By Greg Lehr
Now that a couple of weeks to digest the 2019 NFL Draft have transpired, teams have turned their attention back to filling some leftover holes on their rosters, among other business matters. For the Dallas Cowboys, there have been various reports of the team engaging in extension talks with Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper (which shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone). Although the team just gave star defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence $105 million earlier this offseason, they know Prescott, Cooper, Ezekiel Elliott, and Byron Jones are all due for new deals in the near future. Stephen Jones and the rest of the front office has been proactive in terms of preparing the salary cap to try and keep the star on the helmet of these franchise players.
In many ways, Dallas' draft haul this year reflects their long-term approach surrounding these looming extensions for some of their core players that have been (or soon will be) playing on much larger contracts. The names listed above don’t even include the high-priced offensive line that Dallas prides itself on, or the rising linebacker tandem of Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, though Smith will only be a restricted free agent after the 2019 season.
Trying to keep so much young talent is a good problem to have for any team, and it speaks volumes of their ability to build through the draft. The Cowboys can only hope the 2019 draft class continues this trend, as it will become increasingly more difficult for the team to retain each and every core player as they reach the time for their second contract. Let’s dive into their draft class and see how they may fit into the team’s plans in 2019 and beyond.
Round 2, Pick #58 Overall:
Trysten Hill, DT, UCF
A player who was often tied to the Cowboys throughout the pre-draft process, Hill projects as a key contributor to the valuable 3-technique (under tackle) position on the defensive line. Rod Marinelli is the big winner here in getting a high-upside prospect who he hopes can provide a much-needed boost to the Cowboys’ interior pass rush.
2019 Fit: Rotational inside pass rusher
Long-Term: Starting 3-tech DT (Tyrone Crawford and Maliek Collins are entering the final year of their current deals). Already holding a good relationship with Marinelli, Hill has a high ceiling with effort and discipline.
Round 3, Pick #90 Overall:
Connor McGovern, OG/C, Penn St.
This pick was a textbook example of a team staying true to their board and taking the best player available, as McGovern was the only player with a second-round grade left on Dallas’ board when they were on the clock in the third round. While it doesn’t seem like an immediate need, McGovern has the chance to be one of the best value picks of this class. Nobody expected Travis Frederick to miss the entire season last year, so it’s certainly true that a team can never have enough depth. McGovern possesses excellent size, strength, and offers the position flex that Jason Garrett and his staff covet due to starting experience at both guard and center in college.
2019 Fit: Interior OL depth, compete for starting left guard spot with Connor Williams
Long-Term: Starting left guard. La’el Collins is in a contract year but will be tough to bring back considering other players that need to be resigned. Assuming Collins goes elsewhere in 2020, Connor Williams moves to right tackle (where many think he should have been all along), opening the left guard spot for McGovern.
Round 4, Pick #128 Overall:
Tony Pollard, RB, Memphis
Running back was another position the Cowboys didn’t care to hide their intentions with before the draft, making it clear on many occasions they wanted to upgrade their depth behind Zeke. Pollard brings big-play potential as a runner, receiver, and kick returner (2x American Athletic Conference special teams player of the year). In 2018, Pollard accumulated over 1,000 yards from scrimmage on just 117 touches. Dallas is putting their trust in new (rookie) OC Kellen Moore to creatively use Pollard in many ways, not just as a “gadget” guy. They believe he compares favorably to Alvin Kamara in terms of some skills he can bring to an offense.
2019 Fit: Backup RB who complements Zeke and creates splash plays for the offense and special teams.
Long-Term: Zeke will be a priority for Dallas to resign when his contract is up, as they clearly intend to keep him for a second contract. Assuming this happens, Pollard will certainly be looking at a backup role for his entire rookie contract (barring any injuries to Zeke). However, the Cowboys hope to use Pollard in many ways to take advantage of his big-play potential and to lighten the load on Zeke. The key will be how effective this offensive staff can be in utilizing his ability while also balancing Zeke’s touches.
Round 5, #158 Overall:
Michael Jackson, CB, Miami
In the next two years, the top four corners on the Cowboys’ depth chart (Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown, and Jourdan Lewis) will be due for new deals. They won’t be able to keep all of them, particularly Jones, who will command top dollar if he repeats his performance from 2018. Jackson, a two-year starter for the Hurricanes, has the size, length, and athleticism that Kris Richard is looking for in his corners. His development will be important for the young Dallas secondary to maintain its momentum going forward.
