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May 01, 2019

NFC East 2019 draft grades: Cowboys edition

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. We started yesterday with the cellar-dwelling New York Giants as well as the Washington team. Today, we'll continue on with the Dallas Cowboys.

The Cowboys entered the 2019 NFL Draft without a first round pick, which they used to acquire WR Amari Cooper. We'll get to that at the end, but first, let's look at the players they drafted.

• Round 2, Pick 58: Trysten Hill, DT, UCF: Hill is an interesting, talented prospect, but there are character concerns that teams investigated during the pre-draft process, which of course makes him a prime Cowboys target. On the field, Hill is a disruptive one-gapping DT who will fit nicely in their scheme. The Cowboys' website nailed him as a player of interest:

Round 3, Pick 90: Connor McGovern: McGovern was a starter along the PSU OL since his freshman season. He played both guard spots initially, then played center for a year and a half, and finished up his career as the starting right guard. McGovern is a powerful run blocker, but needs improvement in pass protection. He makes a lot of sense in the Cowboys' run-heavy offense, either as depth at guard or as insurance at center if Travis Frederick is unable to recover fully from his illness.

Round 4, Pick 128: Tony Pollard, RB, Memphis: Pollard is a dynamic playmaker who did a little of everything for Memphis. He's an elite kick returner (6 kick return TDs in his career, though that's something of a wasted skill in today's NFL), while also playing running back and wide receiver. A highlight reel:

A common trait that the most potent offenses (Chiefs/Rams/Saints) in the NFL shared last season was a dynamic running back who can create mismatches with opposing linebackers by catching the ball out of the backfield, down the field. Pollard has the receiving ability part down, but the tougher evaluation for NFL scouts will be whether or not opposing defenses will respect his ability to run the football at the next level.

At Memphis, Pollard had 139 carries for 941 yards (6.8 YPC) and 9 TDs. Those are good numbers, but represent a small sample size. Still, a creative offense should be able to find ways to get him involved and making plays in the NFL. I'm not so sure that's Dallas. 

I thought the fourth round was way too early. Pollard is something of a luxury player, and one that's not a guarantee to contribute in the areas where he was effective in college. There was better value on the board.

Round 5, Pick 158: Michael Jackson, CB, Miami: Jackson is height-weight-speed guy at 6'1, 210, with good athletic measurables. He is not a player I watched, but the negatives outweigh the positives, as Jackson is thought of as awkward in coverage, at least according to Lance Zierlein of The Cowboys need more help at safety than they do at corner. To be determined if they try to move him there.

Round 5, Pick 165: Joe Jackson, DE, Miami: Fewer than 10 picks after drafting Michael Jackson, the Cowboys selected Joe Jackson, which is awesome.

Jackson was an immediate force as soon as he got to Miami, as he had 7.5 sacks his freshman season. He finished his three-year career at Miami with 22.5 sacks and 35.5 tackles for loss. At 6'4, 275, with plenty of power, he won't get pushed around as a rookie in the NFL, and his relentless style of play would fit well in a rotational role in the Cowboys' defense. He's a guy who can play DE on base downs, and be an interior rusher on obvious passing downs, somewhat like Michael Bennett. 

A highlight reel:

I believe Jackson is one of the more underrated defensive ends in this class. I'm not sure why he fell, but this was good value for Dallas.

Round 6, Pick 213: Donovan Wilson, S, Texas A&M: He has some pop, but coverage skills at the next level are in question. He would've been drafted higher if it were 1990.

Round 7, Pick 218: Mike Weber, RB, Ohio State: For the fifth time since 2011, the Cowboys have taken a running back in the fifth round or later. Joseph Randle looked like decent player for some fleeting moments, but on the whole, that strategy, while sound in my opinion, hasn't worked out. 

Weber isn't very dynamic, in that he's not going hit many big plays, and he's not much of a threat as a receiver out of the backfield (54-297-5.5-1 over his career). He's a guy who can spell Ezekiel Elliott, but doesn't offer an one intriguing skill that will complement him. 10 fumbles over three seasons is also a big concern for a backup running back, especially one of the "get the yards you're supposed to get, and don't mess up otherwise" variety.

Round 7, Pick 241: Jalen Jelks, DE, OregonJelks is a long-and-lean defensive end from Oregon's 3-4 scheme that required him to play a lot of 2-gap responsibility. In the NFL, Jelks projects to 4-3 defensive end in the NFL, where his skill set can be better utilized. While his 3-4 background won't help his college stats (he had just 15.5 sacks in 4 seasons), his time being misused at Oregon will serve him well in the NFL as a run stopper. Nice seventh-round value.

GRADE: The Cowboys made a few nice value picks on Day 3, but I don't see any players from this draft class who have a decent chance at making an impact in the NFL. Of course, the Cowboys' attitude will be, "We'll take Amari Cooper instead of a first round pick, thank you very much." 

And certainly, Cooper was very good for Dallas in the nine games he played there, as he had 53 catches for 725 yards and 6 TDs. Extrapolate that over a 16-game season, and he would be on pace for 94 catches for 1289 yards and 11 TDs. He also had 13 catches for 171 yards and a TD in two playoff games. If Cooper can maintain that level of production for a longer period of time, then yes, debate over; he was worth the first-round pick.

That said, first round picks are obviously extremely valuable resources, especially for Dallas, a team that has killed it in the first round over the last decade. First-round drafting is the one thing the front office can really hang their hat on.

The value of the first-round draft pick aside, there's also the matter of Cooper's pay. In 2019, Cooper is scheduled to count for $13,924,000 against the cap on his fifth-year option. He and his camp have all kinds of leverage to either earn a very lucrative long-term deal, or play out the 2019 season making just under $14 million.

The Cowboys already signed Demarcus Lawrence to a five-year deal worth $105 million with $65 million guaranteed. That's just the beginning. They are also going to have to sign Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Byron Jones, and Jaylon Smith over the next two years. Prescott is going to make close to $30 million, Zeke will be up over $15 million/year, while Jones and Smith will easily both fetch over $10 million/year.

If Cooper were to sign a contract extension this offseason, what will that cost? The franchise tag for wide receivers in 2020 should be up over $17 million. You can bet that Cooper is in for a pay day at around $17 million per year, especially if the perception is that the Cowboys won the division in 2018 as a result of acquiring him, as many believe.

Cooper's early returns were great, but Dallas is far from done paying the bill on that trade.


RELATED: Eagles 2019 draft grades

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