A pair of teams with a lot of question marks heading into 2015, the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins were looking to address key spots to prime themselves for a playoff run. The Cowboys lost DeMarco Murray, but failed to draft a running back, instead opting for infusions across the defense and the offensive line. As for Washington, they needed help in the secondary but decided to address their offense with four of their first five draft picks.
Dallas – Byron Jones, CB Connecticut
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Most know about his ridiculous combine, but Jones is actually more than just an athlete. With experience at both safety and cornerback, he is an intelligent player who can anticipate routes and put himself into position to make big plays. Like most deep thinkers, however, Jones will hesitate at times and process rather than react. Dallas needs help all over the secondary, so his long-term position is unclear. If Jones becomes a safety, there is some value as he will have plenty of opportunities for tackles in that secondary. As a cornerback, on the other hand, Jones will be regularly avoided as the team’s top coverage player and struggle to be of any value to IDP owners.
Washington – Brandon Scherff, OG Iowa
Scherff was not a sexy pick, but he should provide a major talent infusion to the Washington offensive line. He has the versatility to play tackle or guard as Scherff is a powerful player who combines efficient movement, fluid hips, and leverage to dominate at the point of attack. There is some inconsistency in his play but the overall product looks good. He will likely be a guard his rookie year with an opportunity to move to tackle if Trent Williams is not re-signed after the 2015 season.
Dallas – Randy Gregory, OLB Nebraska
A polarizing prospect before the draft season, a positive drug test for Gregory at the combine caused a free fall to the end of the second round. An elite pass rusher, Gregory uses pure speed to compensate for a thin frame and slow reaction time. He plays the run better than most pass rushers but I would not expect Dallas to use Gregory in non-passing situations early on. As a 3-4 outside linebacker, Gregory will have limited value in IDP leagues, but he is good enough against the run to eventually be a fringe starter for your fantasy team.
Washington – Preston Smith, DE Mississippi State
Smith may lose that defensive end eligibility as he is likely to be an outside linebacker in the Washington 3-4 defensive scheme. He showed solid ability against the run and has the length and short area quickness to be a potential disruptor as a pass rusher. However, Smith has struggled to put it all together and will disappear for periods of time. If he becomes a defensive end (or retains eligibility) sometime in the future, Smith becomes much more valuable.
Dallas – Chaz Green, OT Florida
This feels like a case of the rich getting richer. Dallas does not need Green to start right away but could use his positional versatility to backup several key starters. Green has solid footwork and the intelligence to make up for average athleticism. If he can improve on his pass blocking ability and overall strength, Green could develop into a full-time starter.
Washington – Matt Jones, RB Florida
After Roy Helu left for pastures (they don’t look greener) in Oakland, Washington needed to find some depth and a pass catching option out of the backfield. They found the former at least in Jones, but his hands are getting solid reviews in team off-season activities. Jones is a bull who rarely is stopped for negative yardage and embodies the smash mouth running style that has disappeared in recent years. He has above average athleticism, with strength being his best attribute, which shows up with Jones’ inside running but also his aggressive pass protection. There is some tunnel vision here as Jones will bull forward without looking for the opening in the offensive line. Add in an overall lack of shiftiness and this is a player who relies purely on strength and determination to gain yards.
The bigger problem is that a similar runner exists on the roster in the form of Alfred Morris – this makes Jones’ running contributions early directly competitive with Morris. On the flip side, Jones is a better pass blocker and has better hands (but really, who doesn’t have better hands than Morris?), which will lead to some additional work that will not impact Morris. Jones could be a sneaky PPR value in his rookie year and will see increased rushing work down the line as Morris either slows down or leaves the team.
Dallas – Damien Wilson, ILB Minnesota
Unlike round three, Wilson fills a major need for the team as they lack linebacker depth. He has the production you like to see in college as a run and chase player who will be in on a lot of plays. Average speed and athleticism causes Wilson to get pushed around or hesitate to make a play. He will be a valuable backup with little chance to start long-term.
Washington – Jamison Crowder, WR Duke & Arie Kouandjio, OG Alabama
Crowder was a surprise pick as Washington is set at the receiver position for the near-term. That said, Crowder is a perfect slot option with the type of acceleration that puts defenses on their heels. Unlike most speed receivers, Crowder has an advanced route tree and sells his moves better than most. The biggest concern is size (5’8”, 185 lbs) and length (30 ½” arms) that creates a very small catch radius for a quarterback to throw into.
