With the Super Bowl now in the rear view and with the NFL Scouting Combine two weeks away, the NFL world turns their attention to college draft prospects and how to better their teams. 31 other franchises across the league are looking to build a board and create a roster with the idea of knocking the Kansas City Chiefs off their throne in 2023.
This is where we will start to hear and see just what these teams really think of some of these prospects as the mock drafts and rumblings in the leagues inner circle start to become more clear. The needs of these teams are well known at this point, and how these teams handle free agency will go a long way in telling us their draft plan.
1.26 DE, Nolan Smith, University of Georgia
6’3” 235 | Three sacks, six TFL in injured filled 2022 season.
Nolan Smith is an emotional leader on and off the field for the Georgia Bulldogs. Smith is viewed in high regard by his teammates and coaches as a dynamic leader in the locker room. He brings a level of energy that is not easily replicated. Smith became the starting OLB/EDGE for the Bulldogs in 2021. His impact was obviously felt early on, even on a defense with multiple NFL draft picks.
When studying Smith, the three words I wrote down to capture/describe his game were: physical, violent, and relentless. As a result, Smith is a difficult task to block in the run game, especially for tight ends. His full-body strength is on display consistently but his base is where it begins. Smith digs his feet into the turf and creates a nearly immovable object versus the run. I appreciate the ferocity he plays with because that is not a teachable trait—you either have it or you don’t. He approaches every play with a “you can’t block me” mentality and I love it. To add to his power and physicality, he is an explosive downhill athlete. His first step, when used properly, can propel him upfield and into action quickly. His athleticism is shown when asked to drop into coverage even in small instances but he does not look like a fish out of water.
Nolan Smith would be a stellar pick for the Dallas Cowboys. It does not initially address some of their biggest known needs, but in the NFL you can never have too many quality pass rushers and that is exactly what Smith is. Coming from a powerhouse program that runs their team like a pro organization already, while also playing in the SEC, would certainly help Smith step in and be comfortable in a situation like Dallas right away. The Cowboys weren’t necessarily looking for a defensive end in the first round, but when he is the best player left on the board with the only other real option here being Bijan Robinson, the running back from Texas, the Cowboys can feel good about turning in the card and getting a playmaker on day one with this selection.
2.58 CB, Eli Ricks, University of Alabama
6’2” 190 | 45.3 passer rating, 7 receptions allowed in 2022
In zone coverage, Ricks uses his natural football instincts and IQ to make plays on the football. Pre-snap, Ricks will consistently change alignments and give the quarterback multiple looks to make it difficult for the passer to know for sure what coverage he is in. At the snap, Ricks does a good job of reading the quarterback’s eyes and appears to have a high level of understanding of route concepts. This allows Ricks to plant and drive on routes and deflect passes or intercept them, making him a disruptive defender. Ricks has shown to have high-level ball skills and if he is around the ball, he has the ability to deflect or intercept it.
In man coverage, Ricks has the option of playing press or off coverage and appears to be comfortable playing both techniques. In press, Ricks does a good job mirroring receivers and being patient, not opening his hips and giving receivers an easy release. Ricks also likes to shoot his hands and play physically to throw off receivers’ timing and knock them off of their route. Ricks uses his length by throwing multiple punches within the contact window and disrupting the receiver. In most man-to-man situations, Ricks uses a trail technique to be in position to undercut any in-breaking routes and be in position to make a play on the football. On vertical routes, Ricks plays physically throughout the route, consistently making contact with the receiver and playing physical through the catch point to constantly challenge the receiver.
The last time the Cowboys took a cornerback from Alabama in the second round it seemed to work out well for them. Picking Ricks would do wonders for the Cowboy as it addresses a need, and Ricks has a chance to step in right away alongside Trevon Diggs and DaRon Bland. He has the size that Dan Quinn covets and with the proper work within the Cowboys facility it is not unrealistic to say that we have just begun to see the real potential of Eli Ricks.
3.90 OL, Cody Mauch, North Dakota State
6’6” 301 | Two total sacks allowed in last two seasons
Mauch is a sixth-year senior who with his experience and age should be a plug-and-play player at the next level. Mauk has good size and athleticism but lacks the requisite arm length to excel at left tackle at the next level, thus a position switch to guard is very likely. In the run game, Mauch displays excellent lateral agility and movement skills while working to the second level. He is quick enough to get across the linebacker’s face and has the agility to land on moving targets on pulls and screens. He plays with a physical temperament and looks to finish his opponent whenever given the chance.
