Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama
[Editor’s note: This article was written prior to the Cowboys dropping Dez Bryant.]
Wind back the clock 12 months, and the Dallas Cowboys are coming off a season where they finished the regular season 13-3 as #1 seed in the NFC, and lost a tight nail-biter to the Green Bay Packers in the NFC divisional play-offs. This unexpected success came courtesy, not of long time quarterback Tony Romo, but an impressive amalgamation of the best offensive line in the NFL, with an all-pro rookie running back Ezekiel Elliot, and offensive rookie of the year Dakota Prescott. The defense, led by Sean Lee (receiving his first all-pro honours) allowed the 5th fewest points in the NFL. In short, life was good.
Fast forward to today, and the Cowboys are coming off a disappointing 9-7 season, having missed the play-offs and watched NFC East rivals, the Philadelphia Eagles hoist their first Lombardi trophy. To be frank, their season was a complete mess. The league leading offensive line was weakened by the retirement of Doug Free at right tackle, and the loss of Ronald Leary to Denver in free agency. La’el Collins, coming back from a season on IR replaced Free at right tackle. Jonathan Cooper, a 1st round bust who was on 4 teams in less than 12 months replaced Leary. Both were significant downgrades. This does not include Chaz Green, who channeled his inner Winston Justice and allowed five sacks in one game whilst filling in for Tyron Smith. That being said, this was still an offensive line featuring 3 Pro-Bowlers.
All-Pro sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliot was suspended for 6 games. However, as opposed to accepting the ruling from the NFL, and being ready to go in week 8 against the Washington Redskins, multiple lawsuits from the NFLPA to put a hold on the suspension resulted in Elliot being unavailable at a crucial point during the season.
Without his All-Pro running back for 6 games, and no longer benefitting from the best offensive line in the league, the pressure was on Dak Prescott to win games with his arm. Prescott did not thrive under pressure, throwing more than triple the number of interceptions, completed 5% less passes, and threw 1.2 yards less per attempt than in his rookie campaign. In a particularly rough patch, Dak led the team to a team record 10 consecutive quarters without an offensive touchdown. During this period, the Cowboys were outscored 92-22. Nasty.
An area for which there were obvious deficiencies in 2017 were the receiving corps. Cole Beasley, who for all intents and purposes was Prescott’s favourite target in 2016 (75 receptions for 833 yards and 5 touchdowns) appeared seemingly absent (36 receptions for 314 yards and 4 touchdowns), Dez Bryant played all 16 games for the first time since 2014, and led the team with 838 yards and 6 touchdowns, figures which are well below what we have become accustomed to over the year. Terrance Williams has failed to make the jump many were hoping for, with fans calling for him to be replaced by Brice Butler during the season. Jason Witten, as great a player as he has been during his career, is at the end of his career, with the fewest receiving yards and receptions, and lowest yards per reception since his rookie campaign in 2003.
With the offense struggling, surely there was always the number 5 ranked defense to fall back on right? With All-Pro Sean Lee in the middle?
Without the best ground game in the league to grind down the clock, and with Sean Lee once again missing significant time due to a hamstring injury, the Cowboys defense regressed significantly and were exposed for what it is, a middling unit without much depth. There were however some bright spots with DeMarcus Lawrence experiencing a break-out year with 14.5 sacks, good for second in the league, and the flashes shown by rookies Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis.
With Dak Prescott trying to lead a spluttering offense, and Sean Lee not always available to lead a struggling defense, the Cowboys fell to 9-7, which we should really consider as 8-8 as the week 17 game was a phenomenal 6-0 drubbing of the Eagles back-ups.
