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Cowboys Draft: Recap rounds 3 – 7

Russell - Cowboys 5th round steal


The Cowboys seemingly struck gold in the first two rounds of the draft. In the 1st, they took CB/S Byron Jones. In the 2nd, they took DE Randy Gregory. Both of these players will be expected to make substantial contributions immediately.

So, how did the Cowboys proceed following these first two “homerun” picks? Popular opinion had them selecting a running back to potentially replace DeMarco Murray. And maybe later on, taking a wide receiver with special teams skills to replace the departed Dwayne Harris. Yet the Cowboys took nobody that played a skill position. Instead, they focused on building depth along the offensive line and the front seven on defense. This strategy fits well with the old adage of “you win in the trenches.”

The Cowboys selections in the rounds after the 2nd all share some similar traits and potential career paths. All the picks in this range graded out as good to very good athletes and were chosen for their fit in the Cowboys scheme. They all have some position flexibility and can contribute immediately to special teams. And last, the Cowboys see a path for each to become a significant contributor to the regular offense and defense in the future.

3rd round 91 overall:

Chaz Green, OT/OG, Florida, 6’5″ 315

The third round seemed to be a bit high to take Green, who most had as a 5th rounder. But the Cowboys have shown the ability to identify players that fit their scheme and project them in the future. They surely had Green rated higher than most and he possibly could have been selected a round or two later, but he represented value for Dallas. The question about selecting Green centered on the fact that some promising running backs were still on the board. Yet, the Cowboys stuck to their board and selected Green, who fills a vital role as the swing tackle that was filled last season by Jeremy Parnell. Green also has the ability to play guard. The recent signing of La’el Collins sheds more questions about Green and whether the Cowboys would have been better off taking a running back instead. But, even with the addition of Collins, Green will provide immediate depth and potentially be a future starter.

4th round, 127 overall:

Damien Wilson, LB, Minnesota, 6′ 245

Wilson flew under the radar during much of the pre-draft process as he was overshadowed by bigger names from higher profile schools. But few had the production that Wilson had. He is a run-and-chase LB who projects best as a backup to Sean Lee on the weakside. Wilson is a tackling machine with a knack for finding the ball and making a play. Given the injuries that the Cowboys suffered last season at the position, it came as little surprise that they would add a linebacker in the draft. Similar to last season’s 4th round pick Anthony Hitchens, Wilson fits the profile of what Dallas wants. He can play multiple positions and could be another versatile player for the defense.

5th round. 163 overall:

Ryan Russell, DE, Purdue, 6’4″ 269

Russell is my sleeper pick for the Cowboys in this draft. He has prototypical size and athleticism for a 4-3 defensive end. In fact, his measurables are very similar to Greg Hardy’s when he was selected in the 6th round in 2011. Russell was available in the 5th round mainly due to a lack of production in college. But the Cowboys liked what they saw in Russell from a physical standpoint. He was asked to play out of position at Purdue as a 3-4 DE. Instead of utilizing his speed and athleticism, the Boilermakers asked him to hold the point of attack and keep blockers away from their linebackers. Switching back to a 4-3 defense (in which he played his freshman year), should be a welcome sight for Russell. He should be utilized as a rotational left end this season. If he willingly accepts the tutelage of Rod Marinelli and Leon Lett, he could become a starter quality lineman in his second season.

7th round, 236 overall:

Mark Nzeocha LB, Wyoming, 6’2″ 232

The Cowboys showed a lot of attention to Nzeocha prior to the draft. And with good reason. The Wyoming product has superior athleticism and speed for the position. Nzeocha grew up in Germany (just down the road from where Dirk Nowitzki grew up) and has had very little exposure to American football. But he makes up for this lack of recognition and experience, with tremendous effort and athleticism. In college, the coaches simply put him in the middle of the field and asked him to run to the ball. This lack of sophistication can actually be a positive, because he has not developed any bad habits that he needs to break. Linebacker coach Matt Eberflus essentially has a moldable block of clay to work with. If  Nzeocha is to make the final roster this year, he will need to use his athleticism and passion to shine on coverage and return units. He is the epitome of a project with a very high ceiling.

7th round, 243 overall:

Laurence Gibson, OT, Virginia Tech, 6’6″ 305

Gibson is another player the Cowboys showed a lot of interest in before the draft. He possesses ideal length (35″ arms) and very good athleticism for the Cowboys zone-blocking scheme. He needs to put in more work in the weight room to add needed strength in addition to working on his technique and consistency. While he is unrefined and has a long way to go, Gibson has the potential to pan out for the Cowboys. He will likely replace Darrion Weems and John Wetzel as the project at offensive tackle. Ideally, he steps into the swing tackle spot in a year or two when Green replaces Doug Free as the starter.

7th round, 246 overall:

Geoff Swaim, TE, Texas, 6’4″ 250

The Cowboys traded their 6th round pick in 2016 for a chance to draft Swaim. He is a good athlete with a solid build and strength. His best attribute is his ability to block. He has shown good hands when asked to catch the ball, although in very limited opportunities. Swaim has a very good chance of making the final roster due to his prowess as a blocking tight end. James Hanna is currently the de facto blocking tight end. While Swaim is the better blocker, Hanna is much more accomplished as a pass catcher. The battle for a roster spot would seemingly be between these two. However, the real battle for Swaim may be with the fullbacks on the roster. If Swaim can handle the duties of an H-back, the Cowboys may choose to go with four tight ends and no fullbacks. Swaim would then be the obvious successor as the primary blocking tight end if Hanna leaves in free agency prior to 2016.

The Cowboys entered the draft with a concise plan of what they hoped to accomplish. They likely had a running back slated for their 2nd round pick, yet chose not to look a gift horse in the mouth when Gregory was available. This slight alteration to their plan could have cased a ripple effect throughout the rest of the draft. But they stuck to their plan and did not reach for perceived needs when they had players available that they knew they wanted. This plan reinforced the idea of building from the inside out. They greatly improved the depth along both lines and at linebacker.

Up next: Undrafted Free Agents…and the steal of the offseason.

Ben Hammons

@TexSR_Ben

hammonsb@texsr.com

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