The Cowboys may have more needs on defense, but the offense shouldn’t be ignored.
Written by: Greg Lehr
When it comes to the 2020 NFL Draft for the Dallas Cowboys, the offense does not immediately come to mind regarding primary team needs. This is mostly due to the Cowboys’ impressive offensive rankings from last season under first-year OC Kellen Moore, when they finished 2nd in passing, 5th in rushing, and 6th in points per game. Despite these strong rankings (among others), not all of them indicate meaningful statistics. This was still only an eight-win team, but the blame for falling short of the playoffs certainly does not fall squarely on the defense. Not all will be the same when it comes to the high-powered offense either. All-Pro center Travis Frederick has retired, Randall Cobb and his 800 receiving yards have signed with Houston, and Blake Jarwin has officially taken over for Jason Witten as TE1 with a new three-year extension. How might these changes impact the Cowboys’ draft plans?
I dive into the status of each offensive position group before pointing out names to keep an eye out for in the upcoming draft. These names include “top realistic targets” (players that will ideally still be on the board when the Cowboys are on the clock at pick 17), “don’t be surprised” (Cowboys select player earlier than expected), and a “best value” pick (an impact player that can likely be found in the second or third round should Dallas look elsewhere in round one). Position groups are listed in terms of team need. A full, offensive-focused seven-round team mock draft wraps up this Cowboys offensive draft preview (defensive preview can be found here)
The deepest position in this year’s draft lines up nicely for the Cowboys’ biggest need on offense. Amari Cooper will be around as Dak’s top weapon for several years thanks to his $100 million extension. However, Cooper’s 1,000-yard counterpart Michael Gallup has just two years left on his rookie deal. If Gallup continues to ascend (as expected), he will likely price himself out of Dallas due to their increasingly top-heavy cap. Add in the fact that Randall Cobb, who quietly put up over 800 receiving yards from the slot last season, is now in Houston, the Cowboys have multiple wideout spots to keep in mind. How early they choose to address this position in the draft could very well be a reflection of how they feel about guys such as Cedrick Wilson, Devin Smith, and Jon’Vea Johnson. Due to injury histories and/or the inexperience of those names, however, it feels like a receiver shouldn’t be out of the question in any round this week. As unlikely as it is for Jerry Jeudy or CeeDee Lamb to fall to 17, if one of them is there, Dallas shouldn’t even hesitate as either would almost assuredly be the best player left on the board at that point. As fun as that would be, a receiver becomes much more likely on days two or three, where the overall depth of this receiver class truly makes its mark.
Top (realistic) Target: Justin Jefferson, LSU - assuming the top three names are gone by 17, Jefferson’s savvy work in the middle of the field and reliable hands makes him an excellent plus-and-play candidate for the slot.
Don’t Be Surprised: Jalen Reagor, TCU - the team has not been shy about their extensive interest in this explosive playmaker who is nothing short of electric with the ball in his hands.
Best Value: Van Jefferson (Florida), Lynn Bowden (Kentucky), Devin Duvernay (Texas) - it’s simply too hard to put just one name here. Value everywhere in rounds 3-5, but these are three of my favorite names to keep an eye on.
The sudden retirement of Travis Frederick, a first-team All-Pro in 2016 and Pro Bowler in five of six seasons, undoubtedly leaves a hole in the middle of Dallas’ vaunted offensive line. Tyron Smith and Zack Martin remain as core pieces of one of the most dominant lines over the last several years. In 2019, La’el Collins enjoyed his best year as a pro after inking a five-year extension before the regular season, launching himself right behind Smith and Martin as integral parts of the line. As Dallas looks to make up for the loss of their anchor up the middle, they luckily have a few decent options already on the roster. Joe Looney, who filled in while Frederick was out with Guillain-Barre syndrome in 2018, is already under contract for another year. Connor McGovern, last year’s second-round selection who missed his entire rookie season, started at both guard and center while at Penn St. Adam Redmond also figures to be in the mix. Outside of center, the other possible need is swing tackle after the departure of Cameron Fleming, although Brandon Knight showed flashes in limited opportunities last season.
Top (realistic) Target: Cesar Ruiz, C, Michigan - odds increase if Dallas trades back in the first round, much like when they picked Travis Frederick in 2013. Ruiz is clearly the best center in the draft
Don’t be surprised: Matt Hennessy, C, Temple - day two potential with loads of starting experience, but lack of length could limit his ceiling
Best value: Alex Taylor, T, South Carolina St. - with his incredible size and length, it’s no wonder scouts are fascinated with his potential. The traits are there to develop into a starter if he commits to getting more technically sound
It was refreshing to see Dallas invest in Blake Jarwin by signing him to a three-year extension, making him the presumed TE1 heading into 2020. Now with no Jason Witten to take valuable snaps away, Jarwin is expected to make his mark as more of a dynamic receiving threat at the position. We’ve seen flashes of his huge potential, but the opportunities have come too few and far in between. While Blake Bell and Dalton Schultz are behind him, Jarwin should have no issues securing the lead spot in the tight end room. Given the inexperience of the group as a whole, it would not be a surprise to see Dallas want to add some more talent if there’s a reasonable spot to do so.
