Well, that was interesting! A year removed from a draft class that was probably tops in the league in terms of reeling in consensus value, this time around the Cowboys...zagged. There may not be a Cowboy fan out there who needs to be told that the 2021 picks involved multiple by-consensus reaches to various degrees, including one major objective reach that had to pull a muscle or leave behind some back pain.
Does this mean it's a bad class? By one measure, and to be frank - yes, it was bad. By value, the Cowboys left some draft capital on the table, missing opportunities to pick guys closer to their expected range in order to import more overall talent or move down and bank something in the way of future picks. But keep in mind that the per-capital value of a class is only a portion, and a smaller portion at that, of how the class ultimately stacks out. How well it helps stockpile the team on paper counts too, and most importantly how the players pan out will be the final judge. For example, the Seattle Seahawks have developed a reputation in recent years of ignoring consensus rankings with their early picks and simply taking the guys they like - but it isn't that practice itself that has hurt the franchise as much as the fact that the guys taken haven't contributed enough. More on that later!
For the pick breakdowns, there are two traits of each selection that we can objectively take a stab at rating in the present: value, and fit. Value will be labeled poor/solid/strong relative to "market" expectations, and fit will assign unclear/good/great (there is no such thing as a "bad" fit coming out of the draft) ratings based on what we can project about scheme fit and/or how the player meets the needs of the team.
Want to check out past "unwrapping" editions? Click the links below:
The Draft Picks
Round 1, Pick 12 (overall): Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
Leading off, we have Dallas's highest defensive pick since Morris Claiborne in 2012. It is difficult to land an outright "strong" value when picking in or near the top 10, but the fact that some saw Parsons as The Best Defensive Prospect In This Draft as well as a guy who belonged more in the middle of the top 10 of a typical draft class means to some the Cowboys banked a bit of value. Linebacker being less of a priority position coupled with Parsons being both a 2020 opt-out as well as a guy with a shorter, raw-in-places track record means to others he is firmly "just" a solid grab here. Either way, he was definitely fitting.
The Cowboys didn't need a major Linebacker selection. Unless they did. That's the trouble with rostering two high-talent, highly-invested players at the position without being confident in their short and medium term contributions. Perhaps Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch will have big years and leave Dallas feeling bloated at 'backer, or a year from now the position could be headlined primarily with 2021 draftees. What Parsons most definitely brings to the table on paper, though, is impact. The Cowboys need to develop a defensive identity that the rest of the defenders can revolve around, and Parsons is: an attacking run thumper, a high school pass rusher who has demonstrated excellent blitzing ability in college, and a guy with coverage tools. If he can round out his feel for the position and NF game as a whole, this could be the next Bobby Wagner or Luke Kuechly, and now Dallas doesn't need to cross its fingers that Smith and LVE will provided the necessary impact.
Overview: You're up, Dan Quinn!
Dallas is now loaded with physical talent and upside at this position. Of course, it was viewed almost as highly a year ago, and yet the actual results fell short of even tepid. Discomfort with scheme, at a minimum, left the big names looking uncertain and thus unable to fly to the ball. It is generally agreed that scheme - the teaching of it and perhaps just the scheme itself - failed the defense. Dan Quinn is the new top defensive dog in town, and it will be his job to unlock the skills of both the new guy and returning young veterans. Of note: part of the reason Parsons falls short of a great fit is because it isn't entirely clear that he'll will be able to make superior reads and take on blockers better than the holdovers. That sets up a big boom-or-bust situation: if the rest of the defense puts the linebackers in position to thrive, it could end up with an excess of quality performance that partly goes to waste; but if Parsons is susceptible to the same context handicaps as the others, it's possible that the team could have a threesome of highly-invested-in players at the position, all of whom disappoint. That's...mildly terrifying, but TBD.
Rookie Expectation (new category alert!): Starter who might star quickly
Parsons shouldn't have to wait his turn as LVE did in his first season. It isn't a question of whether he'll play most defensive snaps, but rather what roles Dallas will give him in an effort to draw an impact from him ASAP. There's a reason he has already been installed as the favorite for Defensive Rookie Of The Year.
Round 2, Pick 44 (overall): Kelvin Joseph, CB, Kentucky
A year ago, the Cowboys were on the hunt for a Cornerback in a class that included two standouts guys and then a sizeable group of fringe first round worthy talents to seek out or wait on. This time around, Dallas was equally in the market at the position, yet while the quality depth was similar the spread of talent was wider and sorted pretty evenly across rounds one through four. That set up the team to due its think and let the position come to it rather than force outright a selection, leading to Joseph. While some evaluators had him lower due to a short track record and some personality concerns, between his season of tape at Kentucky and pre-draft process measurables Joseph showed as much upside as anyone. Joseph was a steady riser throughout the past few months, going from something of an afterthought to a lock Day Two pick who emerged as a favorite of many. While Dallas didn't land him at a profit, this was definitely an appropriate spot to take him.
