clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Where some of the Cowboys rookie defenders from the draft will fit in Dan Quinn’s scheme

Versatility is common among the Cowboys rookies.

TaxSlayer Gator Bowl - North Carolina State v Kentucky Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

The Cowboys entered the 2021 NFL Draft with 10 draft picks, turned it into 11 picks on the first night, and shockingly used every single one of those picks. Perhaps more shocking was that eight of those picks. including a franchise record six to start the draft, were on the defensive side of the ball.

Dallas objectively needed help on defense after an abysmal season in which they hemorrhaged yards and points on a weekly basis. As a result, very few starters returning from last year are safe, and there are good opportunities for each of these rookies to see some action right away. But where will they all fit under the new scheme? Here’s a best guess.

Micah Parsons

One of the attributes of Micah Parsons’ game that was so highly-touted was his versatility as both a sideline-to-sideline linebacker and as an extra pass rusher. It’s no surprise, then, that there’s some speculation about the different roles the Cowboys’ top rookie could fill in this defense.

For what it’s worth, Parsons has already said he’ll start out at MIKE linebacker in rookie minicamp. And he’s also noted that Dan Quinn indicated to him that he will be sent on quite a few blitzes this year. Parsons’ game tape at Penn State showed how effective he can be blitzing up the middle, but his background as an edge rusher also makes him an intriguing prospect lining up as a SAM linebacker in an under front, or just in some designated pass rusher role.

There’s also the possibility that Parsons could see time at WILL linebacker, although Quinn’s scheme has historically thrust more coverage responsibilities on the WILL than Parsons’ skill set seems to be a fit for. Especially with Keanu Neal and Jabril Cox on the roster, as well both Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch having plenty of experience at WILL, it’s likely that Parsons mostly alternates between MIKE and SAM for now.

Kelvin Joseph

Kelvin Joseph is an intriguing scheme fit here in Dallas for a few reasons. His brief experience playing at both LSU and Kentucky suggests that Joseph is an ideal fit as an outside corner in an aggressive, zone-heavy scheme like the one Quinn is expected to run.

But at 5’11”, Joseph is tied with Anthony Brown as the second shortest cornerback on the roster. He had some minimal experience playing in the slot in college, but that versatility could come into play after the Cowboys also selected Nahshon Wright (more on him in a bit).

However, both Brown and Jourdan Lewis are much more seasoned options in the slot, so Joseph should be expected to immediately take over at the outside cornerback spot opposite Trevon Diggs. Don’t be surprised if Dallas experiments with him in the slot a bit, but the odds are good his home in 2021 is on the outside.

Osa Odighizuwa

Osa Odighizuwa’s scheme fit is an easy one to pick out since Quinn already confirmed it during his post-draft press conference. At a listed 280 pounds, Odighizuwa will play almost exclusively at the 3-technique spot as an interior pass rushing presence with the lateral agility and leverage discipline to provide good run defense from that role.

Odighizuwa also has the position flexibility to move out a little closer on the edge in some formations, but the Cowboys have a little bit of a crowded position group on the edge as it is right now. He can do more, but look for Odighizuwa to be a 3-technique defensive tackle here.

Chauncey Golston

One of the Cowboys’ picks that raised the most eyebrows was Iowa’s Chauncey Golston, who profiles as an exceptional edge-setting presence in run support. As such, Golston is likely to see a lot of time at both the 4-technique and 5-technique spots on this defensive line with the ability to also kick out wider, though that responsibility will likely be reserved more so for Randy Gregory and Tarell Basham.

The biggest thing going for Golston right now, though, is his ability to provide depth on both sides of the line:

Versatility, and a willing attitude like the one Golston has displayed so far, will get him very far in this defense. If the goal for him is to indeed become a Swiss army knife type, the sky could be the limit for how Quinn deploys Golston.

Nahshon Wright

Arguably the most panned draft pick of the Cowboys’ draft, Nahshon Wright was a surprise selection who has the ability to turn into a steal. Standing at 6’4” and weighing in at just 185 pounds, Wright is like a funhouse mirror in terms of his size and weight combination.

But Wright’s length and ball skills paved the way for him to have a very productive, albeit brief, career at Oregon State. His height suggests a good fit on the outside, and Wright doesn’t have the frame to hold up with the more physical demands of playing inside. But the first corner Dallas drafted this year creates a shortage of starting spots on the outside.

That said, Wright’s immediate fit is likely as a depth piece who can contribute on special teams and potentially feature in some dime packages. However, if the Cowboys decide they like Joseph in the slot there may be an opening for Wright to take over on the outside. But as a late-third-round pick that was considered a massive reach, Wright likely needs a little bit of time to adjust before taking on a prominent role.

Jabril Cox

Jabril Cox is one of the most commonly cited steals of the entire draft, and for good reason. He was projected by many to go in the second round, but inexplicably fell to the fourth round. Much of the hype around Cox was due to his impressive, and arguably best in the class, coverage skills. His skills as a pass defender are in stark contrast to his shortcomings as a run stopper, making him a polar opposite to Parsons.

Of course, that duality could work out well. Parsons is best going downhill and running sideline-to-sideline in run defense, while he struggles in coverage. With both Parsons and Cox on the field at the same time, Dallas doesn’t have to worry about exposing either of their rookie linebackers’ weaknesses, as they complement each other well.

But that duo is likely the future of this linebacker corps, not the present. Parsons is almost definitely going to see a lot of playing time, but Cox may not see as much. Dallas surely wants to give both Smith and Vander Esch an opportunity to prove themselves, while Keanu Neal offers a lot of upside as a coverage linebacker after converting from safety. Don’t be surprised if Cox cracks the starting lineup by the end of the year, but special teams and sub packages look to be his role for now.

Quinton Bohanna

As with Odighizuwa, we already know Quinton Bohanna’s specific role in this defense because Quinn outright told us. Of course, we all could’ve guessed that already, as Bohanna’s massive frame pretty much slots him in as a nose tackle.

Bohanna played at a listed 350 pounds at Kentucky, but cut down to the 325 pound range for his Pro Day. What weight he ends up playing at in Dallas remains to be seen, but either way Bohanna offers some much-needed heft in the middle of that defensive line. He doesn’t offer very much as a pass rusher, so Bohanna’s reps will be limited to early downs against run formations.

More intriguing for Bohanna is whether or not he’ll make the final roster. As a sixth-round pick, he’s not a lock to make the roster but does offer a unique frame at the nose tackle spot that Dallas has lacked in recent years.

Israel Mukuamu

Israel Mukuamu was listed as a cornerback at South Carolina, but in reality he was used all over the field in a variety of positions. It seems that, for now, Mukuamu is going to be used as a free safety in Dallas. At 6’4” and 205 pounds, Mukuamu certainly has the size and length to play the position.

But Damontae Kazee seems to be the odds-on favorite to start in the center of the field in Quinn’s scheme, given his experience and history with the defensive coordinator. So Mukuamu appears to be the understudy to Kazee, while Jayron Kearse is expected to provide valuable depth and special teams contributions. That makes Mukuamu’s roster spot a little up in the air, like Bohanna, but if he shows in camp and preseason the kind of traits that prompted Dallas to draft him, coaches may not have a choice.