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The challenges facing the Cowboys’ late-round 2021 draft picks

The early picks are safe, but being in the latter part of the Cowboys draft puts these players at risk.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys Minicamp
How well can Israel Mukuamu make the switch to safety?
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

For young players, getting drafted by an NFL team is likely the highlight of their life so far. For those selected by the Dallas Cowboys, it is usually extra exciting to be coming to one of the glamour franchises in the league. That’s why they are on Hard Knocks, after all. And if they were good enough to be taken in the first half of the draft, they can feel pretty sure that they have a place reserved on the 53-man roster for them.

That isn’t exactly the case for late-rounders, of course. Getting taken on Day 3 is not much of a guarantee. And the later, the more precarious the situation. Training camp is full of pressure to prove they belong in the league. This year’s NFL Draft saw the Cowboys make the most selections of any team, eleven, which means there are several names that fall into this category.

This is something that Roy White and I discussed in detail on the latest episode of Ryled Up which you can listen to on the Blogging The Boys podcast network (and also right above this paragraph). Make sure to subscribe to the network (Apple devices right here or Spotify users right here) and to leave a rating and write a review!

There is no need to discuss the first six players Dallas took. All are fully expected to make the team due to the draft capital involved and the positions they play. But the last five have no real assurances.

Here are the takes:

OT Josh Ball (Round 4, pick 138)

After last year’s debacle, it can certainly be argued that you can’t have too many capable offensive tackles. It’s not true, of course. There are only 53 slots to cover all positions on the team, and Ball faces a real numbers crunch. Realistically you can carry at most two backups to the starters, and many teams including the Cowboys have often gone with just one swing tackle. Dallas has nine tackles on the roster heading into camp. It would be very difficult to justify carrying more than two backups for Tyron Smith and La’el Collins. Ball’s problem is that there are three players who should be better than a late-round small school rookie. Ty Nsekhe is an underappreciated free agent acquisition who may be a Joe Looney type of backup, if not possessing the same engaging personality. He certainly is more reassuring than what the team had after the rash of injuries early last season. And Brandon Knight and Terence Steele have essentially a full year starting. That is a big advantage over this rookie. Normally, being at the tail end of the fourth round as Ball was is fairly safe, but this is not the case this year.

The most important thing this year is protecting Dak Prescott. No matter how remote they might think the chances are of the second backup tackle making the field, they found out the hard way you can never say never. Are they willing to put the fate of the starting quarterback and the season in the hands of a rookie if things go south fast?

Tom’s prediction: I just don’t see them sticking with Ball over Nsekhe, Knight, and Steele. If he looks good in camp, he is a prime candidate to try and get to the practice squad. I believe that Issac Alarcón is still eligible for the international player exemption, so they can get good depth in reserve for emergency situations. In any case, Ball will not be on the first version of the 53-man roster.

Roy’s prediction: I agree, but partly because of the off field baggage Ball has. I think other teams are going to be hesitant about claiming him and opening up that can of worms, which Dallas has already gone through, so they should be able to get him on the PS.

WR Simi Fehoko (Round 5, pick 179)

At first glance, Fehoko seems to face the same kind of numbers crunch that Ball does. But apples and oranges, as the saying goes. While the five returning veteran wide receivers are all likely secure, that is something of a minimum number that a team can carry, and it is justifiable to go a bit deep at such a crucial position in the pass-heavy world of the NFL. Once again, Prescott is a driving factor. The team will want to make sure he has plenty of capable targets. Being a draft pick, even a later one, gives Fehoko a leg up. There is also the distasteful but undeniable reality that WR is a position that can take a hit in camp and preseason. All that is a good argument to keep Fehoko.

Further, during a recent Twitter discussion of him, Bryan Broaddus dropped this.

I know a team that wanted to draft when DAL took him. They might be forced to go long at some DEF spots and that might hurt his chances. So he needs a healthy camp and show up on teams.

Again, his fate may depend on going deep at WR despite those needs on defense.

Tom’s prediction: That interest elsewhere makes trying to get him to the PS dicey, so I think they find a spot to carry six just to keep Fehoko around as long as he has a good camp.

Roy’s prediction: Agree on him making the roster, because WR is one place where injuries do happen in camp. Hate to bring it up, but it is real.

DT Quinton Bohanna (Round 6, pick 192)

A real nose tackle is something the Cowboys have not had in a long, long time. He came out of college at 360 lbs, although reports from OTAs were that he was closer to 330 now. In either case, he is easily the biggest DT the team has. Dan Quinn is supposed to be incorporating 3-4 concepts, especially on early downs. That seems to favor Bohanna.

However, free agent Brent Urban could be a more flexible answer for that role. It may take the team sticking with Mike McCarthy’s preference for five DTs and five DEs on the roster to make room for Bohanna and he has to prove he is more valuable to the staff than Carlos Watkins as well.

Tom’s prediction: I was so excited to see Bohanna’s name called after how dreadful the Dallas run defense was last season. Still, there are reasons he was still available so late in the draft. I’ll still say that he makes the team. It’s not a highly confident call, however.

Roy’s prediction: Man, I am so disappointed in how rudely you are treating your pet cat. I am more confident than you are that Bohanna sticks, and if you aren’t careful, I’ll just come steal him.

CB Israel Mukuamu (Round 6, pick 227)

Right off the bat, Mukuamu faces an additional challenge in switching positions to safety for the Cowboys. It adds an additional layer to the long-established habit of the team in waiting until late in the draft to address a position that has long been a real need. Working in his favor is that Donovan Wilson and free agent addition Demontae Kazee seem like the only safeties that are locks to make the roster. Jayron Kearse is going to be a strong contender for the 53-man roster, and word from OTAs was that UDFA Tyler Coyle bears watching. Veterans Darian Thompson and Stephen Parker also have the advantage of being known to the head coach and special teams coordinator John Fassel, if not the new defensive staff. And we don’t know how many safeties they will carry.

Tom’s prediction: It would not be a bad idea to try and get Mukuamu on the practice squad for a year of learning and practice. But I just suspect management wants to prove to everyone that their refusal to invest much draft capital in the position works, and we will see a thumb on the scale to keep Mukuamu on the 53.

Roy’s prediction: Nope. You are right it would not be a bad idea to get him to the PS, and I think that is where he belongs. The way Reggie Robinson II was treated last year should be a lesson to the team to make sure a player is ready to be switched before they commit to him. A year on the PS is just what I’m expecting.

G Matt Farniok (Round 7, pick 238)

It is never a surprise if a seventh-rounder doesn’t make the grade. But Farniok has a couple of things going for him. First, while OT is overstocked at the moment, the interior of the offensive line is thin. The second thing is that he brings position flex to the table, having played all five positions at various times in his college career. With Connor McGovern the only proven backup between the tackles, this could be a great opportunity for Farniok.

Tom’s prediction: I really think he makes the team. His best shot is to prove he is a viable backup at center. Reports had him doing a lot of work there during OTAs, and I expect that to continue in camp.

Roy’s prediction: Sorry, can’t agree with you here either. I think they will look to one of the tackle candidates to move inside, with McGovern handling the backup center duties. Failing that, I would expect them to go through the waived players after final cuts to bolster the IOL.

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