The cap just doesn’t fit
A regression to the mean for the Cowboys was predicted by many sports writers prior to the season. Writers for ESPN, FOX, the NFL and BGN all predicted the downfall of America’s team. The reason for this was due to chronic cap-mismanagement by the Cowboys. For example, here is a list of the five largest contracts contributing towards the 2017 dead cap:
$10.6m (6.70% of cap) - Tony Romo
$3.5m (2.19%) – Cedric Thornton
$2.7m (1.70%) – Brandon Carr
$2.5m (1.56%) – Doug Free
$2.0m (1.25%) – Nolan Carroll
These five former players accounted for 13.4% of the 2017 cap. Even more amazingly, Cedric Thornton had the 10th highest cap hit for the team, and played for the Bills! What I also find hilarious, is that his cap hit will be nearly four times greater than Dak Prescott’s in 2018. For reference, here are the five largest dead contracts for the Eagles in 2017:
$6.1m (3.53%) – Chase Daniel
$5.5m (3.19%) – Sam Bradford
$1.0m (0.58%) – Ryan Mathews
$0.99m (0.58%) – Marcus Smith
$0.90m (0.52%) – Eric Rowe
The Cowboys are notoriously top heavy regarding their salaries, and this came back to bite them in epic fashion in 2017. Here are the top 5 salaries for the Cowboys during 2017
$17.1m (10.64%) – Dez Bryant
$12.2m (7.67%) – Jason Witten
$10.4m (6.48%) – Tyrone Crawford
$7.3m (4.58%) – Sean Lee
$5.6m (3.55%) – Ezekiel Elliot
For a whopping 32.92% of their salary cap, the Cowboys paid for the 35th ranked wide receiver (per PFF), a declining ancient tight end, a defensive end who managed 4 sacks, an elite but chronically injured linebacker, and an elite running back who spent 6 weeks in Mexico sulking during his suspension. For reference, these were the equivalent figures for the Eagles:
$10.7m (6.23%) – Alshon Jeffery
$9.8m (5.70%) – Lane Johnson
$9.4m (5.54%) - Fletcher Cox
$9.0m (5.22%) – Vinny Curry
$7.5m (4.35%) – Brandon Graham
It doesn’t take a genius to see the Cowboys have a messy cap situation, which has severely limited them using free agency to fill the many holes on their roster. This means that the 2018 draft is crucial for the development of the squad, to build a roster capable of competing for a championship.
As with any draft, there are high expectations for your first round pick. According to data published on recently on FieldGulls.com (for those not aware this is the Seahawks equivalent of BGN), 37.5% of first round picks eventually earn pro-bowl honours, dropping to 18% in the second round. This is consistent with the expectation that whoever your first round pick will be, at the very least they should be an above average starter for several years, but ideally an elite player.
Unlike many teams in the NFL, the Cowboys have an excellent recent history of first round picks becoming pro-bowl selections. In the last decade, Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin and Ezekiel Elliot have all picked up honours. Morris Claiborne has had nothing short of an injury ravaged career, with Byron Jones the only true let down having being converted to safety from cornerback. Taco Charlton is still somewhat of an unknown entity with only his rookie season under his belt. With this in mind, I am expecting the Cowboys to look for an impact player with pro-bowl potential.
So what area of the Cowboys roster has the greatest need?
I believe that there are several positions at which the Cowboys will not be looking to add a first round selection. These are as follows:
The Cowboys already have a franchise quarterback (or at least someone they believe is one). They will be looking to add talent to take advantage of Daks window.
- Running back
Like it or not Zeke is an elite talent, one of the top offensive players in the NFL. Adding another running back would be a luxury
- Offensive Line
Despite losing two key components, this is still a strong unit. Although it is not beyond the realms of possibility that the Cowboys draft a 4th offensive lineman in the 1st round in 7 years, the impact of an elite guard, over an elite edge rusher or corner is negligible
- Defensive End
With last years first round pick Taco Charlton, highly paid under achiever Tyrone Crawford, and breakout player DeMarcus Lawrence, the Cowboys already have invested significant resources into this area
Over the past two drafts, the Cowboys selected three cornerbacks, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis and Anthony Brown with top 100 picks. As would be expected with young cornerbacks, there have been rough patches, but also moments of excellence. It is possible that Cornerback could be a sleeper pick, but with a group of young talented players already on the roster, I think the Cowboys will be looking elsewhere.