Simply put, the Cowboys absolutely needed to land a CB prospect of note for this class to check its necessary boxes. To that end - mission accomplished. Joseph has all the tools to be a shutdown CB1 and put those skills on display with some big games against top opponents. Even if that ability doesn't reach its peak, if Joseph can manage to be "just" a quality starting CB2 he'll help take care of what would otherwise be a giant lineup gap for the team. Joseph is just what the Dallas scheme looks for, offering length and reach to go with tremendous speed and shutdown technique tailor made to thrive as a boundary coverage man. It isn't all roses, though; Joseph began his college career at LSU and was talented enough to play special teams as a true freshman, but ran afoul enough to be suspended from that year's bowl game before transferring to Kentucky. That transfer cost him the 2019 season as he was forced by rule to sit out the year, leaving him with a pretty short track record and limited time to iron out some kinks in his game. Joseph made more than one "should have stayed in school" lists, had some issues with drawing fouls of the field, and has drawn questions of focus given a determined but unimpressive side hobby as a rapper. That makes him one of the draft's ultimate boom/bust prospects, even as the Cowboys cannot much afford a miss with him.
Overview: Break glass in case of emergency
There's no need to gloss over the likely fact that the Cowboys had their sights set firmly on Patrick Surtain and Jaycee Horn with pick #10 overall. But two teams picking ahead of Dallas had other ideas, forcing the Cowboys to execute a contingency plan. To the team's credit, there was no panic - it had a short, profitable move down ready to go, and then grabbed the highly talented Parsons. But that left CB all the more a priority, and Joseph was the play. It isn't clear how many other prospects at the position would have been preferred, but what matters most is that Joseph has plenty to offer himself. Now it's up to the coaching staff to keep in on the straight and narrow while developing his skills.
Rookie Expectation: Throw him into the deep end and hope he floats
Barring an veteran signing (possible, but not probable?), Dallas set itself up to let its top CB pick start on Day One. But that was "supposed" to be Surtain, one of the most NFL-ready CBs in memory. It's always preferred to ease a corner into the league given the positional learning curve, but at present it appears Dallas will go sink-or-swim for the second straight season (Diggs).
Round 3, Pick 75 (overall): Osa Odighizuwa, DL, UCLA
This pick may have the most questionable consensus valuation of any Cowboy selection since that of Travis Frederick in 2013. Back then, Frederick was the best prospect at his position with a rock solid Day Two grade and was certain to go in the second round (likely the upper half), but down on some boards of teams that value tested athleticism (Frederick had a very poor combine). He was on my broader target radar screen leading into the draft, and while the end of the first round was a hair early for a player of his grade in a typical draft in the very weak 2013 class it was fine. In the moments following the pick, found myself nodding "nice, easy upgrade at a spot this team was begging for one", only to be surprised and amused when the media ran with only the low end of his grade range as if it were his "true" grade and announced him as the reach of the draft. Likewise, Odighizuwa was widely understood to have a relatively narrow 3rd/4th round grade range, meaning he was likely to go in the third round to one of the teams placing him on the upper end - and yet those who personally had him lower than his broad range had their grades highlighted and just like that Odighizuwa was treated as being something like a two-round reach. Don't believe it; as with Joseph, this was no value pick, but the lineman was unlikely to last much longer and thus needed to be taken here to avoid missing out on him.
The Cowboys did their fans and draft evaluations no favors by keeping Dan Quinn's plans under wraps until afterward, but that was wise in order to avoid having scheme-favorite targets sniffed out. And that is what it seems we have here. Remember how Dallas attempted to utilize three-man DL fronts, even though the only true "5-Tech" on hand (the traditional profile of an End in a three-man front) after the loss of Gerald McCoy was Tyrone Crawford? Well, Quinn still plans to utilize these fronts in a minority of defensive snaps, and the Cowboys entered the draft with maybe one decent addition who could fill the role in Brent Urban. More was necessary, and one of the best ways to land a fit for the role is to target a DE/DT "tweener". Enter Odighizuwa. Seen as too undersized to be a dedicated DT in a four-man front, but lacking the bend and other desired traits for a true edge rusher, that lack of fit in some schemes (the source of grades in the fourth round or lower) is flipped on its head in Quinn's plans. Odighizuwa has the setup to be ideally suited as one of the two "DEs" flanking a NT in a three-man front while being capable of kicking inside to 3T or even 1T (in non-run-obvious situations) in a four-man front. He's not traditional (see below), but if he is what the Cowboys likely hope for he could be a scheme lynchpin building off a dossier that is littered with positives in terms of production, effort, and technique.
Overview: Unfairly maligned, and possibly exactly what this defense needs
If Odighizuwa has so much to offer in the right fit, why were enough evaluators sleeping on him? The following is not an equivalency comp, but let's hold him up to a past prospect who was discounted for the same reason:
|Height||6' 1.5"||17th||6' 1"||9th|
|Weight||282 lbs||4th||285 lbs||7th|
|40 Yard Dash||~4.80s||96th||4.68s||98th|
|3 Cone Drill||7.57s||64th||7.11s||97th|
|20 Yard Shuttle||4.44s||85th||4.39s||89th|
|Bench Press||25 reps||33rd||35 reps||91st|
They're not exactly the same - Chemical X is absolutely bursting in virtually every athletic measure, whereas the newest Cowboy here is "only" excellent rather than off the charts - but the basic comp relates two players loaded with athletic tools but dramatically undersized. Who was prospect Chemical X? Aaron Donald.
