The Dallas Cowboys haven’t used a first-round pick on a linebacker in a dozen years.
That changes this year.
The Cowboys have plenty of needs, but linebacker ranks as the priority. Especially with Anthony Hitchens’ expected departure in free agency and injury issues with Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith.
So our first mock draft of the year has the Cowboys making a bold move – giving up their second-round pick to Cincinnati to move up seven spots and select Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith with the 12th overall pick.
Smith might not be available at 12 overall in the real draft, but he is in our mock.
So the Cowboys take advantage to get a top-10 talent with the luxury of having 10 overall picks, including the four compensatory selections.
Smith immediately serves as an upgrade to a Cowboys’ defense that couldn’t close out consecutive home games despite the offense scoring 30-plus points. In an early-season contest at Denver, Broncos running back C.J. Anderson had one of his two 100-yard rushing games of the season.
Of course, this is all just an exercise at this point with the draft more than seven weeks away. The NFL Draft is set for April 26-28 at AT&T Stadium.
Oh, and don’t worry – we’ll have a few more mock drafts in early April after pro days, a week before the draft and the day of.
Here are the names NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will be announcing in Arlington:
1. Cleveland Browns. Sam Darnold, QB, USC. General manager John Dorsey uses the top overall pick for a franchise quarterback candidate. They just hope he doesn’t end up like … well, Tim Couch, Brady Quinn, Brandon Weeden or Johnny Manziel, their other first-round QBs in the last 20 years.
2. New York Giants. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State. The Giants need a quarterback of the future, but Barkley is simply too intriguing to pass up.
3. Indianapolis Colts. Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State. The Colts had one of the worst pass rushes in the league last season. Chubb helps fix that.
4. Cleveland Browns. Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama. The Browns landed a cornerstone player on offense with Darnold. Now they add a cornerstone piece on defense.
5. Denver Broncos. Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame. The thought for now is that the Broncos win the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes. He’ll love having arguably the best player in the draft blocking for him.
6. New York Jets. Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA. The Jets roll the dice on the talented, but polarizing, young passer.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Marcus Davenport, DE, UT-San Antonio. The Bucs had the fewest sacks of any team in the league. This addresses a glaring need.
8. Chicago Bears. Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech. Matt Nagy is an offensive-minded coach, but addresses his defense with the versatile Edmunds.
9. San Francisco 49ers. Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State. Shutdown corners don’t grow on trees and Ward has the makings of being a star at the next level.
10. Oakland Raiders. Vita Vea, DT, Washington. Vea is a run-stuffing DT who should make it easier for Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin to get to the QB.
11. Miami Dolphins. Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming. There isn’t a better arm in the draft and it’ll be up to Adam Gase to ensure Allen’s accuracy develops in the pros.
12. Dallas Cowboys (from Cincinnati). Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia. With Anthony Hitchens likely bolting in free agency, the Cowboys make a bold move up the board to get one of the top defensive players in the draft.
13. Washington Redskins. Derwin James, SS, Florida State. He’s drawn comparisons to Sean Taylor and Ed Reed. The Redskins will be pleased if he’s available here.
14. Green Bay Packers. Mike Hughes, CB, Central Florida. The Packers need cornerback help, and Hughes has upside. He had four interceptions and 11 passes defended last season for the undefeated Golden Knights.
15. Arizona Cardinals. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma. The Heisman Trophy winner could be long gone by now, but not in our mock and he is the Cardinals’ choice.
16. Baltimore Ravens. Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama. Ridley is the best receiver in this class and the Ravens need to upgrade their receiving corps and give Joe Flacco more weapons.
17. Los Angeles Chargers. Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State. Rudolph has worked out with Philip Rivers this off-season and would love to study under him. Why not make it happen with Rivers turning 37 this season?
18. Seattle Seahawks. Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa. With the possible departures of safety Earl Thomas and corner Richard Sherman, why not add another long-term piece to the “Legion of Boom?” Jackson had 27 passes defended and eight interceptions for the Hawkeyes last season.
19. Cincinnati Bengals (from Dallas). Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame. The Bengals bolster their O-line with a player, McGlinchey, who can start at right or left tackle. New line coach Frank Pollack gets a talented player to work with from the start.
20. Detroit Lions. Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama. Payne is the best player on the board at this point and is a talent in the trenches that will help every level of the defense. He also has flexibility whether new coach Matt Patricia is running a 3-4 or 4-3.
21. Buffalo Bills. Billy Price, OG/C, Ohio State. Eric Wood retired, leaving an opening at center in Buffalo. Why not take the best one in the draft? Price sustained a torn pec during the Combine, but expects to be ready by training camp.
22. Buffalo Bills. Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan. There is concern about a heart condition that forced him to leave the Combine, but Hurst is a promising three-technique lineman.
23. Los Angeles Rams. Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State. The Rams addressed the secondary by trading for Marcus Peters. Now they can target a pass rusher who had 17 sacks in three seasons at Ohio State.
24. Carolina Panthers. Connor Williams, OT, Texas. The Panthers need to bolster their offensive line and Williams gives them a prospect who could be used at guard or tackle for a long time in the league.
25. Tennessee Titans. Isaiah Wynn, OG, Georgia. The Titans add another piece to their formidable offensive line with Wynn joining the likes of Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin.
26. Atlanta Falcons. Taven Bryan, DT, Florida. Bryan is a raw prospect, but has the physical tools that project well to him becoming an elite three-technique tackle.
27. New Orleans Saints. Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State. Drew Brees gets another weapon in hopes of making another push for a championship.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville. The Steelers begin thinking long-term and of life without Ben Roethlisberger with the talented Jackson sitting here.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars. Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M. The Jaguars didn’t have a 1,000-yard receiver and the leader in TD receptions was veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis with five. They need more playmakers for QB Blake Bortles.
30. Minnesota Vikings. Arden Key, DE, LSU. The Vikings had the top overall defense last season, but were a middle-of-the-road unit in getting to the quarterback. Key helps in that department as one of the better pass rushers in this draft.
31. New England Patriots. Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma. Brown’s stock took a hit with a poor showing at the Combine, but his game film doesn’t lie. If Nate Solder bolts in free agency, the Patriots would love to see Brown nosedive to them.
32. Philadelphia Eagles. Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama. A physical linebacker with power and speed? Sounds like the Eagles’ kind of player.