Position groups I think the Cowboys will ignore, but should draft a player:
- Wide Receiver
This position group has become a sneaky position of need the past few seasons. Dez Bryant is no longer the fearsome pro-bowler of old, Cole Beasley is a poor mans Wes Welker who performed a Houdini-esque disappearing act in 2017. Terrance Williams has never, and will never have the expected break out season. This group desperately needs new blood, and a true #1 WR. Jaguars cast-off Allen Hurns is nothing more than a complementary receiver.
- Tight End
When Jason Witten made his NFL debut, Volkswagen were still building the original Beetle, Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected to office and the Columbia disaster had just grounded the shuttle programme. This dude is old!
Entering what is likely Witten’s final NFL season, there does not appear to be a succession plan in place. James Hanna caught 4 passes in 2017 as his primary back-up! The Cowboys need to invest at this position soon, but they will be relying on Witten to fight off father time, just one more season.
There are 3 area of immediate need for which I think the Cowboys will be looking to draft a player, defensive tackle, safety and linebacker.
At defensive tackle, the Cowboys had sophomore Maliek Collins and David Irving starting in 2017. As things stand, only Collins is guaranteed to return, however the Cowboys have placed a second round restricted tender on Irving, so it is reasonably safe to assume that he will also be back into the fold.
Collins had a bright rookie campaign, but struggled playing outside his favoured 3-tech position, but is at the very least a solid NFL starter. David Irving had a fragmented 2017 season, missing the first 4 games due to violating the leagues performance enhancing substances policy, and the last 4 games due to concusion. In the 8 games he did play, he racked up an impressive 7 sacks.
So why should the Cowboys look to upgrade here? It is felt that Irving is more of a natural fit bumping out to defensive end due to his over-aggressiveness, and propensity to take himself out of the run game.
At Safety, the Cowboys are returning their top 4 guys at the position, Byron Jones, Jeff Heath, Kavon Fazier and Xavier Woods. With this in mind, why would this be a pressing need?
Byron Jones is an enigma, he is an athletic marvel who started his career at corner, before being moved to safety, as position at which he has failed to blossom. He struggles with diagnosing plays and taking correct angles. With new secondary coach Kris Richard preferring ‘longer’ corners, it is expected that Jones will switch back to his natural position.
Jeff Heath is a fan favourite with the boys, with Blogging The Boys often joking about him being the GOAT. But realistically he is rotational safety who excels on special teams. Good enough to start the odd game, but does not possess the consistency to be the long term answer at the position.
Linebacker, I feel is the most pressing position for one reason alone. Sean Lee. In 2016 Sean Lee was 1st team all-pro and was the glue that held the Cowboys defense together. As the old saying goes, you do not know the value of something until you lose it, and I am sure the 8-2 record with him at linebacker compared to 1-5 without speaks volumes. Yes he is one man, and there is a long standing joke on BGN that any team would win a championship with Sean Lee. But he is a legitimately elite player.
Sean Lee is by no means guaranteed to play the entire 16 game slate in 2017, and at 32 years old on opening day, it is likely Lee will never play a 16 game season again, and that another serious injury could be his last. Former second round pick Jaylon Smith overcame a horrific knee injury to play in 2017, but was anything ranging from serviceable to a complete liability. Anthony Hitchens is highly versatile, and a good NFL linebacker, but was recently lost in free agency to the Chiefs.
So what player do I think will go to the Cowboys?
Perhaps the player being linked the most to the Cowboys is Rashaan Evans, a linebacker from Alabama. Analysts expert and amateur and matching Evans to the Cowboys in the perfect marriage. Echoing their trip 48 months ago to visit current Cowboy Ezekiel Elliot, Jason Garrett and his entourage visit the Alabama pro day. It is heavily speculated that this was to take a closer look at Evans.
