When it comes to the Dallas Cowboys 2021 draft class, they’ve already won. When you pick a player with the skills of Micah Parsons, you’ve won. If his first-year trajectory is any indication, the Cowboys got a superstar, a game-changer, a future Defensive Player of the Year, and maybe much more. The ceiling for Parsons is in rarified air.
But, that’s just one player. He can only carry a draft class so far. The Cowboys did get quality contributions from Osa Odighizuwa, but no one else really impressed in 2021. There were some who look like in the next year or two they will make an impact, but Parsons and Odighizuwa carried the banner for the 2021 season.
As such, when it came to PFF’s 2021 draft class rankings, the Cowboys didn’t crack the top 10. Not enough players who contributed. Here was their criteria.
If Player X and Player Y have similar seasons, the production from Player Y, taken in the sixth round, is much more valuable than the production a team gets from Player X if he’s a first-rounder.
With the help of Pro Football Focus’ Wins Above Replacement (WAR) metric, we ranked all 32 teams on the value of their rookie class over expectation given where each player was selected in the 2021 NFL draft.
Valuable positions like quarterback can help skew the rankings when WAR is involved, and the Cowboys didn’t hit on any offensive difference-makers. Parsons is a star, but he doesn't play a position that is valued high in WAR methodology.
The Cowboys ended up 12th.
12. Dallas Cowboys
Why they’re ranked here: Micah Parsons had a Defensive Player of the Year kind of season. He’s the type of hybrid player capable of moving between the defensive line as an elite pass-rusher or dropping into coverage as an off-ball linebacker at a high level. Osa Odighizuwa had 37 pressures on the defensive line, the second-most among rookies on the interior.
How their top pick fared: Parsons made one of the biggest impacts of any rookie in years. An injury crisis along the defensive line forced Dallas to ask him to rush the passer for a few games, and he turned out to be devastating in that capacity, finishing the season with the best pressure rate (22.6%) of any pass-rusher at any position. Parsons was then given a hybrid role within the defense, deployed rushing the passer from the defensive line or playing man coverage against backs and tight ends downfield in coverage. He finished the season with an 89.3 PFF grade overall and 93.0 as a pass-rusher.
Best value pick: It’s crazy to say given how high he was drafted, but Parsons was still an absolute steal as the 12th overall pick in the draft, providing the kind of value that only the best defensive players in the game — at any position — provide.
Looking forward, there is hope some of the rest of this class will blossom.
Corner Kelvin Joseph had a positive few games once he finally made it onto the field. He should be in the mix for playing time in the Cowboys’ 2022 secondary.
Defensive lineman Chauncey Golston proved he is a good reserve player capable of playing multiple positions on the line.
It was unfortunate linebacker Jabril Cox was injured because once the team released Jaylon Smith he would have seen increased playing time. He has the skillset to be an impact player.
Quinton Boahana carved out a minor role on the defense as a reserve player who specializes against the run.
The rest still have a chance, but will need to get in the mix in 2022.
The Cowboys are probably hoping that Joseph and Cox capitalize on their potential and create a great draft class that will be remembered for more than just Micah Parsons.