(CBSDFW.com)- The NFL Draft is just two days away and the Cowboys will be on the clock with the 17th overall pick in the first round. Their needs seem clearly defined following free agency.
Despite losing Byron Jones to the Miami Dolphins, they appear to be okay at corner with Chidobe Awuzie and the re-signing of Anthony Brown. Along the defensive line, they have added veterans Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe, making for a strong interior. But there are questions at defensive end and in the back end of the secondary at safety.
HaHa Clinton-Dix came in from the Bears on a one-year deal. Jeff Heath departed to the Las Vegas Raiders on a two-year pact. The current safety pairing of Clinton-Dix and Xavier Woods is only under contract through this season. So adding a rookie there who can step in when one (or both depending on salary cap situation) leave next year would be helpful.
At defensive end, DeMarcus Lawrence is a playmaker, but the team overall finished with just 39 sacks (19th in NFL) last season. Robert Quinn led the team in sacks last year (11) and he’s now in Chicago. Lawrence had just five last year. So, with the 17th pick who do the experts think is a fit for the Cowboys needs? Let’s take a look.
Ryan Wilson & R.J. White (CBS Sports)- K’Lavon Chaisson, DE, LSU
Chaisson is loved by the Big Green Notebook and it’s easy to see why. At 6’3″ and 254 pounds, he’s got good size and speed to make an impact off the edge. He was given the number 18 by LSU which goes to a high character leader on the team. NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein compares Chaisson to former 49ers and Raiders pass rusher Aldon Smith from a play style standpoint (not from a personal one).
The question is one of production because despite his size and speed, he tallied just 6.5 sacks for LSU in 2019. That came after missing all of 2018 with a torn ACL and missing two games in 2019 due to an ankle injury. So, while the measurables and potential are high, the production didn’t necessarily match in college.
Josh Edwards (CBS Sports) & Mel Kiper Jr. (ESPN)- Xavier McKinney, S, Alabama
The best option in the draft on the back end, McKinney was a two-year starter for the Tide as a sophomore and junior. He totaled 104 tackles, 11.5 for loss, six sacks, 15 passes defensed and five interceptions in that time. He offered a lot of versatility lining up in the slot, at free safety and in the box at different times for the Tide. Zierlein compares him to Chauncey Gardner-Johnson who tallied 49 tackles, eight passes defensed and six tackles for loss for the Saints as a rookie in 2019.
Tom Fornelli (CBS Sports)- C.J. Henderson, CB Florida
The next two experts have the Cowboys looking to replace Jones on the outside. Henderson is the second-highest graded corner in the class according to NFL.com’s rankings behind only Jeffrey Okudah from Ohio State. At 6’1 and 204 pounds, Henderson shows impressive speed (4.39 40), and was constantly making life difficult for receivers in his time with the Gators. He had 11 passes defensed in 2019, adding 33 tackles. He didn’t snare an interception in 2019 however and had just six in his college career.
Chris Trapasso (CBS Sports)- Trade DOWN w/ Vikings, Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU
Fulton is a bigger question mark because he spent just one full season as a starter. That was due to a suspension for falsifying a specimen for a drug test prior to the 2017 season. The suspension was lifted prior to 2018, but played just seven games before missing the end of the year with an injury. He was very effective in 2019 with 14 passes defensed and a pick but the questions remain.
Will Brinson (CBS Sports)- Cesar Ruiz, C/OL, Michigan
This is interesting because it would address a hole that popped up when Travis Frederick announced his retirement in March. Granted, it feels like less of a need because the Joe Looney filled in capably in Frederick’s absence in 2018. But, if the team feels that Looney isn’t ready to be the full-time starter, Ruiz would be a good fit. He started 10 games as a true freshman before starting all 26 games over his final two seasons in 2018 and 2019. He made third-team all Big Ten in 2018 and second team in 2019 while being rated as the best pass blocking center by Pro Football Focus. Offensive line has been a strength for the Cowboys through the last several years and this pick would only reinforce that.