The Dallas Cowboys had the most draft picks of any NFL team this year with eleven. They went particularly hard after defensive talent, using eight of those selections on that side of the ball to help Dan Quinn upgrade a dismal 2020 performance.
While this time of year is always optimistic, we also have to be realistic. Very few draftees come in and immediately make major contributions. First-round picks frequently become day-one starters, but that is certainly not assured. Here is a rundown of all the picks vying to earn the Star on their helmets and what we might expect from them.
LB Micah Parsons
As the 12th overall selection, Parsons is clearly a candidate to earn a starting job early this season, if not by the season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In OTAs and the minicamps, he did nothing at all to dissuade us that he will do so. As practices progressed, he was seen working at all three linebacker positions and as a designated pass rusher. He was good in both phases of the game. After the very disappointing display we saw from the linebacking corps last fall, there is certainly opportunity for Parsons. Expect him to get a couple of picks, five or so sacks, and a boatload of tackles.
COMP: Leighton Vander Esch. While he has struggled the past couple of seasons with injuries and the general malaise under Mike Nolan, he was excellent his first year. Parsons should be similar, and with good health should at least be in the conversation for DROY. And hopefully he will not see any drop off during his rookie contract.
CB Kelvin Joseph
Things have not gone well for the second-round pick, who was not in the best shape when he reported for rookie minicamp and then missed much of the OTAs while in COVID quarantine. He has a lot of catching up to do in training camp. Hopefully the “rookie school” Mike McCarthy is holding this week will help him. Still, there are certainly warning signs to concern us.
COMP: Trysten Hill. Joseph will be low on the depth chart to start the season, and will probably not climb it much. The best outcome will likely be for him to blossom in his second year the way Hill was before his injury cut his 2020 season short.
DT Osa Odighizuwa
The first of the team’s three third-rounders looked good, but lineman are hard to evaluate in non-contact practices. He is probably going to be in some kind of rotation with Neville Gallimore and Hill as a 3T, with low snap counts that will climb as he adjusts to the pro game. He’s not a contender to become a starter early, or this year at all. He will make contributions, however. Just don’t look for a big stat line.
COMP: Gallimore. He had to work his way into the mix last year, but was starting with growing effectiveness due to the shortage of talent in the interior of the defense, especially after Hill’s injury. Look for a similar arc from Odighizuwa, if not as high as the team also stocked up on IDL in free agency.
DE Chauncey Golston
Golston is a hard projection, because his eventual role is a bit up in the air. An EDGE coming out of Iowa, his size would indicate that he might be a DPR. But there are indications that the team is looking at him more as a 3-4 DE who is more useful on early downs to make sure the run is stopped. In any case, with all the additions on the defensive line, he is probably going to be a depth player for this season.
COMP: Tyrone Crawford. The word coming out of the OTAs shows that he may be used in more than one role over time. His size would make you think he has some pass rush ability if he kicks outside, while the desire to use him in that 3-4 role shows some thought to flexibility. This all might clarify and change during camp, so he is one player to watch for clues about how he will fit.
CB Nahshon Wright
His selection as Dallas’ last third-round pick was met with some consternation. Most draftniks thought he would go much later. This appears to have been driven by Dan Quinn. He fits the the preferred profile the DC has to a tee. Long and athletic, he helped himself in the OTAs, and the data is more reliable for secondary players in those controlled practices. He also had an opportunity with the reps freed up in Joseph’s absence in so many practices, and he seized it. That is another plus for him. Late in the season, don’t be surprised if he notches a couple of picks, or at least some PBUs.
COMP: Chidobe Awuzie. Look for Wright to flash in camp and preseason, and be in the conversation for a starting job. Don’t expect that to happen this year unless the dreaded “i” word forces it, but by the end of his rookie deal, Wright could well be a fixture in the starting lineup.
LB Jabril Cox
The OTAs were a bit quieter for Cox, which is not a terrible thing for a fourth-round pick. When he was taken, there was almost immediate hope that he and Parsons would become the starting duo in place of Jaylon Smith and Vander Esch.
That roll definitely needs to be slowed. Free agent Keanu Neal is much more likely to move into a starting job early even being converted from safety. Right now Cox looks to be the fifth linebacker on the roster, and will probably make his biggest contributions on special teams - for now.