Does this mean Odighizuwa is the next Donald? Hardly! Donald was a unicorn with both an unprecedented athletic profile and monster production, neither of which Odighizuwa or anyone else lives up to. But the point is that despite a profile that should have screamed a lock for the top 10 and threatened being a top overall pick, Donald's size got him written off by enough guys that he was typically seen as a mid-round pick going into his final college season before rising to an early Day Two guy early in the pre-draft process. Further examination and the combine woke the league up to Donald being a first round lock, and then the latest draft date in league history set up enough overexamination that Donald rose from being Dallas's projected pick in 2014 to going off the board even earlier...though still not early enough. The league as a whole doesn't know what to do with productive, athletic, undersized guys who otherwise would look like premium DTs (other notable names in this general zip code are Geno Atkins and Grady Jarrett), so teams that have a role that fits these talented tweeners stand to benefit. If it helps, know that Odighizuwa has been on the Day Two radar for the past calendar year, so it isn't as if he was a written-off tweener who only just emerged over the past couple of months.
Rookie Expectation: Immediate rotational role that could amount to part-time starter status
With a developed physical profile and excellent technique (such as hand and arm use), Odighizuwa is not expected to be someone with a lot of developmental upside. He's probably closer than most to being a finished product; between that and the role the Cowboys seemingly have ready for him to play, he should be able to slot in early and offer help.
Round 3, Pick 84 (overall): Chauncey Golston, DE, Iowa
The 2021 Cowboy draft class could prove a useful reminder that there is a difference between poor value and an outright "bad" pick, but there is no glossing over that Golston was a significant reach. As neither a physical specimen nor a monster college producer - more an overachiever than anything - he was figured to be a middle Day Three pick, with perhaps a few teams in love with him who would compete to snatch him up around round five. Even if Dallas suspected that Golston's stock might be higher than expected, wouldn't it have been better to call that bluff and move on to the next-best option if it proved to not be a bluff at all?
Fit/Need: Good, perhaps even better
Can it be inferred that Dallas has a specific role in mind for Golston? That would be a valid explanation for "reaching" on the player, if the team saw him as some not to miss out on and without any other analogue contingency prospects to turn to. Golston is almost a poor man's Odighizuwa, except his role appears to be DE first with a secondary ability to kick inside selectively rather than the other way around. There's no "bend" or explosive first step here, little ability to flatten out around the edge, no notable speed-to-power conversion, no stout anchor. What does Golston offer then? Beyond a decent all-around profile, he's another "length" guy in a class full of them, with height and wingspan plus good measureables in the easy-to-overlook broad jump and vertical; and he also, surprise surprise, has shown the ability to disrupt gaps. It would seem, then, that the plan is for Golston to be part of the run defense solution on the edge, using his exceptional reach as opposed to power or anchor to gum up running lanes. Add the ability to offer something in the interior pass rush, and the coaching staff likely sees him as another piece of the total puzzle in lieu of an upside individual talent.
Overview: It's not sexy...but that's an answer
The third round is still early enough to offer dreams of high floor contributions or a limitless ceiling trading off of longer odds of success. This is more door number three. If Golston is to prove worthy of going this high, he almost surely will have to live up to whatever role-based hopes the team has set for him. If he sees some snaps over various fronts this year, take that as a good sign, but there isn't much room for profit.
Rookie Expectation: Lending a hand in helping execute the Quinn scheme
There is a solid chance that Golston will be largely buried as a rookie, but if he indeed ends up serving a purpose in Dallas sooner or later he should be able to provide something that the roster would otherwise be missing. Keep an eye out for such focused roles, as opposed to a large bundle of reps.
Round 3, Pick 99 (overall): Nahshon Wright, CB, Oregon State
Value: Whoopie cushion/fart noise/sad trombone (aka Poor)
Let's look at it this way: while Daniel Jeremiah was not caught off guard and had his bit to say on Wright, NFL Network didn't even have any highlights to show about Wright. That may not be entirely fair - the issue is that Wright's lengthy (hope you didn't make a drinking game out of that word) physical profile is limited in the schemes it fits, and thus his league-wide grade was destined to be weaker than it would be for whichever team ended up drafting him. That still points to a peak draft spot of the fifth round and a bottom floor of an UDFA, and it's a wonder who Dallas thought it was competing with for Wright's services.
Fit/Need: Great (or bust)
The talk is that Wright represents a "Seattle-style boundary CB" starter kit. He has the height and length and acceptable speed for Quinn's desired press play. But Wright is very light, not explosive, tested with scary-poor agility and vertical numbers (0th percentile 20 yard shuttle), and managed only a handful of reps on the bench press. In other words, barring a massive evolution Wright would be limited to working off the sideline as a corner or else could line up in the deep third with the play unfolding in front of him. If Wright has any shot at sticking, he'd better prove to be exactly what Dan Quinn is looking for, meaning a perfect fit or an outright washout.
Overview: Nahshon? More like "nah", amiright? We're going reaching, through The Star and into Ford Center [gymnasium]
It's a silver lining that it's at least clear what the intent behind this draft choice is. Dan Quinn sees exactly the traits he wants from the next quality CB find in a Seattle-style defense, and after all, Richard Sherman was a relatively unheralded fifth round pick. But therein lies the rub: developmental trait-targeting reaches are for Day Three, and later Day Three at that. It's just hard to justify the lighting a hunk of draft capital on fire like this, though nobody will care if Wright works out. Then again, if he amounts to nothing this will make the Gavin Escobar pick seem like it was popular in its day.
