Prior to restriction of league-wide travel, before the coronavirus effectively brought the world to a screeching halt, the Dallas Cowboys arranged top-30 pre-draft visits involving several blue-chip players, three of whom have now completed their “meetings.”
Just as Jerry Jones did with Jalen Hurts, the Cowboys owner/general manager held Zoom conference calls that included prominent members of the organization, including executive vice president Stephen Jones, personnel boss Will McClay, and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, as the NFL’s offseason spectacle, set to begin April 23, fast approaches.
The interviewees were, the team shared on social media, Wisconsin pass-rusher Zack Baun, LSU cornerback Kristian Fulton and Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray. News of Fulton and Murray’s pow-wows had previously been reported.
A three-year contributor for the Tigers who’s among the best corners in this year’s class, Fulton tallied 42 solo tackles, 20 pass breakups, and two interceptions in 24 games. He put himself on the national map in 2019 by notching career highs in PBUs (14) and tackles (28), earning second-team All-SEC honors on top of a National Championship.
Fulton is a consensus first-round pick whose floor could be in the teens, making him a distinct option at No. 17 overall. He’s the second CB prospect the Cowboys have expressed interest in this offseason; they scheduled a similar interview with Florida’s CJ Henderson, though it’s unclear as of this writing if the remote conference has taken place.
Seeking reinforcements for a secondary that lost starters Byron Jones (Dolphins) and Jeff Heath (Raiders) in free agency, Dallas has also been linked to LSU safety Grant Delpit and Alabama S Xavier McKinney.
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Murray’s Background and Interview [WATCH]
A game-changer from the moment he stepped foot in Norman, Murray was a three-year contributor for the Sooners, delivering 176 solo tackles, 36.5 tackles-for-loss, 9.5 sacks and six pass breakups across 40 career appearances from 2017-19. He finished as a highly-decorated, well-polished defender, primed for even greater heights at the next level.
In 2017, Murray earned co-Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors after collecting 78 tackles and a sack. He was a second-team All-Big 12 selection in 2018, having registered 155 tackles and 4.5 sacks. As a junior, for his finale, Murray scored a first-team All-Big 12 selection with 102 stops (69 solo, 17 for loss), four sacks and four pass deflections, eschewing his senior campaign.
A rocked-up 6-foot-2, 241 pounds, Murray recorded a 4.52 forty-yard dash time at February’s Scouting Combine, adding 21 bench-press reps and a 38-inch vertical. He projects as an inside linebacker in the NFL and is arguably the second-best LB prospect among the 2020 class, behind Clemson stud Isaiah Simmons.
NFL.com draft expert Lance Zierlein compares Murray to 49ers star Kwon Alexander.
By selecting him potentially over the likes of a cornerback or safety, two areas they desperately need to address, the Cowboys might be hedging their bets on 2018 first-rounder Leighton Vander Esch, whose 2019 season was cut short by a debilitating neck injury, deemed spinal stenosis. Vander Esch has since undergone surgery to repair the nerves in his neck, and Dallas brass has continually expressed confidence in his future, but the safer-than-sorry approach kicks in here with a stud staring them in the face.
Baun’s Background and Interview [WATCH]
Sensing a trend? You should. The Cowboys are obviously fixating their pre-draft attention on the defense, and rightly so after the unit underachieved last season. Jerry and Co. have a back end to repair and a linebacker corps to replenish.
Baun certainly would help in the latter category. A first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2019, he compiled 52 solo tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks, two interceptions, and a defensive touchdown as a senior for the Badgers.
At 6-foot-2, 238 pounds, with 32 3/4-inch arms, he clocked a 4.65 Combine forty time and 32.5-inch vertical jump. Zierlein compares Baun, an explosive, highly athletic if underdeveloped edge defender, to former Patriots star Kyle Van Noy.
Ascending prospect whose explosive production on the field has begun to mirror his explosive athletic traits. Baun’s twitchy get-off and deep bend at the edge is nightmare fuel for Big Ten tackles and he’s still at the early stages of pass rush development. He is aggressive to flow downhill in run support, has sideline-to-sideline range and is fluid dropping into coverage. He’s strong but a little light as an edge-setter so teams will need to figure out how best to align him. Baun is a scheme-diverse linebacker with high-impact potential whose best days are ahead of him.
Baun is a fringe Day 2 prospect and, if Murray isn’t the day-one pick, certainly may be in consideration for the Cowboys at Nos. 51 or 82 — if he lasts that long.
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL