Is Jalen Jelks The Next Late-Round Steal?

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(Editor’s Note: With training camp just around the corner, let’s get to know 30 Cowboys players – from rookies to established veterans – who are new to the current 90-man roster. Today we continue the series with rookie defensive end Jalen Jelks.)

How He Got Here: The Cowboys had a mid-round draft grade on Jelks and happily selected him in the seventh round with their final pick in April. The 22-year-old pass rusher was a two-time All-Pac-12 selection at Oregon (first-team honors in 2018) and led all defensive linemen in the conference with 57 tackles last season.

Bet You Didn’t Know: Jelks always thought his future was in basketball, not football. His dad had played basketball at Kentucky State, and Jalen played just about everything but football – basketball, wrestling, track – until shifting his focus during his sophomore year of high school. Turned out to be a great decision.

Quotable: “(He was) rated very high on our board, and we’re getting to the end of our draft, and he’s still sitting there like a blinking red light. There is so much to like about this guy: He’s big, long, athletic, plays with a relentless spirit, great motor, great energy, around the ball a lot. He plays the right way, has a lot of the traits we’re looking for in our defensive linemen.” -Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett

Role/Roster Chances: The Cowboys have found recent success with late-round draft picks on defense. Former sixth-round picks Xavier Woods and Anthony Brown have developed into important contributors in the secondary. Could Jelks be next for the defensive line? Well, defensive end might be the most competitive spot on the roster. Currently nine will head to training camp, excluding Randy Gregory, who is indefinitely suspended by the NFL. The Cowboys added veterans Robert Quinn and Kerry Hyder and brought in four rookies, including Jelks, for competition. Jelks did show explosiveness as an edge rusher in OTAs and minicamp, and he has deceptive strength at only 256 pounds. With DeMarcus Lawrence rehabbing from shoulder surgery this summer, Jelks is likely to get extra reps at defensive end in preseason.

Bryan Broaddus’ Take: I am calling it a long shot if Jalen Jelks makes the final roster. The depth at defensive end will be hard for him to overcome and the likely outcome will have him landing on the practice squad. What Jelks has traits wise with his quickness, he lacks strength and that’s going to show up in training camp. To his credit, he’s done a nice job of adding that strength here before the club leaves for Oxnard, but he will need to fill out more. What will be interesting to me is if in these preseason games that we see him play some nickel defensive tackle which is what he did at Oregon with some success. The fact that he can play a couple of different spots will help him along the way.

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