NFL Draft trends could provide window into Cowboys plans

The Cowboys love players out of the Big Ten but when it comes time to look for skill position players, they look to the south

As the NFL Draft approaches for the Dallas Cowboys the scouting department are finalizing their reports so that the personnel department can put together their big boards. An important part of the mix is eyeing trends. Looking back to the draft selections since Jason Garrett took over as the full-time head coach has shown where the team likes to find their players.

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Since 2010 no football conference has produced more Dallas Cowboys than the Big Ten conference with 13 selections out of a possible 63 draft picks with a rate of 20.6%. Second on that list is the Big 12 conference at 11. Up until this past draft the Big 12 led the way 11 to 10. Their rate is currently 17.5%.

Conference

Number

%

Big Ten

13

20.6%

Big 12

11

17.5%

ACC

7

11.1%

SEC

6

9.5%

Pac 12

5

7.9%

MAC

4

6.3%

Mountain West

4

6.3%

Independents

3

4.8%

AAC

2

3.2%

Big Sky

2

3.2%

Colonial

2

3.2%

CUSA

1

1.6%

Sun Belt

1

1.6%

Missouri Valley

1

1.6%

Pennsylvania State

1

1.6%

Where the trends start to really become noticeable is when you breakdown the selections by region and positional groups. There are four regional sections listed as west, midwest, northeast and south. The position groups are broken down as skill (backs, receivers and tight ends), offensive line, defensive line, linebackers and defensive backs. Quarterback was listed in skill position even though Dallas has only drafted one since Garrett took over.

No region has been targeted as much as the southern region. The skill position group getting a bulk of those selections with 12 of 28 selections. The targeted south also includes four of 10 linebacker selections and seven of 16 defensive back selections.

Region

OL

Skill

DL

LB

DB

Total

MW

5

3

5

3

3

19

S

2

12

3

4

7

28

W

1

1

4

2

3

11

NE

0

1

0

1

3

5

The Dallas Cowboys definitely have a need to fill among the offensive line with Jonathan Cooper a free agent after his deal expired, the same for Byron Bell. The team has a need at guard and obviously swing tackle. The Bell/Chaz Green experiment failed miserably. The Cowboys really have liked their midwest lineman such as Travis Frederick and Zack Martin. Since Garrett became head coach the team even double dipped at their respective universities (Wisconsin/Notre Dame).

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Players to monitor on the line in this case are Quentin Nelson (Notre Dame), as farfetched as the idea may be, and James Daniels (Iowa). Daniels has played primarily at center during his time in Ames, Iowa but his playing career began at left guard. He would give Dallas a viable backup to Frederick while also filling a need at left guard. In terms of an offensive tackle a name from this region to keep an eye on is Chukwuma Okorafor of Western Michigan. WMU has produced some NFL talent the last couple of years and Okorafor looks to be next.

In terms of the skill positions, the team has focused on the south and there are plenty of players from the region who can help this team. The wide receivers have been getting plenty of attention and for good reason.

With Brice Butler likely gone, and the rest of the group having a down year, the Cowboys could target a receiver as soon as their first pick. In the south there is Calvin Ridley (Alabama), Courtland Sutton (SMU), James Washington (Oklahoma State), and Christian Kirk (Texas A&M) just to name a few.

Over the years the Cowboys have added tight ends to the roster that mostly come from the south with Geoff Swaim (Texas), James Hanna (Oklahoma) and Rico Gathers (Baylor) still on the team. With Jason Witten still playing at a starter's level, none of those have been able to receive significant snaps as of yet. The candidates this year include Mark Andrews (Oklahoma) and Hayden Hurst (South Carolina).

As far as running backs go, it is unlikely that Dallas uses anywhere near premium capital to try and replace Alfred Morris who is likely to move on in free agency. The Cowboys seem to be set with their one-two punch of former Ohio State Buckeye running backs.

Should Dallas look to address a third back then Sony Michel (Georgia) could be one to target. He could be used similarly to what Alvin Kamara was for the Saints. Another name to look for on day two is Kerryon Johnson (Auburn).

When selecting defensive linemen for this team, the Cowboys stick in two regions a majority of the time with the midwest and west. Double dipping at both Boise State with DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford and Nebraska with Randy Gregory, Maliek Collins.

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The Cowboys have yet to find someone for the weakside defensive spot that Gregory was expected to lockdown and Lawrence is a free agent. With the franchise tag available it is highly doubtful Tank will even sniff free agency but should he leave, the Cowboys will be looking for premium talent on the line.

Looking at the midwest pass rushers, the top of the list belongs to Ohio State's Sam Hubbard. Since he plays in the Big Ten one should expect that the Cowboys will have plenty of intel on him. Hubbard isn’t the quick twitch type of athlete that the Rod Marinelli seems to like but he is long and tall. Hubbard certainly looks the part of a defensive end.

The interior of this defensive line seems to be a problem year in and year out. The Cowboys may have been top 10 in rush defense, but they still need to find their block eater and run stopper up front. No player has shown the ability like Vita Vea of Washington. He can eat blocks, toss them to the side or just disrupt the play entirely. Vea is everything this team needs up the middle and plays in a region the Cowboys have shown to select from for defensive line help.

When you mention the Dallas Cowboys and linebacker the first name that may come up is Sean Lee. He is the outlier of this team’s trends as he was the lone selection from the northeast. In fact this team is very limited in terms of selecting players in that region altogether. Most of the time, the midwest is responsible for their linebacker draft picks, such as current free agent Anthony Hitchens.

The team could look to fill his spot with another Hawkeye in Josey Jewell. He isn’t the fastest guy on the field but he wins with anticipation. Some have compared Jewell to Sean Lee, so who better to mentor him than The General himself.

Other names to be considered includes the pipe dream of Roquan Smith of Georgia who likely is gone in the top 15 picks of the NFL Draft. Rashaan Evans of Alabama, Lorenzo Carter of Georgia and Tremaine Edmunds of Virginia Tech could all be viable options for the boys in blue and silver.

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The Cowboys performed a mass exodus in their secondary just a year ago with Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox, Mo Claiborne and Brandon Carr all finding new homes in 2017. While the Cowboys addressed those needs, the team could once again use a player or two in this position group. Many believe that Jourdan Lewis and Chidobe Awuzie are the men for the job but injury history are enough to pause for concern.

The top cornerbacks in the south region include Central Florida’s Mike Hughes. He is an aggressive cornerback who may just be what new secondary coach Kris Richard is looking for. The other name to consider could be Jaire Alexander from Louisville. Both have tremendous upside should Dallas look to address cornerback yet again.

It should come as no surprise that Dallas will once again be safety shopping. Kavon Frazier saw an extended look at safety along with Jeff Heath, Byron Jones and Xavier Woods. The team is still missing that ball-hawk but saw flashes of it with Woods. The Cowboys should look down to Florida State and Derwin James if he lasts until their pick. James fits the size profile and former Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Richard could use him to help create his new Legion of Boom in Big D.

Do you feel good about how the Cowboys have drafted of late? Share your thoughts with Patrick on Twitter @DraftCowboys.