Regardless of what happens from this point on, the 2018 draft haul of the Dallas Cowboys has to be considered a success. With nine total picks, the team collected a nice assortment of reliable starters and key role players as they found value all throughout the draft. Only three players: Mike White (fifth-round), Chris Covington (sixth-round), and Bo Scarbrough (seventh-round) are no longer on the team, leaving the remaining six with one final year left on their contracts.
While that's a nice stack of players still left, I can't help notice some dark clouds of uncertainty when it pertains to these players future in Dallas. None of them are anything close to locks to receive a second contract, and it wouldn't be a complete shock if all six of them were lost in free agency next offseason.
Today, I'm going to examine each one of these remaining 2018 draft alums and try to determine the likeliness of them being a part of this Cowboys team beyond the 2021 season.
Leighton Vander Esch (1st Round, 19th overall)
Right out of the gate the Boise State linebacker looked like a remarkable pick by the Cowboys. Playing in all 16 games and making 11 starts, LVE racked up an impressive 140 tackles, batted down seven passes, and had two interceptions en route to an All-Pro season. With Sean Lee struggling to stay healthy that year, having a talent like Vander Esch came in quite handy.
Unfortunately, Leighton has had problems staying healthy himself as he has missed at least six games in each of the last two seasons. And last year, even when he was out on the field, he wasn't performing all that well. Whether it's performance or his inability to stay healthy, the Cowboys opted to not exercise his fifth year option.
The Cowboys front office will tell you they still want LVE to be a part of this team's future, but that same front office just revamped the linebacker position group by adding free agent Keanu Neal, first-round draft pick Micah Parsons, and fourth-round draft pick Jabril Cox.
PREDICTION: If Vander Esch can stay healthy and benefit from improved coaching, he's got a shot to stick around with a short-term incentive-laced extension.
Connor Williams (2nd Round, 50th overall)
When the Texas tackle was picked on Day 2, I was super-jacked as he was a player who I felt should've come off the board late in the first round. The team wasted no time getting use out of him as they moved him inside where he immediately became the Cowboys new starting left guard. Despite being the offensive line's weakest link, Williams hung in there until health got in the way. Over his first two seasons, he missed time due to injuries each year and overall his performance was a little shaky.
Last year was a completely different story for Williams. Health wasn't an issue as he was the Cowboys only offensive lineman to start all 16 games last season. He picked a nice time to stay healthy as the team endured a rash of injuries that seemed comical at times. Not only was he on the field, but he showed some nice improvement, turning him into a reliable piece along the offensive line.
While many are quick to try to give away his job, Williams hold on the left guard spot is a lot more secure than some might think. The Cowboys have done a solid job seeking out potential replacements with low cost options like Connor McGovern, Brandon Knight, and rookie Josh Ball, so the competition will be fierce, but their turn as the team's starter will have to wait.
PREDICTION: It would be great to have him back as his growth is a big positive, and I wouldn't rule it completely out, but it's hard imagining the team being about to afford paying him a second contract.
Michael Gallup (3rd Round, 81st)
Everyone's favorite 2018 pick, the Colorado State receiver was such a remarkable steal. Despite being the ninth wide receiver selected that year, Gallup has transformed into one of the better wideouts from his class. And as good as he was as a rookie, he was strides better in year two, doubling his receptions and yards, and tripling his touchdown catches.
While Gallup didn't improve up his sophomore numbers last year, he still caught 59 balls for 843 yards and scored five touchdowns. That's not too shabby considering he and his fellow receivers caught passes from three different backup quarterbacks after the team lost Dak Prescott in Week 5.
With Dak back, the Cowboys offense is primed for big things with Gallup, veteran Amari Cooper, and second-year receiver CeeDee Lamb completing a very impressive receiving trio. It's unclear what Gallup's target share will be with so many other talented mouths to feed, but rest assure he'll be out there making plays once again.
PREDICTION: The Cowboys have already invested so much at wide receiver where it would be a misuse of cap resources to pay Gallup what he'll command this offseason. Let's just enjoy the ride for one more season and reap the benifits of a 2023 compensatory pick.
Dorance Armstrong (4th Round, 116th overall)
There was a lot of excitement in the Cowboys war room when they selected the Kansas edge rusher as the team clearly had a much higher grade on him compared to where he was taken. Unfortunately, he's never been able to carve out a meaningful role in this Cowboys defense. While he's been active for all but two games during his three-year playing career, he's always taken a back seat to other more experienced edge rushers. Whether it's Randy Gregory, Robert Quinn, Aldon Smith, or Randy Gregory again, Armstrong is always down a ways on the depth chart.
This year will bring similar challenges as newcomers like free agent Tarell Basham and third-round draft pick Chauncey Golston join last year's rookie Bradlee Anae as players who will challenge Armstrong for reps. And with greater player control provided with some of these younger players, it could make Dorance's spot on the team a little murky.
PREDICTION: I've always liked Armstrong, but I feel like if he had it in him to be a real presence along the edge, we would've seen it by now. Not only is his future with this team up in the air, he might not even make this year's final roster cuts.
Dalton Schultz (Fourth Round, 137th overall)
Not much was thought of the team's Day 3 selection of Stanford's Dalton Schutlz as he was just the latest model of the school's in-line blocking tight end factory. It's no secret what the Cowboys look for in a tight end and drafting Schultz gave them a nice player to develop into a viable blocker for their future. After a season-ending injury to then starter Geoff Swaim, the rookie saw some action, playing in 11 games. The following season he was essentially non-existent as the return of Jason Witten severly cut into his playing time.
With no Witten around last season, the door swung wide open for the team's young tight ends as big expectations were placed on the pass catching Blake Jarwin. Unfortunately, Jarwin was lost for the year with a knee injury in Week 1, therefore thrusting Schultz into the starting role. Dalton didin't disappoint as he hauled in 63 catches for 615 yards and four touchdowns. Just like that the team's blocking tight end was now a contributor in the passing game.
Jarwin is expected to be go this year, so we really don't know how things will shape out. I'd imagine the front office would like to see what they have in Jarwin now that he's the "go-to" guy, but don't expect Schultz to just move out of the way.
PREDICTION: This one should be interesting. I lean towards Schultz ultimately winning the TE1 gig causing the front office to re-up on him next offseason.
Cedrick Wilson Jr. (6th Round, 208th overall)
Technically speaking, Cedrick has already been let go by the team and then re-signed so his situation is a little different. However, I'm going to include him here because he is still with the team and his current contract only has him here through the 2021 season.
Wilson didn't do much his first couple years, but a lot of reasons for that were injury related. Last season was the first time we really saw him get going and he ended up playing in all 16 games. His overall numbers were minuscule, but he did flash some playmaking ability against the Seahawks. He doesn't get his number (which is now 1 because he gave 11 to the rookie Parsons) called very often as he's just the team's no. 4 receiver, but his throwing abililty makes him a fun gadget for the team.
PREDICTION: The team drafted Simi Fehoko, so even the depth chart is loaded this year. It will be close whether or not he even makes the team, but he's likely to be playing elsewhere in 2022.
Best chance of being re-signed: Dalton Schultz
Moderate chance: Leighton Vander Esch
Likely gone: Michael Gallup, Connor Williams, Dorance Armstrong, and Cedrick Wilson Jr.