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May 04, 2018

NFC East 2018 draft grades: Cowboys edition

Eagles NFL
050318LeightonVanderEsch Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports

"The Eagles only beat the Cowboys because they didn't have Leighton Vander Esch," said future Skip Bayless, probably.

After focusing on the Philadelphia Eagles' draft since last Thursday, let's take a look around at the rest of the NFC East, one team at a time. 

On Tuesday, we started with the cellar-dwelling New York Giants' draft. On Wednesday we looked at the Washington Redskins. Today we'll analyze the Dallas Cowboys' draft.

Round 1: Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State: At 6'4, 256, Vander Esch is a big, three-down linebacker with outstanding athleticism.

From a height-weight-speed perspective, Vander Esch is as impressive a defensive prospect as there is in this draft.

Though he's a bit of a one-year wonder, Vander Esch filled up the stat sheet in 2017, recording 141 tackles (8.5 TFL), 4 sacks, 2 INT, 5 pass breakups, and 4 forced fumbles. 

A neck injury had some teams concerned about Vander Esch's long-term future in the league. The Cowboys were not among them, however, it's worth noting that eschewing medicals burned them in 2016 when they selected Jaylon Smith with the 34th overall pick.

• Round 2: Connor Williams, OT/OG, Texas: After missing a big chunk of the 2017 season with a knee injury, and then not playing at his best once he did return, some of the shine was clearly off of Williams, who was at one time being projected as a top 10 pick. Williams had mixed results at the Combine. His athletic measurables were fantastic, but the tape measure revealed his 33" T-Rex arms, which will scare off teams who may not view him as a viable tackle prospect as a result. If Williams pans out as an offensive tackle in the NFL, great. If not, I believe his floor is as an athletic quality starting guard or center. I'm very surprised he lasted until pick 50.

• Round 3: Michael Gallup, WR, Colorado State: Gallup put up some serious numbers in 2016 and 2017, his only two years on the football field at CSU. He put up stat lines of 76-1272-14 in 2016 and 100-1418-7 in 2017. He also had at least one reception of 30+ yards in 16 of 26 career college games, catching passes at every level of the defense. 

On the downside, Gallup doesn't offer much in the way of enticing measurables. This felt early for him. Perhaps the Cowboys felt they needed a receiver to account for Dez Bryant's release. In my view, once the first two rounds were in the books, they shouldn't be drafting for immediate need any longer. I believe there were better prospects available at other positions.

Round 4: Dorance Armstrong, DE, Kansas: Armstrong had 20 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles in 2016 playing for a horrendous Kansas football program, though that production fell off sharply in 2017. Armstrong offers intriguing pass rush skills, but he'll probably just be a situational pass rusher early in his career, as he's undersized playing in a division that will likely have strong rushing attacks.

Round 4: Dalton Schultz, TE, Stanford: After Jason Witten's retirement, the Cowboys were left with a trio of tight ends with 9 combined career catches. Schultz is a good blocker, but he didn't exactly light up the stat sheet at Stanford, going 55-555-5 (that's not a typo) over his three-year career in college. Maybe the Cowboys were going to take Dallas Goedert in the second round, or maybe they really did prefer Connor Williams as somebody within the Cowboys' organization told Albert Breer. It'll be interesting to see if the Cowboys' draft board leaks, like it does every year.

Round 5: Mike White, QB, Western Kentucky: I liked this pick. White throws a pretty deep ball and has NFL arm strength. If you're going to try to develop a quarterback behind the scenes, White gives you something to work with.

Round 6: Chris Covington, OLB, Indiana: I know nothing about this guy, and won't pretend to.

Round 6: Cedrick Wilson, WR, Boise State: I had Wilson as a fourth round guy. He doesn't have ideal deep speed, but he makes plays down the field. In just two seasons, he racked up over 2600 receiving yards, and averaged 19 yards per catch. He runs the full route tree, makes guys miss after he has the ball in his hands, and I love his tenacity as a blocker. Wilson could be an immediate special teams contributor and a guy who competes for meaningful reps in the offense, with No. 2 starter upside. The NFL obviously saw him differently, but I thought this was excellent value.

Round 7: Bo Scarbrough, RB, Alabama: Alabama is a running back factory, and Scarbrough is the latest Crimson Tide back likely to be drafted into the NFL, albeit later than expected. He also has low mileage, as he sat behind Derrick Henry in 2015 and has shared the load with Damien Harris in 2016 and 2017. In 2016, Scarbrough did the bulk of his damage in the playoffs, carrying 46 times for 364 yards and 6 TDs in his three games against Florida (SEC Championship), Washington (Peach Bowl playoff game), and Clemson (National Championship Game). He is a physical runner with surprisingly good measurables. There are injury concerns, but I'd take this guy in the seventh round all day.

Conclusion

I thought the Cowboys started strong with the selections of Vander Esch and Williams, and finished strong with potential late-round steals in Wilson and Scarbrough. In the third and fourth rounds, Gallup and Schultz, respectively, may have been a little reachy, but I won't kill them for that. 

Overall, I think the Cowboys made a bunch of solid picks. 

Grade: B+


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