The Dallas Cowboys entered the 2018 NFL Draft with immediate positions of need. Linebacker, offensive guard, wide receiver and tight end were the positions that still needed to be filled after the free agency period. The Cowboys War Room did an excellent job of filling those positions while also taking the best players atop their board and not reaching for any particular position based on level of necessity. Overall, it was another strong draft on paper for Dallas.
Interested in reading in depth scouting reports on the Cowboys selections? The Dallas Cowboys team specific draft guide is now available!
Round 1, Pick 19: Leighton Vander Esch, ILB, Boise State
Many assumed the Cowboys would be selecting a wide receiver with the 19th overall pick, but in the days leading up to the draft Dallas was reportedly growing fond of Boise State’s off ball linebacker, Leighton Vander Esch.
Vander Esch is a highly intelligent linebacker who possesses excellent recognition skills and ability to key and diagnose plays very quickly. This is prevalent when reading option plays, play action fakes and reacting early on screen plays to receivers in the flat. His high level of mental processing ability bodes well for his development as a future pillar in the middle of the Cowboys defense.
He displays very good play strength to take on interior offensive linemen and plays with very good leverage while attacking inside runs to rip/shed linemen and disrupt in the backfield for tackles for losses. Quick burst to shoot through gaps with very good short area quickness to close on backs and quarterbacks on A gap blitzes. Times up snap counts well to get a good jump on the ball when blitzing the interior of the offensive line.
Very good athletic ability displayed in the pass game. Good change of direction skills with the ability to plant and smoothly sink his hips when dropping back into coverage. Doesn’t need to come off the field in sub-package situations because he can cover quick and shifty backs in the open field. Fundamentally strong tackler who wraps up more athletic players in the open field and targets the strike zone of the ball carrier very well forcing fumbles and breakups.
Despite all the positives that Vander Esch brings to the table with his athletic ability and measurables there are untapped areas of his game waiting to be explored. While he’s a strong tackler, Vander Esch needs to take better pursuit angles to the ball carrier as he possesses only solid lateral agility and speed. He’s not the fastest player to the edge and will need to rely heavily on his quick play recognition skills to win in this area. In order for him to develop into his best self, Vander Esch will need to better blend his level of intelligence and processing ability with his athletic ability.
Dallas needed another intelligent linebacker inside with good movement skills in the pass game to add to their already athletic back seven. Should Sean Lee’s durability issues reappear in 2018, Vander Esch should be able to fill some of his responsibilities in pass situations. Overall, the linebacker unit in Dallas is promising heading into 2018 with Lee, Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith comprising majority of the snaps.
Round 2, Pick 50: Connor Williams, OG, Texas
For as much as I like the Vander Esch pick I like Dallas’ 2nd round pick, Connor Williams, even more. Williams played tackle while at Texas, but was announced as an offensive guard when he heard his name called on day two of the NFL Draft. Former 1st round pick Johnathan Cooper was not up to the task of replacing the vacant spot left by Ronald Leary. Williams is a clear upgrade and is going to help solidify the interior of the Cowboys offensive line, a unit that didn’t live up to their expectations in 2017 after a lack of adequate talent at the left guard position and injuries to left tackle Tyron Smith left the once highly regarded unit underperforming.
Adding Williams to the mix makes the Cowboys line perhaps the most lethal offensive line unit in the NFL once again, filled with early day 1 and day 2 picks and depth across the board. There’s a chance Dallas’ rushing attack reaches 2016 levels of success by strengthening a strength, which should pave the way for a motivated Ezekiel Elliott who’s had an enormous weight lifted off his shoulders now that his suspension is officially behind him. Expect Williams to excel in Dallas’ gap scheme running duo and power runs.
Immediate Role Player
Round 3, Pick 81: Michael Gallup, WR, Colorado State
Dez Bryant’s release by the team earlier last month made the wide receiver position one of Dallas’ top positions of need heading into the draft. While the position is lacking top end talent I’m not ready to declare Gallup an immediate starter for the team in 2018. I think Allen Hurns, Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley will get majority of the snaps at receiver and Gallup will play a significant role rotating with Williams and Hurns on the outside.