Mauch is more of a position and wall-off blocker who wins with angles rather than a power knock-back player who generates displacement at the point of attack. Because of this, Mauch is very likely to excel in a zone-based scheme where his mobility can shine. In the pass game, Mauch displays light feet, balance, and body control to mirror in pass protection. He gets good depth on his pass sets and has the range to handle speed rushers working his outside shoulder.
Size, agility, and experience is what you’re getting with Cody Mauch. Every team in the league can use more of that along their offensive line, and if the Cowboys are able to get that from their third-round selection they would feel great about the value there. The Cowboys have questions that need answered along the offensive line and using a top 100 pick on the group will definitely be in play for them. There is a chance that they may take an offensive lineman even earlier than this, but Mauch fell organically and in a spot and time where it made too much sense for the Cowboys.
4.129 WR, Andrei Iosivas, Princeton University
6’3” 200 lb | 66 receptions, 943 receiving yards and seven TDs in 2022
Andrei Iosivas is an All-American track star for Princeton with a 6.71 60m and a 39-inch vertical at 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds. If you could build the ideal wideout prospect, it’d look something like Iosivas. He’s a guy who can get his in a lot of different ways.
Down the field, Iosivas uses his physicality and speed to separate and has the fluid body control to high-point the ball or release off the defender for the back shoulder ball. On his out-breaking routes, Iosivas displays an innate ability to break his routes without losing any speed, making him a matchup nightmare for corners throughout their entire phase. When Iosivas has the ball in his hands his strength and acceleration make him a threat for chunk yards after the catch and has the hip fluidity and foot speed to make defenders miss. To check the final box, Iosivas’ hands are extremely strong—he finishes through contact really well and attacks the ball in the air.
This would be an absolute homerun of a pick for the Dallas Cowboys in round four. A big, fast, and supremely athletic wide receiver out of of the Ivy League would come right in and be a huge help to this Cowboys wide out group that is lacking a lot of what Iosivas brings. Many people were hoping to get a wide out earlier than the fourth, but if the Cowboys were able to play the board and make this happen they surely would feel okay about it. It wouldn’t be a shock to see the Cowboys address this position in free agency pre-draft, but this selection will help the group as a whole.
5.163 RB, Deuce Vaughn, Kansas State
5’6” 175 lb | 1,558 rushing yards, 9 TDs, 5.31 YPC in 2022
Deuce Vaughn, listed at 5-foot-6 and 175 pounds, has proven to be a dynamic running back and emerged as a team leader for the Wildcats. Vaughn has had a productive career in the Big 12, rushing for more than 3,000 yards with 43 total touchdowns—proving to be a versatile and productive back. He was also named a Consensus All-American for the 2021 and 2022 seasons. Vaughn has proven throughout his career to be an effective playmaker in both the run game and as a pass-catcher out of the backfield.
As a running back, Vaughn utilizes his size to his advantage. Vaughn only needs a small crease in the defense to find a hole and get vertical to pick up plus yardage. Running through the hole, Vaughn is tough for defenders to identify, and by the time they are able to see him, he is able to accelerate past them. Vaughn is not a violent lateral cutter, but he has smooth change of direction transitions while never having to break stride. In the open field, Vaughn has the speed to run past third-level defenders and create a positive play. Vaughn has a skill set that is ideal for outside zone and wide zone run plays—they fit perfectly with his natural skill set.
What Deuce lacks in size he makes up for in skill and production. On a national stage versus Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, Vaughn played lights out and carved up the Crimson Tide defense all day. The size may scare some teams away, but what cannot be ignored is his consistent level of play throughout his career. His ability to run and catch the ball out of the backfield is something every offense can use more of, and if he is still sitting here in round five, the Dallas Cowboys should be sprinting to the podium to make this selection.
5.170 LB, Ventrell Miller, University of Florida
6’ 0” 221 lb | 37 tackles, 2 forced fumbles in 2022
Ventrell Miller is a redshirt senior linebacker who has been a key contributor for the Florida defense since the 2019 season. Throughout his career, Miller has played in more than 40 games, logging more than 240 tackles for his career. Miller has emerged as a team leader and through coaching transitions, Miller has been a reliable captain of the team. Miller shows to have a high level of football knowledge and instincts that helps him become a productive player.
