With top CBs off the board, Dallas uses first pick on best player available
Next week’s Senior Bowl is the first major event in the buildup to the 2021 NFL draft, where the Cowboys will have the tall task of topping their efforts from last year.
There’s still a lot that needs to happen (like free agency) before we have a keen feel for what Dallas may do in the draft, but that’s never stopped us from speculating. So without further ado, let’s dive into a new seven-round mock draft for the Cowboys.
As always, I used The Draft Network’s mock draft machine to make things as realistic as possible.
Round 1: Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
With cornerbacks Patrick Surtain II and Caleb Farley off the board in this scenario, I opted for the best player available (BPA) in Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle. This selection would likely mean Michael Gallup’s days in Dallas are numbered, but Waddle is worth it because of what he can add to the offense.
Listed at 5-10, 182 pounds, Waddle is a little light for the NFL, but he more than makes up for it with game-breaking speed. We see fast receivers every year in the NFL, but Waddle‘s ability to accelerate and run away from coverage is the closest thing to Tyreek Hill that I’ve seen in recent years.
And Waddle isn’t just a pure burner. He showcases impressive route running, efficient route breaks and reliable hands. Waddle is a monster in yards after the catch (YAC) and a threat to score from anywhere on the field, which also ties into his impressive return ability.
The Cowboys would need to decide whether to move Waddle or CeeDee Lamb to the outside, allowing the other to mainly line up in the slot. Waddle’s presence would make defenses respect Dallas’ vertical passing game even more than they already do, which could have benefits for the rest of the Cowboys’ weapons.
While receiver isn’t a need and fans are zeroed in on defense in the first round, Waddle is too good to pass up here with the top corners off the board. Passing on Waddle to reach for a defender with a lesser grade is a recipe for disaster, so I’m playing it safe and sticking with BPA.
Round 2: Tyson Campbell, CB, Georgia
After missing out on cornerback in Round 1, I was a little worried I wouldn’t like the corners available to me in Round 2. The draft gods smiled upon me this time, leaving Georgia’s Tyson Campbell on the board when Dallas went on the clock.
At 6-2, 185 pounds, Campbell has the frame and length that new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn covets in corner prospects. Additionally, he’s a freak athlete with outstanding long speed and good change of direction (COD). Campbell ran a blistering 10.39 100-meter dash in high school — for context, Chris Johnson ran a 10.38.
Tyson Campbell 👀
Mocked 19th overall last week by @GrindingTheTape to the Colts!
Pros: Physical, Long, Twitchy, Loose, Click n Close, Aggressive tackler
Cons: Doesn’t always find ball, Eye violations
NFL Style: Marlon Humphrey pic.twitter.com/XOe4Hjn8j5
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) October 11, 2020
Campbell uses blazing speed to stay connected to receivers on vertical routes while his COD allows him to maintain that connection after the break point. Campbell still needs some refinement with his feet and hands in press coverage, but that shouldn’t be too difficult to fix with someone as athletic as he is.
Campbell would be an outstanding fit in Quinn’s scheme, which prioritizes corners who can effectively take away the vertical plane as deep-third defenders. He’s already comfortable playing press-bail technique in Cover 3 and displays impressive man coverage ability as well.
Pairing Campbell with Trevon Diggs would give the Cowboys two exciting young corners to build their secondary around moving forward.
Round 3: Elijah Molden, DB, Washington
While Quinn has largely stuck to the Pete Carroll coaching tree’s tendency to target tall and long cornerbacks, he’s also had some success with smaller players — especially in the slot. Damontae Kazee, who’s just 5-11 and 190 pounds, split time between safety and slot corner in Atlanta under Quinn, and the 5-10 Brian Poole was the Falcons’ starting slot corner in 2018.
So while many will eliminate smaller defensive backs from consideration for Dallas, I think there’s a chance the Cowboys select one if he specializes in the slot and has some safety ability to boot. Washington’s Elijah Molden has both in spades.