Rookie Expectation: Use some of that round-boosted signing bonus money to invest in a comfortable cushion to use while inactive on the sideline
Unless Wright can carve himself a special teams role, look for him to need some time honing his craft before he is ready for defensive reps. Sure, Richard Sherman immediately hit the ground running his rookie year, but he had a much more extensive college track record.
Round 4, Pick 115 (overall): Jabril Cox, LB, LSU
Sources say that the Cowboys had Cox graded as a second-round level prospect, and going into draft weekend Cox had been figured as a slam-dunk Day Two guy. He also topped many "best available" lists going into Day Three and might be a universal nominee for league-wide "best value pick" lists, making this about as good as it gets.
Value player a part in this being a great fit, as all teams need depth at Linebacker for special teams and to deal with injuries and thus landing a highly regarded 'backer a bit later serves that purpose with great cost efficiency. Cox will never need to become a starter to still be capable of making good on this investment. Throw in Cox being highly regarded as a tough coverage guy at his position that often yields otherwise-strong prospects who have coverage flaws, and this selection covers a lot of bases. The position is now that much deeper, even while the rookie should feel minimal pressure to get into the defensive lineup early on.
Overview: A perfect piece to help bide time while Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch are evaluated
There are many who already want to see the selections of Parsons and Cox as signs that the Cowboys are done with their two big young-vet 'backers, but that thinking is likely premature. But Dallas must be prepared to be capable of moving on from both as soon as a year from now, and without Cox that would be intimidating. Yes, at this moment it would seem too crowded to hold on to both, but that would be a good "problem" to have and a bridge that need only be crossed when the team gets there. Cox may prove to never be a full-down starter anyways given potential run-game deficiencies, but he wouldn't be wasted if others force him into being "only" a super-sub.
Rookie Expectation: In the mix on defense while playing loads of special teams
For all intents and purposes, Cox replaces what Joe Thomas has been the past three years, and he does so at an even cheaper cap impact and with upside to be so much more. The positional learning curve isn't bad either, so he could easily see more playing time than either of the previous 2+ names in this rookie Cowboy group.
Round 4, Pick 138 (overall): Josh Ball, OT, Marshall
This was about the point when NFL teams see a last call on OTs who have a shot at being a high quality swing OT or even developmental starter, and that's precisely what Ball is supposed to bring to the table. Yes, many had him ranked lower than that, but that stems from a certain red flag (more on that in a moment) that both impacted Ball's college career itself and also continued to directly hold his stock down as part of the pre-draft process. On a purely football basis, more than one expert has cited Ball as a top-100 overall prospect in this class.
The Cowboys very much needed to land at least a mid-round developmental OT with a good chance at serving the swing OT role in 2022 and having the upside to be a quality starter on the left side. In that regard, Ball is a great fit. He was an excellent college performer, barely allowing even any pressures, and brings light enough feet and flexibility and the arm reach to be a traditional LT. That would-be great fit has to be downgraded to good, however, due to Ball's off-the-field issues. If there are underlying personality problems behind his history, it may only be a matter of time before an incident that gets him kicked to the curb...or perhaps he simply will rub teammates the wrong way. The leash needs to be short and low tolerance in his case, but the potential is there.
Overview: Hope that the past is in the past and sincere growth has occurred
It would be best here to tread carefully on the nature of Ball's past incidents. Domestic Violence is terrible when it definitely occurs, and the uncertainty of the nature of incidents makes it challenging to identify. Ball's alleged guilt includes a lot of "smoke" hinting at fire: school dismissal, statements by the alleged victim, and a protective court order. But the lack of charges means it also goes to far to tattoo a crimson "DV" on Ball's forehead. Hopefully, what truly, specifically happened was closer to a toxic relationship with issues from both parties, and if not and Ball is guilty of wrongs he hopefully has bettered himself. For anyone who might be strongly turned off by this pick, recall that most NFL fans would eagerly accept landing the next Tyreek Hill or Frank Clark, and yet at this same draft stage of their careers they were in a similar position as Ball. Ideally, his professional career will be all about football and he will stay on the straight and narrow both publicly and privately going forward. If he can do that, he profiles to be capable of a Doug-Free-like career, fitting given that Free was the team's most recent fourth round OT drafted.
Rookie Expectation: Few if any snaps played, if the Football Gods have mercy on us
Ty Nsekhe should rock the swing OT role for 2021, meaning that if Ball is needed Dallas would be dealing with multiple injuries at OT. Again. Let's not have that happen, eh? Ball's job is get up to speed with the pro game and prepare for a larger role in a year.
Round 5, Pick 179 (overall): Simi Fehoko, WR, Stanford
The Cowboys followed up one value-worthy pick with another, grabbing the size and speed traits Fehoko where he belonged: late enough given the many aspects of his game that need work, but before someone else took a shot at this profile that was better than an end-draft option. The team will be able to afford him failing to make the roster, should its curse of the failed fifth rounders continue, but he has enough tools to be able to avoid that fate.