From the snap, Miller does a plus-level job of reading his keys and blocking schemes to identify the flow of the play. Miller is able to quickly key and diagnose the pay and work downhill toward the line of scrimmage to make the tackle. From B-gap to B-gap, Miller is able to shuffle and trigger downhill. When he can square the running back up properly, he can deliver a solid hit to the ball carrier. Miller embraces the physicality of the position and is willing to take on pulling interior offensive linemen to maintain the integrity of the defense instead of evading his gap.
The Cowboys will have some questions to answer at their linebacker position that may force them to fill some gaps earlier than the fifth round, but here in this spot they take a guy with intriguing upside to come in and compete. Miller lacks the ideal size for the position but plays with a high-level football IQ and an attitude that allows to be in advantageous positions to make plays. His speed and athleticism is something the Cowboys will surely be intrigued with which will set up for a perfect Dan Quinn project pick.
5.176 - TE Josh Whyle, University of Cincinnati
6’6” 250 | 88 receptions, 1,062 yards, 15 touchdowns in his career
Whyle is a good athlete that shines in the passing game where his hands, body control, and ball skills are top traits. He is a good route-runner that can win at every level of the field. His ability to snap through route breaks and produce after the catch are surprising qualities given his body composition. Whyle’s blend of size and ball skills make him a legitimate seam threat. Whyle is sure-handed and has made his share of highlight-reel grabs outside of his frame in addition to handling the routine receptions.
Having studied Whyle across three seasons, I find myself impressed with how he’s been able to develop as a blocker. It’s clear that he’s added both mass and functional strength, which has made him much more effective, in addition to his improved hand technique and leverage when blocking. He is a willing and aggressive blocker that has shown notable growth. Whyle is experienced as a blocker and receiver both inline and from the slot.
Two mock drafts in the books and we were able to get Whyle in the same spot both times for the Cowboys. Dallas has some questions to answer when it comes to Dalton Schultz this offseason. Many believe the Cowboys should move on and let Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot take over the position, while saving money by not giving Schultz what he will command on the open market, and adding Whyle to the mix could provide a playmaker at a much lower cost.
6.212 S, DeMarcco Hellams, University of Alabama
6’1” 208 lb | One interception, 62 tackles in 2022
DeMarcco Hellams spent his collegiate career at the University of Alabama playing the safety position. Hellams was a versatile defender, playing both the deep safety position and closer to the line of scrimmage. This past year was one of Hellams’ most productive campaigns, leading the Crimson Tide defense in tackles with 108. He also had an interception and a forced fumble, showing that he can contribute in a multitude of ways.
Although Hellams is a versatile safety prospect, his best play came playing 5-10 yards off the line of scrimmage in a traditional strong safety role. Playing the strong safety position, Hellams played well against the run and the pass. Rolling down from a two-high look to being the strong safety on a play, Hellams showed the ability to run the alley, close on ball carriers, and be an effective tackler. Hellams has a physical temperament with his play and when he can take the proper angle on a ball carrier, he will deliver a physical hit. Hellams has good overall range and can be counted on as a reliable defender against the run.
For a long time we asked the Cowboys to address the safety position and for the first time in a while fans feel really good about the guys in that room. With some contract decisions to be made here, the Cowboys take a safety from a proven program to come in and compete and may make a contract causality easier to stomach. Hellams is a physical player that Dan Quinn is going to love and use in a variety of different ways. At this point in the draft you are looking for intangibles and traits and Hellams has those in spades.
7.246 DI, Devonnsha Maxwell, Chattanooga
6’2” 296 lb | 3-time All-SoCon selection
Pros: Devonnsha Maxwell has proven to be a standout and highly productive player across multiple seasons for the Chattanooga defense. He stands out most as a pass rusher, where his understanding of angles and effort to attack half a man combined with impressive effort leads to consistent heat on the quarterback. He does well to activate his hands and compete to grease angles and power through. He has a diverse arsenal of pass-rush moves and I like his ability to string together counters. Maxwell showcases impressive flexibility to work around edges, reduce, and finish.
Ideally the Cowboys would have addressed this position earlier in the draft but as some like to say, ‘you are at the mercy of the board’ and sometimes it doesn’t shake out the way you anticipate or hope. The Cowboys will look to add production in the interior here as they look to shore up their run defense and have some pass-rush ability in the middle as well. Maxwell can help with those things and will be a welcomed addition to a Quinn led defense with a chance to compete for a spot at a position of need.