The idea is simple — re-create the 7-round draft experience to see who the Dallas Cowboys might take in late April. To do this, I used the FanSpeak.com simulator, which made selections for the other 31 teams and allowed me to select for the Cowboys in each round, based on what was on the board. To rank the players I used CBSSports.com’s overall player rankings. The Cowboys typically take the best player available, so I took the best available player in each round, within reason. I passed on players at positions where the Cowboys have substantial depth.
My next mock will be after the Scouting Combine. Until then, let’s see what the Cowboys ended up with in this mock.
First round: No. 28
CB Sidney Jones, Washington
On the clock: Jones was the third-highest player on the board at the time, behind OT Ryan Ramczyk and LB Zach Cunningham. I was tempted to take Cunningham, but with Jaylon Smith waiting in the wings I resisted and went with a corner that could make an immediate impact. NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein calls him a “casino cornerback,” meaning he’s a playmaker with great instincts. I assume the Cowboys will lose two of the following four players — corners Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, and safeties Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox. Jones could step in as a third corner right away and eliminate any need for the Cowboys to think about moving Byron Jones from safety to corner, if the position becomes too depleted due to free agency. The NFL requires three solid corners these days, and Jones fits the bill.
Second round: No. 60
DE Carl Lawson, Auburn
On the clock: This was an easy decision. Lawson was No. 1 on the board at No. 60 and Lawson is ranked No. 39 overall by CBSSports.com. So there’s good value there. I would have liked a stouter end here, but Randy Gregory has shown that you can put on the additional 10-15 pounds needed to play end in the NFL. At 6-foot-2, 253 pounds, he probably only needs 10 more pounds to be effective. The Cowboys need edge rushing help and Lawson fits the bill. He was a freshman All-American in 2013 and all-SEC in 2016. In between, however, he struggled with injuries, so his medicals are truly important. The Cowboys have largely swung and missed in this round the past few years. Lawson, if healthy, could be an immediate rotation piece in the pass rush. I passed on G Dion Dawkins, WR Cooper Kupp (which pained me a bit) and DE DeMarcus Walker (whom I was sorely tempted to take).
Third round: No. 92
WR Ardarius Stewart, Alabama
On the clock: It was going to be a wide receiver, given that Michigan WR Amara Darboh, Ohio State C Pat Elflein and Stewart were the top three players on the board. I went with Stewart because I think he’s a bit undervalued due to his use in Alabama’s offense. The Cowboys love SEC players and Stewart could come in right away and compete for a third wide receiver role. I don’t believe the Cowboys will keep Terrance Williams and I’m on the fence about whether Brice Butler returns, too. Stewart steps in and provides instant competition.
Fourth round: No. 132
DE Jordan Willis, Kansas State
On the clock: Willis was the third-highest player on the board behind two centers. So, again, it was an easy decision. At 255 pounds Willis was the Big 12’s dominant pass rusher, leading the league with 11.5 sacks and snagging Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors. He was also a third-team All-American. So why does he slip here? The weight may be one factor. When I saw him play in person vs. TCU I was impressed with his straight-line rush, but he needs to open up his range of pass rush moves. But for a Cowboys team that needs edge rushers, Willis dropping to the fourth rounds represents great value. He could come through with playing time in 2017.
Fifth round: No pick
Sixth round: No. 212
RB De’Veon Smith, Michigan
On the clock: Idaho P Austin Rehkow was tops on the board, so I passed on him to take Smith. The Cowboys have just two running backs under contract in 2017, so unless they manage to re-sign Lance Dunbar or Darren McFadden (I think Dunbar is more likely), they’ll need to invest in a player as a potential third-stringer. He’s limited based on his size (5-foot-11, 220 pounds) and tape, so he’s not a threat to steal third-down reps. He would also need to carve out a role on special teams. TE Michael Roberts was right behind Smith, so maybe it would have made more sense to dip underneath Smith and taken Roberts? The All-MAC tight end had one big season, so he’s a risk, too.
Seventh round: No. 231
DE Joe Mathis, Washington
On the clock: Mathis came up right behind Memphis K Jake Elliott. The pick allows me to invest in a third edge rusher. He had six sacks in his first six games of 2016 before missing the rest of the season due to a foot injury. That’s part of the reason he’s undervalued. Like our other edge rush picks, he’s in that 255-pound range. At this point in the draft, why not?
Seventh round: No. 249
WR Fred Ross, Mississippi State
On the clock: Let’s draft one of Dak Prescott’s favorite receivers from his days at MSU? Sure. That’s a great way to spend that final pick.