10 Cowboys Draft Prospects to Watch | Dallas Observer


10 Names to Know Before the Cowboys Go on the NFL Draft Clock This Week

Hometown kid Courtland Sutton.
Hometown kid Courtland Sutton. Hex Highlights FB via Youtube
The Dallas Cowboys are, at most, six players away from being really good in 2018. They could use a guard to fill in the otherwise stellar offensive line, wide receiver Dez Bryant and linebacker Anthony Hitchens need to be replaced, and a ball-hawking free safety would add needed steel to the back end of the team's defense. A tight end capable of stretching the field or a run-stopping defense tackle wouldn't hurt, either.

It's impossible to expect Jerry Jones and the rest of the Cowboys front office to fill each of those holes in this week's draft. If the Cowboys have a good draft, though, and fill in a couple of those blanks, they could be good enough to make a playoff run. As the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles, 2016 Atlanta Falcons and 2015 Denver Broncos proved, incomplete teams are perfectly capable of getting to and, in the Eagles' and Broncos' cases, winning the Super Bowl.

With that in mind, here are 10 names to look for as the Cowboys make their 10 draft selections in Arlington.

Calvin Ridley, wide receiver, University of Alabama
Ridley is the best receiver in the draft. He's speedy, has soft hands and, according to scouting reports, is an excellent route runner. He lacks the size and strength to be a like-for-like replacement for Bryant but would add a downfield dimension to the Cowboys' passing attack. If he's available when the Cowboys go on the clock at 19, there's every reason to believe he'll suit up in the white and silver next year.

Leighton Vander Esch, linebacker, Boise State University
Vander Esch is a big (6-foot-4), strong and mobile middle linebacker. At Boise State, he proved a capable defensive anchor, showing the run-stopping and pass-coverage skills that the Cowboys desperately missed last season when injuries and a lack of depth forced Jaylon Smith to play middle linebacker during the meat of the Cowboys' schedule. The biggest question about Vander Esch is his health. Over the last couple of weeks, rumors have swirled that some teams are concerned enough about the neck injury he suffered as a sophomore in Idaho that they've taken him off their draft boards. If the Cowboys are confident he's healthy, Vander Esch would be a good pick in the first round and a great selection if he drops far enough that the team can scoop him up during Friday's second round.

Taven Bryan, defensive tackle, University of Florida
Bryan is an interior lineman who could team with Cowboys linemen DeMarcus Lawrence and David Irving to immediately form an intimidating pass rush in 2018. While he isn't the line-clogging run stopper the Cowboys really need at defensive tackle, Bryan could be an excellent replacement for Irving if the latter leaves the Cowboys when he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2019.

Da'Ron Payne, defensive tackle, University of Alabama
Payne is the kind of line-clogging, run-stopping defensive tackle who would be the perfect complement to Lawrence and Irving. He's huge — 6-foot-2 and about 300 pounds — and quick, capable of tying up the best interior offensive lineman. If the Cowboys decide to shore up the defensive line, Payne is one of their best and most fun options.

DJ Moore, wide receiver, University of Maryland
Despite catching passes from four quarterbacks in 2017, Moore proved himself as the Big 10's best wide receiver on a terrible Maryland team. He can improvise when plays break down, a plus with Dak Prescott's scrambling ability, and is used to having a ton of passes thrown his way, which is helpful for someone who hopes to replace Bryant.

Rashaan Evans, linebacker, University of Alabama
Evans played outside at Alabama, but many scouts see him as an attacking linebacker in the NFL, capable of both getting to the passer and slowing down the run game. There are some questions about his ability to stay on the field in the NFL, however, thanks to a few lingering injuries in college. Evans will contribute to an NFL defense but lacks the all-purpose upside of Vander Esch.

Maurice Hurst, defensive tackle, University of Michigan
Hurst isn't as athletic as Bryan or as big as Payne, but he uses outstanding hand-fighting technique to get off the ball and after ball carriers on the inside. The Cowboys might be leery of taking another Michigan defensive lineman in the first round, however, after Taco Charlton's miserable rookie season in 2017.

Courtland Sutton, wide receiver, Southern Methodist University
If the Cowboys draft SMU's Sutton, they could be getting Michael Irvin or they could be getting Charles Rogers, the Michigan State receiver who was a total bust in the NFL after being drafted by the Lions in 2003. Sutton has the physical skills to be a dominating possession receiver, but he's an unfinished article who never faced serious competition during his time on The Hilltop. Drafting Sutton in the first round would be a big, entertaining risk.

Malik Jefferson, linebacker, University of Texas
Jefferson might have been a first-round pick had he opted to stay in Austin for his senior season. Instead, he's been consistently linked to the Cowboys as a potential second-rounder. Like Sutton, he has a Pro Bowl-upside but has yet to show it consistently on the field. Often at UT, Jefferson was too content to let the action come to him, rather than searching it out on the field.

Anthony Miller, wide receiver, University of Memphis
Miller is a relatively undersized, elusive wide receiver likely to be taken during the second or third round. While the Cowboys have every chance of needing a receiver at that point in the draft, they may not like the fact that Miller profiles as a slot receiver, rather than someone capable of playing on the outside. Still, Miller's ability to get downfield from the slot is something the team's current inside receivers, Cole Beasley and Ryan Switzer, don't offer.

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young

Latest Stories