With the defense needing as much help as it did, it was preferable to wait on taking any shots at receiver even with Michael Gallup a year away from free agency. The hope for any investment would be to find a guy with something to offer down-roster in 2021 while holding enough developmental upside to conceivably crack the team's top 4 wideouts in 2022. Fehoko looks to be just that. With his size and corresponding strength, he should be able to contribute on special teams right away, with his top speed also setting him up as a noteworthy special teams coverage man who offensively could attack downfield or break gains when given a seam. Fehoko's top end speed is not instant, which along with other limitations is why he has yet to demonstrate consistent separation in his routes, but it pops on tape once he does get going. But it does set him up to be something like the receiver equivalent of Blake Jarwin, lower on the reads totem pole but able to make defenses pay with a big play if they fall asleep.
Overview: Let's go shopping at Pet Cats R Us
Fehoko already comes off as very likeable, and that is before he announced to the world that he has Cowboy childhood roots. This all aligns with the standout item in his non-football profile: a two-year mission stint before attending Stanford, which helpfully has left Fehoko only a little overaged. He's far from a sure thing, but he doesn't have to be a true starting-level receiver to have a place in today's passing NFL. Watch for him to carve out an early role and we'll see where he goes from there.
Rookie Expectation: The end of Noah Brown's time on the roster?
Brown has been the classic late-round "success" story - not someone to write home about and a name few if any non-Cowboy fans would know, but someone who has helped fill out special teams while giving his here-and-there receiver snaps and production. But Brown appears to be about capped out in terms of development, and now his veteran salary is climbing and not quite as much a bargain as it has been. Fehoko sets up a perfect refresh, with physical and tested measurables that are equal or better (some notably better) virtually across the board. Fehoko moves better, and with a bit more height and larger hands could prove better at plucking the ball above defenders than Brown has managed, while having more YAC potential too.
Round 6, Pick 192 (overall): Quinton Bohanna, NT, Kentucky
A common misconception in the modern NFL is that defenses still need to have a big guy in the middle of the defensive line in order to stop the run (more on that in a moment). While these NTs can still have a role, like the SAM Linebacker they have become more of a part-time, even option position - correspondingly, they also have seen their collective draft stocks shift. Big men who used to go early on routinely slide and end up more in the middle rounds, and former projectable mid-round contributors can be grabbed even in the late rounds. One benefit of this is that a team that wants to add a NT to the mix can do so with real odds of success without devoting much draft capital to the move. Bohanna's grade placed him right around this pick (hence the Solid), but the position itself can be a value choice (hence the Good). Take a pass rusher or DB in the sixth round, and you're crossing your fingers that the guy might have something; take a NT, and you can expect him to be ready to tie up blockers if you don't deviate from using such a guy.
This Unclear isn't meant to be taken fully literally. It couldn't be more clear that Bohanna is here to gum up the blocking of opposing offenses. What could use clarity is how such a piece will fit into the scheme overall. A NT like Bohanna is almost certain to be a major liability against the pass - the question is, will he see real rotational use, be on the roster in a marginalized capacity a la Jamize Olawale in his time in Dallas as a "Fullback", or will the front office and Dan Quinn change their minds and decide he isn't worth the roster spot? Until we see the Quinn defense in action, Bohanna is more a shot in the dark than anything else.
Overview: Beefcake! Beefcake!!!
You wanted a mountain in the middle in Dallas? Here he is! Bohanna is no panacea player, and he has technique work to do (the consensus is that he plays too high when engaged and thus too often loses the leverage battle), but here is two-gapping NT that has been desired for so long. Some have waived off the investment for being a late-rounder, but again, a high-round expenditure wasn't needed to get this kind of guy in the mix. Indeed, part of the reason the team's seeming prior refusal to take any NT of any quality was so frustrated was because the devaluation of the position meant it could take the occasional shot without it amounting to a commitment or waste of the player didn't make the roster. This is a good start, though don't get too attached until he shows enough role fulfillment to be in the good graces of the coaching staff.
Rookie Expectation: Spotted more often than Bigfoot or Elvis, at least
The roster is no lock, but the fact that Bohanna is even here points to Dallas's intent to use a NT at times. If so, and if Bohanna makes the roster at all, it has to be imagined that he'll have a collection of snaps slated for his use.
Round 6, Pick 227 (overall): Israel Mukuamu, DB, South Carolina
Every year there will be some names that were penciled in by the media to be taken on Day Two or early Day Three and yet ended up going very late or not at all. Add Mukuamu to that mix! At this time a year ago, Mukuamu was seen as a worthy partner to Jaycee Horn as a college dynamic duo at corner, and there was even talk of him cracking the first round. Those projections were always probably too aggressive given Mukuamu's narrower scheme fit (another length guy, take a drink!), but he was seen as an appealing prospect of his type. And yet, there he was for the taking as the seventh round approached.
Similar to Bohanna, Mukuamu's upcoming usage has some fogginess to it, but the way his physical profile fits the team's general scheme desires and Dallas's want for more DBs makes him a potential boon. There is already talk of him being utilized as a Safety, and it's worth highlighting that Mukuamu actually was recruited out of high school as such before South Carolina set him on the outside instead.
Overview: Another worthy pet cat candidate with a real chance to stick
It isn't hard to see why Mukuamu isn't for every team. Not all schemes draw value from length on the extreme end, and that body type usually comes with a drain on acceleration, agility, recovery speed, etc. But he gives the Cowboys another piece of the right sort of clay to work on, and his experience at CB and S increases his chances of landing well somewhere. If he could become even just a rotational contributor or reliable backup, that would mean a success. It's a shame Dallas wasn't able to keep him teamed up with his college partner, but there could be something here.