Crowder does have some return experience, which will help carve out an early role and competes for slot duties behind DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. His main competition is Andre Roberts, a player who has never exceed 13 yards per catch in his five NFL seasons. Add in a sub 50% catch rate (on 73 targets) in 2014 and Roberts is hanging onto the third receiver job by a thread. There is volume available for Crowder without competing with Jackson or Garcon and I could easily see the rookie exceeding 50 targets in his first season.
With Kouandjio, the offensive line gets its second mauler to elevate the run game. He uses strength and long arms (over 34”) to keep defenders off balance while working within the confines of the offensive line. Kouandjio is not an athletic player and struggles with change of direction or operating on the move. He is strictly a backup at the NFL level and will solely be a viable option on the interior.
Dallas – Ryan Russell, DE Purdue
Quite simply, this was an upside pick. Russell is a physical specimen (6’4”, 270 lbs) with long arms (33 ½”) and a quick first step. He is still a raw pass rusher (just 8 ½ sacks over three seasons) and will need to be more aggressive for future success. Russell could begin the season on the practice squad and could become a starter over time or a complete waste of a pick.
Washington – Martrell Spaight, OLB Arkansas
A former JUCO All-American, Spaight led Arkansas in tackles during his lone season as a starter (2014). He is a strong run defender who makes the most of his average athleticism to disengage from blockers and aggressively pursue the ball carrier. While Spaight tries hard in pass coverage, he will struggle covering much space or turning and running with vertical threats. Spaight could be a good run thumper for the team in time while providing depth in the immediate term.
Washington – Kyshoen Jarrett, SS Virginia Tech, Tevin Mitchel, CB Arkansas & Evan Spencer, WR Ohio State
Washington started the sixth round with a pair of secondary players. Jarrett is a physical safety with coverage limitations, likely to see time on special teams his rookie season. Mitchel, meanwhile, has the measurements (6’0”, 190 lbs) that teams like, but has a rough injury history and a lack of play strength. He will likely end up as a slot cornerback who can play the outside in a pinch.
If the Washington receiving core is missing something, it is size. Spencer provides some of that (6’2”, 208 lbs) and uses it on jump balls and as a run blocker. While he is just an average athlete, Spencer has a high football IQ and uses it to maximize his opportunities. Spencer is likely to be a backup who can provide a unique skill for the team and be used in the red zone as a blocker and back of the end zone option.
Dallas – Mark Nzeocha, OLB Wyoming, Laurence Gibson, OT Virginia Tech, & Geoff Swaim, TE Texas
Much like Russell, Nzeocha is an athlete with little polish. He played high school football in Germany so he has little experience stateside. Nzeocha could become a special teams player assuming he recovers from a lisfranc injury.
Gibson was another athletic body Dallas selected to develop and provide depth at a key position. He is an intelligent player so there is opportunity to learn technique and become a contributor over time.
Swaim is nothing special but does everything at maximum effort. He blocks well and that will likely be his role as separation and ability to catch in traffic are questionable.
Washington – Austin Reiter, C South Florida
Reiter is a developmental pick who is athletic and has good size (6’3”, 296 lbs). Obviously, with three interior linemen picked in this draft, the team is looking to fortify their depth chart. Reiter is more likely to start the season on the practice squad rather than the 53 man roster.
UDFA to watch
Dallas – Antwan Goodley, WR Baylor
La’El Collins would have been the easy pick, but Goodley is an intriguing player. The Cowboys signed a lot of wide receivers, who will compete for roster spots, but Goodley could be a candidate for a position change. The stocky receiver (5’10”, 209 lbs) has great after the catch abilities but questionable hands, making him an option as a pass catching running back the mold of Dexter McCluster or a receiver like Tavon Austin. Lance Dunbar, sad to say, was a 2014 disappointment and there are no other receiving options out of the backfield. Goodley, if successful, could be that type of weapon for Tony Romo.
Washington – Devin Mahina, TE BYU
Mahina is a huge target (6’6”, 251 lbs) going to a team that has featured the tight end consistently. He is a finesse player who can get downfield quickly and create after the catch. While Mahina is a decent blocker, the team is not expecting him to contribute there. Logan Paulsen and Jordan Reed are free agents in 2016 and 2017 so as Mahina develops, there should be opportunity down the line to garner a share of targets.