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Mailbag: Grading The 2018 Draft Class?


I'm a firm believer that you can't grade a draft until three years after the fact. So how would you grade the Cowboys 2018 class? — TANNER CARLSON / SAN ANTONIO, TX

Rob: Overall it's been pretty strong. Six of nine draft picks have earned regular roles on offense/defense and/or special teams: Leighton Vander Esch, Connor Williams, Michael Gallup, Dorance Armstrong, Dalton Schultz and Cedrick Wilson. Vander Esch, Williams and Gallup have been starters every year when healthy and Schultz proved he can be a quality starter last year. Obviously it's uncertain who will stay beyond 2021, and Vander Esch is probably the biggest question mark because he's the first-round pick without a fifth-year option. But I wouldn't rule out a new deal at some point.

David: I'd put it in the B+ range. That draft class provided three multi-year starters in Leighton Vander Esch, Connor Williams and Michael Gallup, while Dalton Schultz emerged as a capable starter in his third season. Throw in two decent contributors in Dorance Armstrong and Cedrick Wilson, and that's a rock-solid draft class. I just can't give them an A because of the uncertainty surrounding Vander Esch. He played at an All-Pro level as a rookie, but he hasn't been able to build on that fast start. When you don't pick up the fifth-year option on a top-20 pick, you have to admit it's a bit of a disappointment.

Ben DiNucci gets a whole lot of flak for his performance last year. The problem is nobody seems to recognize he was a late-round pick with zero offseason to acclimate to the NFL. Isn't he being judged a little too harshly? — ROBERT JOHNSON / ALLEN, TX

Rob: I don't know that he's been judged super harshly outside the building, other than the fact that he's not expected to win the No. 2 job in his second season. He actually has as many career starts as Garrett Gilbert – one – but Gilbert has been around the league longer. No doubt DiNucci struggled in that lone start against Philly, but I agree that it's hard to evaluate a seventh-round pick who had no preseason and hardly any practice reps before that week. I spoke to him last week and he sounded confident that a normal-ish offseason and preseason will allow him to show what he can really do. But I'd say there's pressure on everybody behind Dak Prescott because the Cowboys have made no secret about looking for backup competition.

David: I think that depends on what your expectations were in the first place. I completely agree that the deck was completely stacked against Ben DiNucci. Stepping into a division game with a depleted offensive line would be hard for any backup – let alone a seventh-round pick who didn't get to have a preseason. At the same time, I think you have to acknowledge that the odds are not in his favor, regardless of the circumstances. It's tough to make it in this league, and the track record for seventh-round picks is not wonderful. All of that said, I'm excited that he'll get a more traditional training camp, complete with a preseason schedule, to show what he can do.

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