The Dallas Cowboys finished the 2017 season with a struggling offense, but it appears the defense is still more of a concern if you ask ESPN Insider Mel Kiper Jr.
In his first mock draft, Kiper has the Cowboys selecting Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea with the 19th overall pick. Fellow ESPN Insider Todd McShay also had the Cowboys taking a defensive tackle in his first mock draft in Christian Wilkins, but he has elected to return to Clemson for another season.
From skill and need standpoints, the selection of Vea makes sense. For it to happen, however, the Cowboys have to break from one of defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli’s long-held truths: Don’t draft run-stopping defensive tackles in the first round.
Marinelli has gotten by and succeeded with players such as Nick Hayden and Stephen Paea at nose tackle. Hayden was underrated in his time with the Cowboys, but he was not a dynamic interior player. Paea’s first season with the Cowboys was cut short by a knee injury.
When the Cowboys lost Paea in 2017, they moved Maliek Collins to the nose tackle spot. He was OK, but the Cowboys came to love Collins his rookie year as the under tackle. He had to play out of position most of the season and was not able to replicate the success he had as a rookie.
However, Vea could be a different story. He is more than a run-stopper. He is a large man (6-4, 346 pounds) with athleticism that saw him move around Washington’s line. He had 9.5 sacks in three seasons.
Kiper is right; the Cowboys don’t have somebody of Vea’s size along their front. They would like to keep Collins as their under tackle. They have gotten by on effort to stop the run instead of brute force. At times, they struggled against the run in 2017 but a lot of that came with Sean Lee off the field.
Vea makes sense for the Cowboys, but to get there they might have to convince Marinelli it is the right move.
Kiper also mentioned wide receiver as a possibility at No. 19. Only one receiver was off his board in Alabama’s Calvin Ridley, who went No. 8 to the Chicago Bears. Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk was the next receiver to go, at No. 26 to the Atlanta Falcons, and SMU’s Courtland Sutton went No. 27 to the New Orleans Saints.