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Dallas Cowboys 2020 Draft Preview: Round 1

We are just under a week away from the most uncertain draft in recent memory. The cancellation of team visits and other in-person events means that teams will have to rely more heavily on players’ on-field performances. This article will rely on the same information, looking at players’ game-tape to determine their potential value to the Cowboys. The Cowboys have needs at Cornerback and Edge Rusher to address. Unfortunately for them, the Falcons (who own the pick just before the Cowboys’) have very similar needs. We’ll look at some film from the players most linked to the Cowboys at pick 17. Let’s dive in to the Dallas Cowboys 2020 draft!

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K’Lavon Chaisson, EDGE (LSU)

K’Lavon Chaisson has been a popular selection for the Cowboys in mock drafts over the last few weeks. It’s not hard to see why after watching him play. The Cowboys like fast, bendy players for their pass rushing needs and Chaisson fits that description to a tee. Let’s look at a play from LSU’s game against Georgia this year:

Chaisson speeds around Thmoas but can't finish the play
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This clip captures both Chaisson’s greatest strength and biggest weakness. On this play, Chaisson (#18) is lined up on the right side of the defensive formation against Georgia’s #71 Andrew Thomas (a top Offensive Tackle prospect in this class). Right away, you can see why coaches are in love with Chaisson’s potential. He has an insanely quick first step off the line and has the speed to beat one of the best tackles in CFB to the corner. However, you can also see that despite beating his guy, Chaisson can’t put together that final move to get himself to the quarterback. This is the biggest knock on an otherwise great pass rushing prospect. His lack of refined technique led to lower production in college compared to other top EDGE players. However, a lack of refinement does not mean a lack of pass rush ability.

Let’s look at one more play, again from the Georgia game:

Chaisson wins inside against Wilson and sacks Jake Fromm. Chaisson could be a top target in the Dallas Cowboys 2020 draft
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This time, Chaisson lines up on the left side going up against Georgia’s right tackle #75 Isaiah Wilson (another top OT prospect.) Once again, Chaisson’s first step is on full display, and the threat of his speed forces Wilson to take a step back to protect the corner. Chaisson takes advantage of this by employing a lightning-quick spin move to beat Wilson inside. He has the functional strength to complete the play and sack the quarterback despite being pushed into the ground by Wilson at the end. If Chaisson can put together these kinds of rushes more consistently at the next level, he’s going to be an impactful player on any defense. His young age (20 years old), combined with his athleticism makes his ceiling the second-best in the class.

How he fits with the Cowboys: Chaisson is a natural 3-4 Outside Linebacker. At 255 pounds, he’s a little small to play 4-3 DE, which is what the Cowboys played last year. However, he has the frame to put on a little more weight without significantly affecting his explosiveness. Defensive-coordinator Mike Nolan might also be looking to gradually transition to a 3-4 or even a hybrid. As an OLB, Chaisson has experience playing coverage as well, meaning Nolan could use him in a variety of ways no matter what defense the Cowboys run. Chaisson would be a great first selection in the Dallas Cowboys 2020 draft.

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Kenneth Murray, LB (Oklahoma)

By all indications, Leighton Vander-Esch is ready to play next season; however, he did have neck surgery over the offseason. Potential fears over Vander-Esch re-aggravating his neck injury or other durability concerns could make them consider this Murray at 17.

When I first heard how much the Cowboys loved Murray, my first thought was “we don’t need another linebacker.” But when I looked at the film, I saw someone who could be valuable to the Cowboys right away. Murray is an extremely athletic player who has the range to cover the field sideline to sideline. In the run game, he uses speed and quickness to get around blocks and make a play on the runner. Take a look at this play from the CFP semi-final against LSU:

Murray accelerates past a blocker and lays a big hit on the runner
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Murray diagnoses the run quickly and uses his speed and agility to duck under the block of the left tackle. He then squares up with the runner and delivers a big hit to stop the play for a loss of yardage. Adding someone who can make these plays would be a huge help to what was a lackluster run defense in 2019.

Murray has also shown flashes as a pass rusher. Watch him against Texas Tech:

Murray uses his explosiveness to get a sack on the quarterback
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Here he lines up against the left tackle. He explodes off the snap and speeds around the tackle, laying a big hit on the quarterback for a sack. This kind of athleticism gives Murray an extremely high ceiling as a Linebacker. Playing behind Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander-Esch will only help him develop his game further. 

How he fits on the Cowboys: Murray offers versatility at the linebacker position. He uses his explosiveness to rush the quarterback. His quickness and range allow him to make plays all over the field. Murray can play in any defensive system and contribute immediately. He could develop into one of the best linebackers in the league playing with Smith and Vander-Esch. Adding him to the Cowboys’ linebacker corps makes it a potential top-5 unit in the NFL.

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A.J. Terrell, CB (Clemson)

It’s hard to believe the Cowboys would take Terrell at 17. When thinking of Terrell, the first thing that stands out is the National Title game against LSU, where he gave up a handful of big plays and generally looked outmatched all night. However, the buzz about the Cowboys being interested in him is gaining momentum and he’s worth a deeper look as an option at 17.

Right off the bat, Terrell has all the measurable traits you want in a Cornerback. Standing at 6’1 with 31” arms, he has the size and length to challenge bigger receivers at the catch point. He runs an above average 4.42 40 yard dash and has fluid hips which he uses to mirror receivers extremely well in man coverage. Terrell plays well in press coverage, and he understands how to use his physical traits to make plays on the ball. Watch this coverage against Ohio State in the CFP semi-final:

Terrell presses the reciever and forces an incomplete pass
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On this play, Terrell lines up at the top of the screen against Ohio State’s #9. Terrell lines up in press man and does a good job initiating contact with the receiver off the snap to throw off his balance and timing. He stays glued to the receiver on the slant, while also looking at the quarterback. He sees the throw coming and is able to use his long arms to reach around the receiver and force an in-completion. Terrell demonstrates good technique and physicality to make a huge play for his team. He also has the ability to sit back in the zone and read the quarterback’s eyes. Watch this play from the same game against Ohio State:

Terrell keeps his eyes on the quarterback and forces a throw out of bounds
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Once again, Terrell is lined up at the top of the screen, this time giving the receiver more cushion. Clemson is running zone coverage here, and Terrell is responsible for the top third of the field. Watch Terrell’s helmet through the play. You can see that he keeps his eyes on the quarterback, even as he picks up and carries the receiver through his zone. The quarterback sees Terrell’s eyes on him and his tight coverage, forcing him to throw the ball out of bounds. This play shows Terrell’s scheme versatility and his ability to read the quarterback.

How he fits on the Cowboys: Draft experts would say that Terrell is a reach at 17, and they might be right. But he does have the size, speed and coverage ability to become a good, or potentially great, corner in the NFL. His ability to play press man will help Dallas, who ran that coverage more than almost any other team in 2019. He can also sit in zone coverage and use his athleticism and awareness to make a play on the ball. Terrell slots in as an immediate contributor to the Cowboys’ secondary. He has the potential to take a starting job as outside corner by the end of the season.

Honorable Mentions: Cornerback C.J Henderson (Florida) is another potential target for the Cowboys, but the rumor is he probably won’t be there at 17. Fellow Cornerback Trevon Diggs (Alabama) is another name to watch for, most likely in a trade-back scenario.

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