Washington CB 3 Elijah Molden lacks ideal height and has just decent speed but I love his instincts and overall aggressive play. Here’s a great example of his fast eyes and natural ball skills. Molden should quickly emerge as a starting nickel back in the NFL. Day 2 grade. pic.twitter.com/HvdvL9pXk7
— Todd McShay (@McShay13) July 16, 2020
Listed at 5-10, 190 pounds, Molden is a bit undersized but makes up for it with outstanding instincts, quickness and reactive athleticism. Molden is quicker than fast, which is a big reason his skill set translates better to the slot than outside. Among the potential slot corners in this class, Molden may be the best in coverage. He routinely stays connected to receivers in man coverage while showing expert-level awareness and route recognition in zone.
And despite his lack of size, Molden isn’t afraid to contribute against the run. This is a big reason many think his best position in the NFL could be a hybrid safety role that takes more advantage of his run defending.
Molden’s position flexibility and pure coverage ability would be huge additions to the Cowboys’ secondary. I think Molden would be the perfect replacement for impending free agent Jourdan Lewis. If Molden was a couple of inches taller, he’d be a definite first-round prospect, so getting him in the third is a huge steal.
Round 3: Levi Onwuzurike, DT, Washington
Nose tackle is a bigger need, but the Cowboys could also use some more talent at defensive tackle (3/4i technique in Quinn’s scheme). In the third round, it’s going to be hard to find someone as talented as Washington’s Levi Onwuzurike.
Onwuzurike opted out of the 2020 season, but we’ll get to see him face top competition at the Senior Bowl, a great opportunity for him to knock off some rust while showing how he stacks up with some other draftable players in this class.
At 6-3, 293 pounds, Onwuzurike plays above his weight class along the interior, showing the ability to shock offensive linemen with his power on contact. Onwuzurike’s athleticism enables him to penetrate and make plays in the backfield as well.
Onwuzurike’s pass-rush ability would be a nice addition to a Dallas defensive tackle group that really struggles to get after the passer. Onwuzurike has pad level issues and is a bit out of control, but his athleticism and power provide him with a strong foundation to become an effective interior rusher in the NFL.
He’s probably not ready for a starting role, but Onwuzurike should be able to step in as an effective member of the rotation.
Round 4: Baron Browning, LB, Ohio State
Grabbing Ohio State linebacker Baron Browning at this spot is a great value for a couple of reasons.
First, at 6-3 and 240 pounds, Browning has impressive athleticism that should make him a fun developmental project early while allowing him to be a special teams ace in the meantime.
Second, Browning comes from an Ohio State defense that runs a scheme very similar to what Dallas will use under Quinn, so he should be able to pick things up quickly.
Watching some #OhioState defensive film tonight and this rep from LB Baron Browning was textbook.
Out guarding TE-2 Pat Freiermuth in the boundary, one one. Does a nice job mirroring, and finishing the play with a PBU. The modern NFL covets linebackers who can cover in space. pic.twitter.com/7j97xTszyG
— Devin Jackson (@RealD_Jackson) January 19, 2021
Browning is a physical player who has also put some impressive coverage reps on tape. He needs some refinement with his processing and ability to get off blocks, though.
A former five-star recruit, Browning is a big-time talent who never quite put it all together at Ohio State. Still, his ceiling is extremely high and with some experience, growing into a starting-caliber linebacker isn’t out of the question.
That’s all you’re really asking for early on Day 3 of the draft.
Round 4: Caden Sterns, S, Texas
In the fourth round, Texas’ Caden Sterns could provide the Cowboys with a developmental deep safety in Quinn’s middle-of-the-field-closed (MOFC) defense. Sterns won’t be mistaken for Quinn’s previous Longhorn safety, Earl Thomas, but his versatile coverage ability makes him a worthwhile project in the Dallas secondary.
