By David Mullen
Did the Dallas Cowboys just tip their hand for the upcoming NFL Draft when they cut wide receiver Dez Bryant on April 13?
Maybe. Or maybe not.
At press time, the Cowboys have the 19th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, which is being held at AT&T Stadium (a.k.a. Jerry World) in Arlington on Thursday, April 26 through Saturday, April 28. This is not a draft deep with impact wide receivers, which the Cowboys need given their decision to reduce their number of experienced receivers on the roster by one.
Bryant played in 113 games with the Cowboys, but his skills had deteriorated during the last few seasons. With Dak Prescott at a career crossroads, he needs more offensive weapons at his disposal to blossom as a pro.
I think the decision to get rid of Bryant has more to do with character of player than the quality of player. It seemed that owner Jerry Jones simply got tired of the unpredictable Bryant, who often grabbed headlines more than footballs. And head coach Jason Garrett, with his career clock ticking, does not need any more distractions.
Despite the need at wide receiver, the Cowboys should wait until the second round (50th overall pick) before choosing a wide out.
Most mock drafts have just one wide receiver, Calvin Ridley from Alabama, as a guaranteed first round pick. He played for a national powerhouse team in a major football conference. He should immediately help a team, where the other wide receivers in the draft are probably more projects. If Ridley is there with the 19th pick, it would be very tempting for the Cowboys to opt for the deep threat.
But the Cowboys also have a major need at linebacker. If Leighton Vander Esch is available, the Cowboys should grab him. The Boise State star is 6-4 and 256 pounds, with 4.65 40-yard dash speed. Defensive backs and safeties are always a need, but I just don’t like reaching that early for a defensive back.
I really like SMU wide receiver Courtland Sutton, who could be available to the Cowboys with the 50th pick. He is big at 6-3 and 218 pounds, physical and played in a passing offense with the Mustangs. He is also a good run blocker. Anthony Miller of Memphis, Christian Kirk of Texas A&M, D.J. Moore of Maryland and James Washington of Oklahoma State may also be available, but they are all under 6 feet tall. In today’s NFL, I just like bigger and stronger wide receivers and Sutton, a native Texan, fits the bill.
Right now, the top choices in the NFL draft seem to be earmarked for quarterbacks. As many as four quarterbacks could be targeted with the top five picks. This is a risky proposition. Many of today’s top performers at quarterback were not top-five overall picks.
The New England Patriots famously grabbed quarterback Tom Brady in the sixth round with the 199th pick. Green Bay Packers chose Aaron Rodgers with the 24th pick. New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (originally drafted by the San Diego Chargers) fell to the second round, as did the Oakland Raiders signal caller Derek Carr. The Cowboys chose Prescott with the 135th pick. But that doesn’t seem to matter to teams in need, especially the Cleveland Browns.
The lowly Browns have the first and fourth picks in the first round. They seem to be set on choosing a quarterback at number one, either Wyoming’s Josh Allen or Sam Darnold of the University of Southern California. Allen has a strong arm, but did not play for a major college team and completed just 56 percent of his passes in college.
Darnold did play in a pro-style offense at USC, and looks like the consummate NFL quarterback.
But the Browns should wait until the fourth pick to choose a quarterback. The best offensive player in the draft is Saquon Barkley of Penn State. He is a difference maker. He has a rare combination of speed and power, and can catch passes out of the backfield. Barkley is the player to build an offense around. And Cleveland coach Hue Jackson (pictured above, right) should appreciate that.
With the fourth pick, the Browns can still take a quarterback. Either Allen, Darnold, Josh Rosen from UCLA or Baker Mayfield from Oklahoma will be available. The difference at quarterback coming out in this year’s draft is not as dramatic as the difference between Barkley and other offensive weapons. But the Browns, notorious for bad drafts, will probably mess this one up as well.
The Cowboys have 10 picks in the 2018 draft. Jones has been known to trade up and down on draft day and probably will. As for Cowboy fans, thousands will be packing AT&T Stadium waiting to see which players will be wearing the star on the helmet in a few months.
They just know it won’t be Dez Bryant.