Rookie Expectation: None
This one is about as wide open as it gets. Mukuama could wash out entirely, be handed a ticket to the practice squad, work hard from the inactive list, play special teams and other depth roles, or even get pressed into duty at some point as a starter.
Round 7, Pick 238 (overall): Matt Farniok, OG, Nebraska
This is a classic case of a post-draft priority free agent that an NFL team will use a 7th round pick on to make sure to land. The odds are against Farniok sticking, but he has his shot and isn't unworthy.
With Joe Looney still (and potentially forevermore) off the roster, the Cowboys have no backup OC and one option fewer at OG. While the team's threesome of dedicated Guards offers sufficient options in the short term, there was still room for Dallas to add someone into the mix who offers flexibility across the OL interior. That's precisely what Farniok has to offer. Whether he's skilled and talented enough to carve out a successful NFL playing career is in question, as should be expected from a late round pick, but he has a profile Dallas could use.
Overview: How could you not like an experienced two-time captain from Nebraska?
Farniok has size, strength, and plenty of reps all along the OL to be a nice depth piece. He's seen as a hard worker, and hasn't waited for the official beginning of his professional career to further his development, as he's melted off some weight even while continuing to add muscle (something he says has him feeling smoother in his movement). Let's wish him luck!
Rookie Expectation: If you don't have something nice to say...
If we're being frank, odds are that Farniok doesn't make the final 53 at the end of training camp. And that's okay! It's unlikely that he would be poached at least this first time around if the Cowboys try to place him on the practice squad, and it's easy to imagine him being placed there. Given him a "rookie" season to work on his craft and learn the pro ropes, and then let's reassess next offseason.
Overall Draft Class Summary
Leading into the draft, I wrote a post on what Dallas's "Christmas list" might look like. With the selections behind us, we can look back and see what has been covered and what might still be a concern. Note that entries within a level are in order of strength of desire, left to right.
This was a "need" in the literal sense, meaning that Dallas had to make a major investment here for both the medium term (aka clear starter upside) and the short term (high floor, NFL readiness, etc) due to a hole in the depth chart as well as only one confident longer-term guy in place. The Cowboys absolutely nailed down the medium term necessity, though how well the present starting role is filled is very much up in the air.
Priority Targets: Safety, Left Tackle, Defensive Tackle, Defensive End
Almost there, with one current gaping hole that might have been sneakily filled after all. LT needed a developmental prospect and looks to have that; if a year from now Tyron Smith has reached his end, Dallas could then enter the draft with the position as a high-round priority. The DL picks somewhat defy traditional DE/DT classifications, but overall the front pulled in a nice group of assorted pieces to mix and match for the greatest impact. A lot of what happens to the 2021 defense will come down to the fate of the deep safety that has such a key role in a traditional Quinn scheme. Technically, no dedicated investment was made there, but some of the pieces could be put into the position's mix.
Upgrade Opportunities: Center, Linebacker, Tight End, (Backup) Quarterback
Most of these went untouched, with one dominating exception. Dallas didn't need to do much of anything at LB if the right opportunities weren't there, and instead of the position got a jolt from the defibrillator. Now, the Cowboys will be able to field an overhauled second level lineup if the young vets continue to wash out, but if a rebound from those same vets occurs this could be a defense-defining group. Otherwise, only OC was even potentially touched, and that's with a long-shot who is more OG than OC anyways.
Others: Wide Receiver, Offensive Guard, (Slot) Cornerback, Running Back, Special Teams
WR didn't call even for an upgrade, but adding a guy who can help in other roles early on and potentially step in for one of multiple departure candidates for next offseason was wise. Depth was added on the interior OL, and while a pure slot CB wasn't taken the number of "outside" CB candidates means those already on the roster who were suited for the slot can focus all the more there.
The Cowboys did what they most needed to do, hitting up the secondary multiple times with scheme fits while also restocking a shallow DL and, most importantly, snagging a defender with an impact profile. While many of the players taken do not individually stand out as having been the most desired guys on the board when they were each taken, collectively this group has the feel of the 2005 Dallas Cowboy class that had a plan behind it and indeed became the bedrock of the specific defense the coaches at the time wanted to run. That group had multiple pieces who did not garner much widespread acclaim even as they succeeded in their roles; that is what should be looked for this time around too, with better results overall than just the sum of the parts if the right guys were taken.
-Over the final pre-draft stretch, there seemed to be a growing sentiment that the chalk/vanilla route of grabbing Jaycee Horn or Patrick Surtain II was an uninspiring way to go. That might have been overthinking things, and in the wake of the draft there is plenty of reason to believe that the Cowboys most wanted this boring-but-obvious outcome to unfold. Really, the team's ideal might have been that first round high-end CB followed up by a coverage FS...most especially Jevon Holland? Every single true S prospect, highlighted by three most appealing names, was still on the board with just 8 picks to go before Dallas's second rounder (44), and then just like that all three were snapped up. From there? It was another 20 picks before the next guy (Cisco, not a worthy candidate for 44) was taken, and from there only one more S went in the next whopping 77 picks! In another reality, a small tweak to what other teams do would have dropped Surtain and then Moehrig into Dallas's laps, and the target of merging draft value and need would have been underway! The best laid plans...