Sterns needs to refine his mental processing ability and misses way too many tackles in run support, but that doesn’t mean he’s not worth developing. It just means it would be best if he wasn’t forced into defensive action early in his career. I think Sterns can be a good enough special teams contributor to earn a roster spot while he develops, having spent time on Texas’ punt coverage and return units in addition to kickoff coverage.
Round 5: Khyiris Tonga, NT, BYU
The Cowboys have made a habit of ignoring the nose tackle position in past years, but there’s zero chance I’m finishing this mock draft without one.
BYU’s Khyiris Tonga may be my favorite Day 3 nose tackle in this class. He has surprising athleticism to go with jaw-dropping power, making him a ball of clay that can be shaped into a starting-caliber NFL nose tackle with some time.
Tonga definitely needs some technical refinement, but at 6-4, 321 pounds, he can hold the point of attack well against single and double teams. He has better pass-rush ability than most nose tackles his size, having produced double-digit pressures in every season at BYU. Tonga posted a career-high 21 pressures in 2020.
He needs some seasoning, but what fifth-round pick doesn’t? Tonga would provide the Cowboys with an intriguing young talent at nose tackle, which is something they haven’t had in quite some time.
Round 6: Jaret Patterson, RB, Buffalo
The Cowboys have shown a willingness to pick running backs late in the draft in recent years, having done so in Rounds 6 or 7 in three of the past five drafts.
Buffalo’s Jaret Patterson could be the next such pick.
In just six games in 2020, Patterson rushed for more than 1,000 yards and 19 touchdowns. Among running backs with at least 140 carries, Patterson led college football in yards after contact per attempt (4.74).
At 5-9, 195 pounds, Patterson is a short but compact running back who displays outstanding vision to find running lanes between the tackles. His deep speed doesn’t appear to be anything special, which could put a cap on his big-play ability in the NFL. But while he may not hit many home runs, Patterson should be able to make a living hitting doubles.
If Ezekiel Elliott were to get injured, Patterson would be the perfect running back to pair with Tony Pollard. Patterson could handle the between-the-tackles work while Pollard’s big-play ability is leveraged on perimeter runs and as a receiver.
Round 6: Tarron Jackson, DE, Coastal Carolina
At 6-2, 270 pounds, Coastal Carolina’s Tarron Jackson is a powerfully built defensive end who could be a nice fit in Quinn’s defense as a strong-side end. Jackson’s power at the point of attack would allow him to grow into a plus run defender, and he could leverage it to collapse the pocket off the edge.
BYU QB Zach Wilson is the main attraction, but #CoastalCarolina DL Tarron Jackson (8.5 sacks, 38 pressures) is also a legit NFL prospect in tomorrow’s match-up
Jackson (LDE, #9) shows a knack for knifing through gaps with his quickness and physical hands. pic.twitter.com/3ugz7VgDNw
— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) December 4, 2020
Jackson displays nice quickness to penetrate and make plays in the backfield, which is a big reason he finished 14th among edge defenders in run stops last year. He also has an adequate repertoire of moves to generate pressure off the edge, including a violent two-hand swipe he uses to defeat hands and grease the corner.
Since Dorance Armstrong has just one year left on his contract, Jackson could grow into his role as DeMarcus Lawrence’s primary backup in Year 2 and beyond.
Round 7: Zac Thomas, QB, Appalachian State
Over the course of his career, head coach Mike McCarthy has become fond of selecting quarterbacks late in the draft who can be developed into backup-caliber players or trade bait down the road.
Like Ben DiNucci late in last year’s draft, the Cowboys could select one late this year, and Appalachian State’s Zac Thomas may be one of the options.
Thomas was one of the most productive quarterbacks in Appalachian State history and finished 32-6 as the starter for the Mountaineers.
Thomas doesn’t have great size at 6-1, 210 pounds, but he’s athletic enough to be a scramble threat any time he drops back, having finished 11th among college quarterbacks in scramble yards (269) in 2020.
Thomas would provide DiNucci with good competition for the No. 3 quarterback job and be McCarthy’s personal development project for the offense.
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