MOBILE, Ala. – A friend of mine who lives here texted me to ask if we could grab dinner on Friday night. I responded that, unfortunately, I'd be back in Texas by the time the weekend arrived.
"But I thought you were in town for the Senior Bowl?"
Such is the weird reality of this trip. The entire NFL world descends on Mobile for three days of practice, and then we catch flights out of here on Thursday and Friday. For the most part, the only people who hang out for the actual game are the teams coaching it and the media who cover them.
This is a roundabout way of saying that our time here is done. But we've managed to get in some good, quality time at these practices as we get a clearer idea of the 2020 draft class.
Obviously, this is only a small percentage of the available talent. But before I head to the airport, I wanted to highlight some of the guys who have jumped out to me – specifically at the Cowboys' positions of needs as they sit right now.
1. DEFENSIVE TACKLE
Perhaps the most obvious and the easiest to get out of the way. Trysten Hill is currently the only defensive tackle on the roster with a contract, and he was a healthy scratch for most of his rookie season. It's a problem that needs to be addressed. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to do it.
Javon Kinlaw, South Carolina – The name you're going to hear the most about. The unquestioned star of the Senior Bowl practices, and a guy that may go off the board before Dallas picks at No. 17. He's huge, powerful and can play a multitude of different positions. I've heard people compare his body type to David Irving, and it makes sense. Say no more.
Neville Gallimore, Oklahoma – Another high profile pick who has torn it up here in Mobile. He isn't quite a lock to go first round, but he's certainly one of the premiere talents here. The Cowboys would probably have to draft him at No. 51, if he's still there. Judging from practice, I think he's got the power to make a difference quickly.
Jason Strowbridge, North Carolina – A name to know. The Tar Heel prospect has turned heads here with an impressive blend of power and quickness. He dominated at Wednesday's practice, where the Lions' coaching staff worked him at end and tackle. My guess is he's a Day 2 draft pick with intriguing upside.
It's a bit depressing how familiar this feels. Defensive tackle and safety were two of the biggest draft needs in 2019, and that looks like the case again in 2020. There are plenty of options to choose from in this class, although the Senior Bowl group felt a bit thin.
Ashtyn Davis, California – Unfortunately, we didn't get to see him practice because he was flagged for an injury. That's going to bear monitoring over the coming months, but Davis was impressive during his time at Cal. If he's healthy, it's hard to imagine he lasts past the second round of the draft.
Kyle Dugger, Lenoir-Rhyne – The man who's stealing all the headlines. How could he not be after dominating Senior Bowl practices as a Division II prospect? I've talked to multiple people, whose opinions I trust, who view him as a top 50 prospect despite his background at a tiny program. The question for me is: would the Cowboys, who value big-time production, consider a player from such a small school?
Jeremy Chinn, Southern Illinois – The same question applies here. Chinn hails an FCS-level program, but he has looked athletic and impressive in these practices. He's got a 6-3, 220-pound frame – which is sure to get people excited. But he moves like a much smaller player. I'm fascinated to see if the Cowboys have any interest in these small school guys.
Let's just keep loading up on defense, because the Cowboys need it. The respective futures of Byron Jones and Anthony Brown are obviously tied into this. Perhaps one or both of them comes back on another contract. Until we know the answer to those questions, it's safe to assume the Cowboys need help. Unfortunately, the top cornerback in this senior class – LSU's Kristian Fulton – pulled out of the Senior Bowl on Monday. But there were still a couple of guys who caught my eye.
Dane Jackson, Pittsburgh – Truth be told, I hadn't done much research on Jackson before I got down here. He grabbed my attention immediately when he started swatting away passes during the very first practice. He's 5'11 and his arms measure just shy of 31 inches, so he's got solid enough meausrables. More importantly, he is sticky in coverage. Brown was a sixth-round pick in 2016, and I think Jackson fits the bill as another Day 3 prospect with high upside.
Troy Pride Jr., Notre Dame – A guy a lot of people have asked about, and I understand why after I watched him make a one-handed interception – although he was out of bounds. You can tell he's incredibly athletic, and he's got the big-time production the Cowboys like to see. He contributed all four years at Notre Dame and was a regular starter during his final two seasons. He's not afraid to go against the best, and he showed that down here this week.
4. TIGHT END
Unfortunately, the Cowboys might have missed a real window in 2019. There's definitely some talent in this year's tight end class, but it's not loaded like last year when Iowa's T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant were blowing up the draft boards. Still, there's bound to be some guys the Cowboys could find later in the draft to help bolster a position that's in need of some talent.
Adam Trautman, Dayton – My dear friend Dane Brugler told me to keep an eye on this guy, and when he talks, I listen. Trautman is looking to become the first Dayton player drafted since 1977, and I'm guessing he's going to accomplish that after an impressive week here. The guy runs really impressive routes and has nice hands. I don't know if he's an absolute mauler as a blocker, as it's hard to judge the run game during all-star practices. But I also don't think he's a liability. Again, I worry the Cowboys won't be interested in a FCS player, but he's worth taking a look at.
Jared Pinkney, Vanderbilt – I'm not going to lie. I was hoping Pinkney would jump out at me a little more this week. He had an incredibly impressive 2018 season before he got stuck on a bad Vandy team last fall, so I was hoping he'd come out here and dominate when given the opportunity to play with a better group of guys around him. I'm not trying to say he played poorly, but he just didn't pop out at me. I still think he's an interesting prospect, especially if the Cowboys could draft him on Day 3. But I'd like to go back and watch his junior tape.
5. WIDE RECEIVER
I'm going to throw out a disclaimer here. This wide receiver class is absolutely stupid-loaded. I honestly can't remember a year when so many fantastic receivers were available. That applies to the senior class, too. There were so many awesome receivers here in Mobile that it was easy to lose track of them all. The reason I'm saying this is that, with so many great players to watch, it's a guarantee someone gets overlooked. If I don't mention the guy you like below, it's probably not because he was bad. It's because there's simply too much talent to keep track of it all. Anyway, with Amari Cooper's long-term status uncertain and Randall Cobb heading for free agency, there's no shortage of options available in this draft.
James Proche, SMU – I came all the way to Alabama to watch a Dallas kid shine. Watching him go through practices, Proche reminded me a lot of D.J. Moore – the Maryland receiver who is now a Pro Bowler for Carolina. At 5'10, 196 pounds, Proche reminds me of a running back when he's got the ball in his hands. On top of that, he's got great footwork and absurd hands. Oh, and did I mention he looks tenacious as hell out on the field? I'm not sure where he stacks up in this loaded class, but he's a joy to watch.
K.J. Hill, Ohio State – I wrote about Hill on Wednesday, so I'll keep this brief. He's so smooth. Hill's footwork seemed to buy him separation more so than any other receiver out here. That's not to say he isn't fast, but he just looks so refined. Cornerbacks had a hard time dealing with him all week. Throw in his extensive experience playing in the slot, and I'm sold.
Chase Claypool, Notre Dame – There's always a big receiver everyone gets enamored with, but Claypool feels different. This guy is way faster and way more athletic than your average big guy – and he's definitely big, weighing in at a legit 6'4, 230 pounds. I talked to him Tuesday morning and he said he's got experience playing all three receiver positions. Having watched him all week, I legitimately believe he could do it. In an era where tight ends function more and more like big receivers, I'm super intrigued by the thought of Claypool as a redzone mismatch.