-It would be a fair sentiment to question why the team wasn't more aggressive in executing the above plan, assuming that was as the team had in mind. Unfortunately, a trade-up for a CB was quite clearly untenable. With Carolina (pick 8) and Denver (pick 9) confidently snatching the two standout CBs even as they surely were FIELDing calls for trade-ups, the Cowboys would have needed to jump to at least #7 to get one of its men - but with Penei Sewell on the board there, that would have meant paying the Penei Sewell price to motivate Detroit out of that spot, not to mention that in such a Dallas the Cowboys would have been better off just taking Sewell. Really, the only way it was in the cards for the Cowboys to get their CB in a sensible way was right at 10, and while the teams ahead of Dallas were projected by many to go a way other than they did the Cowboys were always beholden to their whims.
-Well, what about pick 44 and the Safeties? Had Horn or Surtain already been in the fold, I would very much agree that Dallas should have made a firm effort to move up; it had the ammo to get its guy (assuming it had one) at the other secondary position without kneecapping the rest of the draft class, and given that clearly the options outside of that tier were not team targets it was now or never. But...Dallas had not yet secured a CB as 44 approached, and that changed a lot. Move up for the Safety, and now the fate of the team's blinking light need would have been really up in the air as it could not know the quality of those available later on and would have that many fewer picks to take some shots. The team could have taken that chance if it would have landed the Safety without surrendering other picks, going quantity instead of quality, but the team sensibly felt that it was better to stay put and take Joseph at no added cost than it was to put a handful of eggs into the basket of a single (high) Safety.
-This might be the most telling single graphic in helping explain what the Cowboys have in mind with these prospects:
I don't see it as a coincidence that the Cowboys grabbed two of the top five defenders from the Senior Bowl. I can see either of two explanations (or both at once) for what the team was thinking here:
1) Whatever it is that appeals to Dallas in the profiles of these players was further confirmed by the Senior Bowl. In other words, it's not so much that the performances spoke to the Cowboys, but rather the ways these two performaned in the game better alerted the football world to what could already have been seen on tape.
2) Given the disrupted college season of this past year, Dallas might have put extra weight on the Senior Bowl for filling in gaps and offering a more reliable, apples-to-apples data point off of which to work.
We'll see whether such thinking is borne out in the future results of these two, but if true it's an interesting way to approach the handicap of the pandemic.
-My sleeper "value" pick of this class (the objective overall value pick is undeniably Cox): Odighizuwa. That should come as no surprise, but even beyond what has already been discussed there is so much to like about him as a future success of some notable degree. How do you not like having a former top-ranked, rare-to-lose wrestling champ in the trenches, given the vital parts played by leverage, hand use, etc? While Odighizuwa's bench reps were nothing special for an interior lineman, he has put up other huge weight room numbers such as with squats. The motor always runs hot, and it's worth noting that he has an almost spotless injury history; word is he never even missed a single practice at UCLA.
-If Odighizuwa's name sounds familiar, that's because his brother was taken only one draft slot higher in the 2015 class. Should it be a concern that brother Owa only played in parts of a couple of seasons before washing out of the league? Actually, it's quite the opposite, as the two are very different in many ways and Owa apparently has worked to guide his youngest brother throughout his football career (and life). Owa's biggest issue as a pro and even in college was injuries, and Osa credits that lesson as the source behind his efforts to do what he can to control and even avoid injuries. Whereas Owa was taller and very much a pure DE prospect - and entering the league was rather raw in terms of his pass rush approach - Osa is shorter and yet bigger and has been steadily productive. Owa also struggled with mental issues (as you can read more about here; I can't recommend the article enough) stemming from his football struggles as well as a crazy-tough youth. Not only has Osa not been in the same boat, but he has also developed a determination to serve as a resource in the locker room for anyone who might be going through such troubles. He's going to be easy to root for!
-One last item on Odighizuwa, this time pure football: looking with more focus into his tape now that he's a Cowboy, I couldn't help but be struck by how well he uses his body, especially his hands, to do something on plays. He seems to clearly outplay his lack of size, again in a poorer man's version of what Aaron Donald does. Check out this video of pass rush/blocking drills during Senior Bowl practices - I don't think anyone looked more impressive in those drills, which pairs nicely with his performance in the game itself. My single favorite rep of his actually at a glance seems less impressive than some others, but that's why it speaks well to me. At 3:54 in the video, he sees almost a double-team look off the snap and ends up engaged by Dillon Radunz (who is in good position); rather than flail helplessly, or turn to a usual "go to" move that would have little chance of succeeding in that situation, Odighizuwa near-instantly converts from hand-fighting to a pure power stance and drives Radunz back a good five yards. That is the sort of "little thing" that adds up over the course of a pro career; as players usually will be facing amply-talented opponents, what they do when the other guy is playing well can be even more important than how well they exploit an opportunity. Odighizuwa's pocket push probably wouldn't cause a sack, but it would have a good chance of preventing a QB from stepping up in the pocket and this disrupt the play even perhaps without be assigned a "pressure". When you hear about a physically-talented pass rusher "lacking a plan" or struggling with instincts, it's the absence of what Odighizuwa shows in his reps in this video. I'll be on the lookout for as much tape on him as I can find, but it isn't hard to see that he has plenty of tools in the disruption tool box, multiple approaches, and the feel for those approaches to know when to use them.