2019 Fit: Compete for backup CB spot/playing time. Special teams contributor.
Long-Term: Ideally, Jackson will develop into a top-3 CB on the depth chart (essentially a starter in today’s NFL), as Dallas will likely lose multiple current contributors in the next year or two.
Round 5, Pick #165 Overall:
Joe Jackson, DE, Miami
Double-dipping from The U in the fifth round, Dallas selected defensive end, Joe Jackson, to compete for depth on Dallas’ deep DL. However, an opportunity to start is there for Jackson, who racked up 24 sacks in three seasons in Miami. While he’s more of a power rusher than speed, he can compete at either end position, where rotation snaps will have to be won during training camp and preseason
2019 Fit: Jackson will primarily compete with Taco Charlton, Dorance Armstrong, and Kerry Hyder for a chance to crack the rotation.
Long-Term: Randy Gregory’s status for the 2019 season (and beyond) is unknown at this point, depending on how long his suspension holds. Robert Quinn and Tyrone Crawford are each in contract years. If Jackson can show enough promise to be worthy of a roster spot, opportunities will only increase after his rookie season.
Round 6, Pick #213 Overall:
Donovan Wilson, S, Texas A&M
While many anticipated safety as Dallas’ most significant need heading into the draft after being priced out of the Earl Thomas sweepstakes, Dallas passed on the likes of Juan Thornhill and Taylor Rapp in the second round in favor of Trysten Hill. Wilson’s hard-hitting style and limited range in coverage make him a more natural fit for a strong safety that can come down and play in the box while picking up some tight end cover duties. Wilson’s key to his rookie season will be proving his worth on special teams in order to earn a roster spot.
2019 Fit: Safety depth, special teams contributor.
Long-Term: Jeff Heath, George Iloka, Kavon Frazier, and Darian Thompson will all be free agents after this upcoming season. If Wilson can find a way to stick around his rookie year, more opportunity should present itself in 2020.
Round 7, #218 Overall:
Mike Weber, RB, Ohio St.
Former Buckeye RB Rod Smith out, another former Buckeye RB Mike Weber in. Despite drafting Tony Pollard in the 4th round, Dallas saw a chance to grab another productive, 3-down RB who’s capable of handling Zeke’s load if necessary. Weber doesn’t offer the same explosiveness as Pollard but proved to be a well-rounded, productive back during his stint at Ohio St.
2019 Fit: Backup RB, potential practice squad.
Long-Term: Backup RB. It’s tough to say much more when Ezekiel Elliott is the team’s primary back and earlier draft pick Tony Pollard offers a little more explosion as a complement to Elliott. Weber can provide value if anything were to happen to either Zeke or Pollard.
Round 7, Pick #241 Overall:
Jalen Jelks, DE, Oregon
Jelks was the third defensive linemen taken by Dallas in this draft and second defensive end. Jelks has excellent length for a 4-3 DE (6’6”, 34.5” arms), but he will need to add more strength and mass to his frame to be an every-down type of player. The reality for Jelks is he’ll be facing an uphill battle in a loaded DL room in Dallas, but given the uncertainty of where the pieces will fall into place on the DE depth chart, Jelks has a chance to prove he’s worth a spot on the practice squad. If he can fill out his frame and refine his technique a bit, he can take advantage of a thinner rotation when 2020 comes around.
2019 Fit: Practice squad
Long-Term: It’s a numbers game more than anything at this point. If Jelks can develop for a year in an NFL strength program, he’ll have a better chance at a rotation spot once the position isn’t so crowded a year from now.
Undrafted Free Agents: 3 Names to Watch
Daniel Wise, DT, Kansas - A strong senior bowl showed Wise’s ability to be a disruptive gap penetrator that fits what Marinelli wants in his under tackles.
Mitch Hyatt, OT, Clemson - Four-year starter, 2x National Champ, 2x All-American. Hyatt was a coveted UDFA that only surrendered five sacks during his Clemson career. He can be a nice depth piece on an already deep Dallas offensive line.
Chris Westry, CB, Kentucky - Rare traits for the position (6’4”, 34” arms, 4.3-sec 40-yard dash, 38” vertical). This addition has Kris Richard’s name all over it and will be a fun development to watch throughout camp/preseason.