Evans is seen as a first round prospect who can be a day one starter who could fit as a middle linebacker in a 3-4 defense, or an outside linebacker in the 4-3. He is a premium athlete with the range and explosiveness to roam sideline to sideline. In addition to ideal size and speed, he is an excellent reader of the game being quick to diagnose plays. He is also an underrated pass rusher with a lethal spin move.
Yet another linebacker off the Alabama production line, Evans has the versatility to play both inside and outside, and boasts plenty of experience in pass coverage having being tasked with covering both tight end and slot receivers in college.
To me, pre-draft as a member of the Cowboys organization, I would be desperately hoping that Rashaan Evans falls to me at 19. In the case of this mock draft I was very lucky that my first choice player remained on the board until my slot. So this pick is very easy to make. I get a highly productive player at a position of dire need on a cheap rookie deal for 5 years, and I also get my long term successor to Sean Lee.
Coming out of the draft with this pick, I would be excited to pair up Evans with Jones. Seeing as sub-packages are becoming more commonplace in the NFL, the Evans-Jones pairing could very quickly become one of the best in the league.
Do you approve of this pick?
This poll is closed
2018 BGN Community Mock Draft Order
1) Browns (GMinTraining): Saquon Barkley
2) Giants (ablesser88): Quenton Nelson
3) Jets (20Safety_Hazards): Sam Darnold
4) Browns (MJ1893): Josh Rosen
5) Broncos (drc242): Baker Mayfield
6) Colts (I Need a Username): Bradley Chubb
7) Buccaneers (dunc123): Minkah Fitzpatrick
8) Bears (NVEagleShark): Tremaine Edmunds
9) 49ers (Doug Pederson’s Pair of Balls): Calvin Ridley
10) Raiders (Milehighbirds): Derwin James
11) Dolphins (danishdynamite_): Roquan Smith
12) Bills (LAOJoe): Denzel Ward
13) Washington (Eagle1987): Vita Vea
14) Packers (89Tremaine): Mike Hughes
15) Cardinals (RimoDawkins): Josh Allen
16) Ravens (PhillyEagles2011): Mike McGlinchey
17) Chargers (LBCeaglesFan!): Da’Ron Payne
18) Seahawks (KEZHOG): Marcus Davenport
19) Cowboys (Brawnybalboa): Rashaan Evans
20) Lions (dshelton5):
21) Bengals (Palaniappan K M):
22) Bills (BeamerWentzorBentley):
23) Patriots (jy1187):
24) Panthers (dceagles):
25) Titans (ei78):
26) Falcons (SakPrescott):
27) Saints (MidMajorMatt):
28) Steelers (SummersInVA):
29) Jaguars (RecarTabmok):
30) Vikings (AnthroEagle):
31) Patriots (PhilaWolverine):
32) Eagles (JALupowitz):
Now it’s time for you to vote for who YOU think the Seahawks should pick in the 2018 BGN Consensus Mock Draft.
1) Browns: Saquon Barkley
2) Giants: Sam Darnold
3) Jets: Josh Rosen
4) Browns: Josh Allen
5) Broncos: Baker Mayfield
6) Colts: Bradley Chubb
7) Buccaneers: Minkah Fitzpatrick
8) Bears: Quenton Nelson
9) 49ers: Tremaine Edmunds
10) Raiders: Derwin James
11) Dolphins: Roquan Smith
12) Bills: Lamar Jackson
13) Washington: Vita Vea
14) Packers: Denzel Ward
15) Cardinals: Mason Rudolph
16) Ravens: Mike McGlinchey
17) Chargers: Da’Ron Payne
18) Seahawks: Marcus Davenport
Who should the Cowboys pick at No. 19?
This poll is closed
Leighton Vander Esch