Top (realistic) Target: Harrison Bryant, FAU - in a relatively weak tight end class, it’s hard to tell how early many will go. Bryant has the potential to turn into as a complete tight end that can line up and be effective in both the run and pass game, but there will be an adjustment period in the jump from FAU to the NFL.
Don’t Be Surprised: Albert Okwuegbunam, Missouri - one of the more interesting prospects in the draft, he boasts the size and athleticism NFL offenses covet, particularly in the red zone. It will take time to fine-tune his game, but the potential is absolutely there.
Best Value: Thaddeus Moss, LSU - may offer more as a run blocker in an inline/H-back role, especially early in his career until he proves he’s capable of winning against tighter coverages than he faced his senior year at LSU.
A lot was made of the Cowboys meeting with Jalen Hurts throughout the pre-draft process. In fact, many saw it as a public negotiating tactic by the organization while they remain in talks with Dak Prescott, who has yet to sign his franchise tag. However, Jerry and Stephen Jones have remained adamant that’s not the case and that they are simply looking at options to add competition behind Prescott. Cooper Rush has served as Dak’s primary backup since 2017, while Clayton Thorston remains the only other quarterback on the roster. Mike McCarthy has been known through his time in the league to work with and develop young quarterbacks, and it appears he could be influencing the conversation around quarterback depth. It is not a significant need since Dak remains the clear franchise signal-caller, but until he is signed to a long-term extension, Dallas may look at the board on day two or three and find a quarterback project as the best player available.
Top (realistic) Target: Jordan Love, Utah St. - it would be the shock of the entire draft if Dallas picked Love at 17, but several scouts believe he could spur the next Smith-Mahomes transition if he lands in the right spot. Crazier things have happened!
Don’t Be Surprised: Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma - outstanding leader, smart, tough, with near-elite athleticism for the position. Development as a passer remains a work in progress, but showed improvement in his final collegiate season.
Best Value: Anthony Gordon, Washington St. - Slender frame with only one year of starting experience in college, he showed enough flashes to warrant a late-round flier.
Between Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard, the Cowboys have one of the best running back tandems in the league. Jamize Olawale continues to offer value as a lead blocker and pass protector, though he has not been utilized as much as expected in Kellen Moore’s playcalling. Of course, there were barely enough touches for Elliott and Pollard last year alone, so any move this week regarding the running back position should only be a 7th-round/Priority Free Agent addition for depth.
Late-Round/PFA Options: Jason Huntly (New Mexico St.), Dre Brown (Illinois), Scottie Phillips (Mississippi)
For the sake of this offensive-minded draft preview, here's what a (surprisingly) offensive draft may look like:
Round 1, Pick 17: Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU - It’s too hard to picture a scenario where Jeudy, Lamb, or Ruggs are still available. If they don’t like the corner or edge players left on the board here, why not select the next best weapon for Dak? They like Reagor a lot, but Jefferson is more refined and provides a smoother transition as a plug-and-play target in the slot
Round 2, Pick 51: AJ Terrell, CB, Clemson - Don’t let the national title game cloud your overall view of his game too much. His plus athleticism and man coverage abilities have him all over Dallas’ radar in the pre-draft process
Round 3, Pick 82: Jalen Hurts, QB, Oklahoma - I am in no way rooting for this since it’s definitely not part of the “win-now” mentality that so many expect in Dallas, but I would understand if it did happen. Their interest in the Heisman runner-up appears to be legit.
Round 4, Pick 123: Albert Okwuegbunam, TE, Missouri - Traits and potential are too much to pass up here, as McCarthy looks to add another red zone weapon
Round 5, Pick 167: Alex Taylor, OT, South Carolina St. - Difficult to figure out where Taylor may land, but with injuries to Tyron Smith in recent years, it’s not too early to start developing other options behind him
Round 5, Pick 179: Antoine Brooks Jr. - Physical presence who is best utilized down in the box and as a blitzer. New ST Coach John Fossel would love this pick.
Round 7, Pick 231: Jake Hanson, C, Oregon - Functional play strength could be an issue, but he was a four-year starter in college who’s movement abilities should translate well to the Cowboys’ zone-blocking scheme