earned First Team All-ACC in the past two seasons.
Price's biggest defect is his size. At just 5'11", 241 pounds, he's not really a defensive end, and he doesn't have the movement skills to play linebacker. On top of the poor size, he didn't test well at the combine.
Price ran just a 4.84 40-yard dash and had just a 31.5 inch vertical. Small and unimpressive athletes don't typically go high in the draft.
However. Price is such a gifted pass-rusher that he deserves to be selected at some point on the third day of the draft. He may just be a pass-rush specialist early in his career, but that one skill is hard to find.
Because of his lack of height and his ability to bend so well around the edge, Price will remind some of Elvis Dumervil. He's got that type of talent and could last until the fifth or sixth round of the draft.
As for the Cowboys, Price makes sense as a selection late because of his unique skill set. With Randy Gregory's suspension, there is no one on the roster who can bend around the edge as well as he can. He could immediately find himself in the Dallas' rotation as a rookie.
Texas-El Paso RB Aaron Jones
While the Cowboys are fairly set at the running back position, they have shown they aren't afraid to add more competition to the group. After selecting Ezekiel Elliott with the fourth pick in 2016, the team also spent a sixth-round pick on Jackson.
Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris will compete for the No. 2 job behind Elliott in 2017, but there's also a possibility that Dallas looks to try to replace Lance Dunbar in the draft. A name that makes sense in the sixth or seventh round is Aaron Jones from Texas-El Paso.
Jones is an athletic runner who was started 32 games in college. He rushed for over 4,000 yards and caught 71 passes out of the backfield. His explosiveness (10'07" broad jump) and is soft hands make him a nice fit as a third-down back in the NFL.
Jones isn't a powerful runner nor a great pass-protector, but he's twitchy. He's one of the toughest running backs to defend in the passing game.
On Sirius XM NFL Radio, Jones mentioned on April 13 that he worked out for the Cowboys and they were the team to show the most interest so far in the draft process. He could be a target with one of their two seventh-round picks or a player they try to scoop up after the draft.