COMP: Jourdan Lewis. Like him, Cox is going to have to prove his value. He does seem poised to be an answer if the team elects to move on from either Smith or Vander Esch anytime soon. Neal is also on a one-year deal in reality, so that is another path forward for Cox to break through.
OT Josh Ball
The Cowboys accepted a big red flag over character issues with Ball. That is concerning, but it also may have allowed the team to get a real steal as far as talent. His biggest challenge is that there are some strong contenders for the swing tackle job, which is the best Ball could hope for as long as Tyron Smith and La’el Collins are healthy. Ty Nsekhe was brought in specifically to shore up the position, while Brandon Knight and Terence Steele both grew tremendously in their baptism of fire last season. The latter two have a reservoir of goodwill with the coaching staff from that. For Ball to make the roster, the team may have to carry two backup tackles into the season. He is the first draftee that the team might seriously consider trying to get through to the practice squad. If so, those character concerns might work in Dallas’ favor.
COMP: Knight. Even though Knight was a UDFA, he showed how a stint on the PS one year does not preclude becoming a starter the next. We certainly don’t want to see a similar circumstance, but the same can be applied to the swing tackle role, which is also a vital spot to fill.
WR Simi Fehoko
Dallas only carried five wideouts last season. Given the importance of the passing game and the unpredictability of injuries, it is not a bad bet that they will have six this year, and Fehoko is the early leader for that spot. He would not be expected to see much action on offense, but his talents should make him very valuable on kick and punt coverages. And if John Fassel wants to employ some trickeration on the Cowboys’ own returns, Fehoko could be a weapon that way.
COMP: Cedrick Wilson. Fehoko is another player who should slowly but steadily climb the depth chart, and has a real shot at becoming one of the top three someday, given how parsimonious the team can be in re-signing their own free agents. That is, of course, dependent on him being what the team thinks he is, and showing growth.
DL Quinton Bohanna
Seeing the team finally acquire a true nose tackle body in the draft warmed all the cockles of my heart. It would seem that there has to be a role for him on a defense that just got bullied in the run game so many times last year. He is by nature going to be a role player for as long as he’s with the team, and will have to prove he is more valuable as a very limited alternative to the more traditional DTs on the roster. How much of a traditional 3-4 Quinn’s defense actually uses is another variable. If he does make the 53, he will never have much in the way of stats, since his job would be to make the others around him better by eating up blockers.
COMP: There really isn’t. It has been so long since Dallas had a player like this that it is rather irrelevant. He is a new creature for them. He is another player that they might get on the PS, given how few NFL teams are likely to be interested in claiming a NT off waivers.
S Israel Mukuamu
He most recently was a cornerback in college, but the team has made it clear that he is intended to be a safety for Quinn. It can also be inferred that his best spot would be to back up Demontae Kazee as a free safety. Given the latter’s injury history, that could make Mukuamu very valuable indeed if he performs well in camp. Production is difficult to project, though, without a better idea of how much he is used on defense. He is another, however, who can lock up a roster spot with strong ST work.
COMP: Xavier Woods. Part of that is linked to the aversion the front office has for using anything higher than a sixth-round pick on safety. But it is also reflects how Woods was more solid than excellent, which may be more reflective of Mukuamu’s ceiling. With Woods moving on in free agency, Mukuamu may have always been intended to be his replacement. If he contributes as much as Woods did over his contract, Mukuamu is a win.
OL Matt Farniok
It may be an uphill battle for this rookie. But the depth in the interior of the offensive line is much less than at tackle, and he also brings position flexibility after having started at all five positions in his career at Nebraska. His chances of making the team may be better than most seventh-rounders.
COMP: Joe Looney. Yes, that is high praise, indeed, and this is not to say Farniok is going to be as good as Looney. But the rookie may already be the main backup to center Tyler Biadasz, and with Connor McGovern may give Dallas all the depth it believes it needs for interior of the line, as well as having that emergency tackle potential. The best outcome for the team would be for Farniok to be a career backup with some spot starts along the way, but that is not a bad way to have a decent NFL career.