-A side note: I had a lot of fun watching that clip, along with the corresponding version for the American team, and anyone with the time and inclination should watch them. Getting to see guys in "real" situations, but with a focus instead of the distraction of an entire game around them, really helps highlight what rushers and blockers bring to the table. From my viewing of the two videos, here are some things that stood out to me (primarily for names that were of interest to the Cowboys or the league as a whole):
- Patrick Jones II looks waaaay too easy to handle
- Creed Humphrey is the one blocker who seemed to hold up evenly to Odighizuwa
- Robert Hainsey looked solid, but not like a star
- James Hudson III was not comfortable to watch. His anchor seemed light as a feather, and his upper and lower body don't seem aligned in how they work against a pass rusher
- Dillon Radunz has some nuances to work on, but his general technique seemed very solid
- Quinn Meinerz gives early ground in the pass pro, though he seemed to be reliable with recovery to avoid a defeat. If I were a DC, I'd look to exploit that by planing some twists and blitzes that shoot into the lanes created by the opening. Conversely, if Meinerz can get that first step under control, he might be tough to beat
- Alex Leatherwood might struggle to handle outside rushers. Further confirmation that RT is the place for him
- Quincy Roche is undersized, but is quick and have to like his post-rep hustle, keep an eye on him (was drafted in the 6th round by the Steelers...I'll be keeping an eye on him)
- Carlos Basham Jr. seemed hit or miss, neither impressive nor unimpressive
- Marvin Wilson's arms look short, he has push but struggles to disengage from a blocker
- Payton Turner never stops coming, very fun to watch
- (New Cowboy alert!) Chauncey Golston does not have the appearance of a natural pass rusher, in keeping with broad expectations
- D'Ante Smith seems very light in the pants
-I'm not big on identifying a pet cat every year (let the draft come to me, even for pet cats, heh), but I think I have one in Simi Fehoko. Unlike with Odighizuwa, it's not that I'm expecting more from him than his draft spot so much as I'm hoping he succeeds. He seems like a fun guy with a positive personality for a locker room, and he has the tools to be a guy of worth.
-I think the rumors of the demise of Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch are premature. To be absolutely clear, they are each definitely on watch and the Cowboys have done well to give the team the flexibility to not depend on keeping either, but it's too early to even declare for sure that at least one will be off the team by this time next year. Possible? Oh yes, and I'd go as far as to say probable, as it would be hard to pay LVE while continuing to pay JSmith. But a few things here:
1) The kind of defense Dallas wants to build should have two three-down types with big-play talent at the position, and quality depth is important too given snap rotations, mixing-and-matching skill sets, and injuries. It's way too early to figure that Parsons and Cox will be those two starters in 2022, with the depth held by...another rookie? No, I'd wager that Dallas intends on one of JSmith and LVE to be a partner in crime with Parsons for a few years, with Cox also working in as much as his performance demands.
2) Dallas needs 2021 to figure out which of the two will be that guy. Having both in the fold in the meantime could help the defense climb to a positive place.
3) It isn't impossible for Dallas to keep both. Yes, if LVE balls out and requires an All Pro contract and JSmith justifies his current deal there would not be room to pay both and still afford the rest of the team, but let's say Smith rebounds and LVE does well enough to earn a solid contract - if the team sees an upward trend from them, that's affordable enough for what can be offered. And how do the pieces all fit on the field? Surely Neal (and his solid salary) would be out of the picture, and from there for example Parsons could man the middle, LVE could operate as a playmaker from WLB, and JSmith can be the SAM in three-LB looks and get plenty of pass rush reps in the Nickel. That's the path to affordability: if Parsons plus Smith together equal an effective pass rusher, Dallas wouldn't need a pricely/elite talent bookend opposite Demarcus Lawrence. If Smith becomes an effective hybrid SAM and LEO rusher, he can be worth his money and evolve to more than "just" an off-the-ball LBer. Am I predicting this outcome? Nah. But it's still possible.
-In the aftermath of a draft with one painful reach and arguable additional reaches, it seems to have been lost just what the Cowboys currently have in hand at the Linebacker position. Cowboy fans want to see a transformed defense with some impact playmakers, and here we are with a statement that can be fairly made: the Cowboys have the clear most-talented LB room in the league, by far. Not "best", mind you, but there is pure talent and upside coming out of their ears. Both LVE and JSmith have proved in the past that they can be among the best three-down 'backers in the NFL, Parsons is being talked up as a potential three-down All Pro, Neal is a pedigree and performance guy who should be able to tackle and cover aplenty, and then Cox will just be chillin' down the depth chart ready to play his part. If the team "even" just sees the reasonable outcome of a good year of Parsons (mixing in impact plays with some mistakes) with a rebound from one of the two young vets and some nice help from the other and Neal, that would be one of the top-performing second layers in the league and the kind of help that could prove to be the heartbeat of an effective defense. Yes, LB isn't as valuable all else being equal as DL or DB, but that doesn't mean that it can't drive a defense to success. Again, I'm not betting on that being the outcome, but having it in play gives a realistic path to the success Cowboy fans want to experience in 2021 - and in any year, really!
-Yes, I did select that picture for Wright's entry on purpose. Even I get boarded sometimes. Do you think I had a choice? ;-)
-Here's to this draft class helping to create a fun, exciting, big-winning season for the 2021 Dallas Cowboys and all of the team's fans!