The Dallas Cowboys pride themselves in building their team through the draft.
Big-money free agents typically don’t pan out, the Cowboys have learned, and the draft is the best way to acquire and develop their own talent.
The Cowboys have plenty of areas to address going into this year’s draft. Jason Witten can’t play forever, right? The wide receiving corps had a down year across the board. And, of course, the defense can always use more talent.
Defense, at this early stage, seems to make the most sense for the Cowboys. They’ve invested several first-round picks on the offensive side in recent years (Ezekiel Elliott, Zack Martin, Travis Frederick, Tyron Smith, Dez Bryant) and not as much on the defensive side (Taco Charlton, Byron Jones).
And the defense could use help on all three levels. The defensive line is always looking to create more pressure; the team could lose linebacker Anthony Hitchens in free agency and Sean Lee continues to battle injuries; and the secondary has room to grow.
With the NFL Draft coming to town in late April, there will be plenty of attention on it in the coming months. Plenty will change in that period, too, with the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine playing a pivotal role in how teams view certain prospects.
But it’s never too early to forecast what might happen. This marks the first time in franchise history the Cowboys have the 19th overall pick. They’ve had the 18th overall pick three times, and the 20th overall pick five times. But never No. 19 until this year.
So, without further ado, with the 19th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Cowboys could select …
WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama: Ridley might be long gone before the Cowboys are on the clock, but he makes plenty of sense for them. He is among the most productive offensive players in the SEC, college football’s top conference. He has 220 receptions, 2,749 yards and 18 touchdowns in three seasons. Along with Elliott, the 6-foot-1, 188-pound Ridley would be a home-run threat every time he had the ball in his hands.
CB Joshua Jackson, Iowa: The Cowboys like their young secondary players in Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis and Xavier Woods. Jackson would add to that mix and possibly allow the Cowboys to move Awuzie to safety. Jackson is a one-year wonder who had a breakthrough year as a senior. He led FBS schools in interceptions (eight) and passes defended (18). He projects as a No. 1 corner who could contain the likes of New York’s Odell Beckham Jr. and Washington’s Josh Doctson.
CB Tarvarus McFadden, Florida State: Much like Jackson, McFadden would add another top secondary talent to the Cowboys’ already young mix. McFadden didn’t have a great junior season, failing to record an interception and could return for a senior season to boost his stock more. He had eight interceptions for the Seminoles in 2016 and comes from a program known for producing elite defensive backs.
DT Maurice Hurst, Michigan: This could be an upgrade to the tackle position. David Irving is talented, but isn’t dependable. Maliek Collins has flashed potential, but might be better off at nose. Hurst would give them a penetrating tackle that would fit Rod Marinelli’s Tampa 2 scheme well. At 6-2, 280-pounds, Hurst doesn’t have ideal size, but that typically isn’t a concern for Marinelli. Hurst’s stats suggest production; he had 13 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks as a senior. As a junior, Hurst had 11.5 tackles for loss and five sacks.
DT Christian Wilkins, Clemson: A guy who fits the bill as a prototypical tackle. He’s 6-foot-4, 300 pounds and coming off a season in which he has 55 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 8.5 tackles for loss and four pass breakups. As a sophomore, he had 13 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. Wilkins has versatility to play inside or outside on the line. He checks every box on the stat sheet, so he might not be around when the Cowboys are on the clock. But the Cowboys would certainly like to hope he will be.