Although somewhat undersized for the position at 6’1”, 205 pounds, Gallup projects to play the X receiver role. Gallup is a good route runner and possesses strong hands at the catch point. With Bryant now looking for work on the open market, Gallup will have to attempt to fill Bryant’s role as the team’s 50/50 ball receiver. His physical style of play and aggressive demeanor with the ball in his hands is reminiscent of how Bryant attacked defenders in the open field. Gallup fits the mold of what the Cowboys like in their X receivers and he should hopefully make a sizable contribution to the team in year one with plenty of targets to go around.
Round 4, Pick 137: Dalton Schultz, TE, Stanford
With Jason Witten unexpectedly retiring to join the Monday Night Football broadcast, the Cowboys needed to address the tight end position in the draft. They did so early on day three selecting Stanford TE, Dalton Schultz. He best fits as a rotational tight end in run situations as a blocker, but can also make plays in the play action pass game/pass protection.
Schultz is a good initial blocker in the run game and will be able to create seals to the edge for his running backs. As a receiver he has good athletic ability and movement skills as a route runner. However, Schultz ran a limited route tree at Stanford and will need to work on adding to his repertoire if he expects to be implemented in Dallas’ pass game early in year one. Expect Schultz to be a solid role player in a tight end by committee role alongside Geoff Swaim and Blake Jarwin in 2018.
Round 7, Pick 236: Bo Scarbrough, RB, Alabama
Scarbrough landed in the ideal environment for his skill set. The 6’1, 228 pound power back doesn’t have the strongest vision skills, but he won’t need to worry about finding holes to run through in Dallas with their stellar unit clearing the path up front. Scarbrough is best suited for a niche role spelling Elliott in short yardage situations on gap scheme runs. He may only get 2-4 carries a game, but his opportunities will likely come in critical spots, like on 3rd and short or near the goal line.
Round 6, Pick 193: Chris Covington, LB, Indiana
Covington is a high effort player who should compete for a roster spot in training camp as a special teamer. He may get the opportunity down the line to play on the defensive unit, but Kris Richard’s defense likes to keep his starting linebackers out there for majority of the snaps. In year one, expect Covington to contribute mainly on special teams and be a last resort LB option.
Round 6, Pick 208: Cedric Wilson, WR, Boise State
After trading WR Ryan Switzer to the Oakland Raiders for DL Jihad Ward, Dallas had an opportunity to add another receiver to the mix. Wilson is a silky smooth route runner who also displays very similar yards after the catch traits to Terrance Williams. Although, Wilson possesses better overall catching skills than Williams. He’s best suited for a slot role to make an impact immediately when he’s given an opportunity to get on the field as he struggles with contract at the line of scrimmage and amidst his route. Wilson has the baseline ability and traits to make the 53 man roster as Dallas’ WR5 or WR6.
Round 4, Pick 116: Dorance Armstrong, EDGE, Kansas
Armstrong possesses the length, raw athleticism and bend that Rod Marinelli loves in his defensive ends. The Dallas defensive line possesses the most talent it’s had in a long time. With DeMarcus Lawrence and David Irving as the headliners as well as Taco Charlton and potentially Randy Gregory as young developmental options on the edge, Armstrong may struggle to earn snaps in year one. However, if there’s a coordinator to get the most out of a defensive lineman’s traits, it’s Marinelli.
Round 5, Pick 171: Mike White, QB, Western Kentucky
After drafting just two quarterbacks since 2000, the Cowboys have now drafted two in the last three drafts and added their backup, Cooper Rush, through undrafted free agency in 2017. They’re seemingly investing more resources into the position in recent seasons after realizing how important the QB2 spot is on a team.
White should come in an compete with Rush for the backup position behind Dak Prescott. Despite the lack of deep balls thrown with Prescott behind center, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan is used to pushing the ball downfield through the air. White has the requisite arm talent to play in a downfield passing attack, but also possesses the athleticism to make throws off-platform.
Trade: Tavon Austin, RB acquired for 6th round pick, 192 overall
The Cowboys used one of their draft picks to acquire Tavon Austin from the Los Angeles Rams. Austin took a pay cut this off-season to allow a potential trade to be facilitated. Dallas made a smart trade acquiring an established veteran for a late round pick to fill a niche role on their offense. Austin, once a receiver, is now a converted running back expected to play a role similar to former Cowboys pass catching-running back Lance Dunbar. In addition to playing snaps in the backfield Austin may also get an opportunity to run jet sweeps lining up on the outside and return punts on special teams.