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Cowboys 2021 draft class faces a critical third season

If some of these third-year Cowboys players don’t start producing, they might not even make the team.

NFL: Houston Texans at Dallas Cowboys Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports

Ever since Bill Parcells made it a talking point during his head coaching tenure in Dallas, we place a lot of emphasis on players’ third seasons in their NFL careers. This critical point of expectation is now upon the Cowboys’ 2021 draft class, and it finds most of them still struggling to find their place on the team.

Of course, we’re not talking about LB Micah Parsons. If he was the only win that Dallas had in the 2021 NFL Draft then it was almost enough to call it a success. Parsons’s impact was immediate and he’s on pace for a Hall of Fame career.

No, this is about his 2021 classmates. With a few exceptions, the majority of these third-year prospects will be going into training camp with barely any foothold on the roster.

Here’s a reminder of who comprises this group:

  • CB Kelvin Joseph (2nd)
  • DT Osa Odighizuwa (3rd)
  • DE Chauncey Golston (3rd)
  • CB Nahshon Wright (3rd)
  • LB Jabril Cox (4th)
  • OT Josh Ball (4th)
  • WR Simi Fehoko (5th)
  • DT Quinton Bohanna (6th)
  • CB/S Israel Mukuamu (6th)
  • G/C Matt Farniok (7th)

The only roster locks on this list are Odighizuwa and Golston. Odighizuwa quickly moved past Neville Gallimore as the team’s premier defensive tackle prospect and will hopefully progress into a Pro Bowl talent this year. Golston has become a key rotation piece at defensive end and the primary backup to DeMarcus Lawrence.

A few others aren’t locks but are highly likely. Jabril Cox was looking like another stud LB from this class before his 2021 knee injury. It stunted his progress last season, but hopefully it is now behind him so that he can get back to ascending into a player of consequence at the position. There’s definitely a need as linebacker is currently a thin spot on the roster.

Israel Mukuamu has proven to be an exciting prospect with flexibility at either cornerback or safety. He may wind up playing more CB this year, partially due to the issues we’re about to discuss with some other corners from 2021.

Matt Farniok is poised for the role of backing up at guard and center. He had the job last year but then got injured himself. Even if the Cowboys make a big move at guard in the 2023 draft, Farniok will likely still make the roster as Tyler Biadasz’s backup.

You could also make a case for Quinton Bohanna, though his spot doesn’t feel as secure as these last three. That Dallas brought back 31-year-old Johnathan Hankins isn’t the best sign for Bohanna’s future, though it is only a one-year deal. Bohanna should make the roster as depth but can’t afford any missteps, and his position could be quickly threatened depending on what happens in the draft.

If these four players all continue to grow and contribute along with Parsons then the Class of 2021 was a strong one for Dallas. But it won’t be perfect unless some guys, particularly two Day 2 cornerbacks, don’t start pulling their weight.

Kelvin Joseph was the next guy drafted after Parsons but might have one of the worst chances of sticking with the team this season. Not only did Nahshon Wright, a late third-round pick, move past him on the depth chart but fifth-round rookie DaRon Bland outshined them both in 2022. Now with the Stephon Gilmore trade, Jourdan Lewis still around, and Israel Mukuamu’s solid showing at CB last year, Joseph may be headed for the early discard pile.

Wright wouldn’t be far behind. His opportunities to play significant snaps last year weren’t great and led to Mukuamu getting looks at corner. He and Joseph could very well be competing for the same roster spot now, which puts special teams work at a premium for them both. That may be the one area where Joseph has the edge.

Josh Ball was given a chance to earn the swing tackle job last year but didn’t come close. It was essentially his rookie season as well, getting red-shirted in 2021 with an ankle injury. He’ll be up against Chuma Edoga, Matt Waletzko, and whoever else Dallas brings in as potential OT depth. It will take a significant uptick from last year for Ball to avoid the practice squad, let alone the street.

Speaking of opportunity, Simi Fehoko certainly had it last year at WR but didn’t climb the ladder. He only appeared in five games and had four targets despite all the issues with Michael Gallup and James Washington’s health, plus Jalen Tolbert’s lack of immediate impact. Now that Brandin Cooks is here and Dallas could be adding more talent soon, Fehoko will need a dramatic turnaround to stick around.

To be fair, it’s pretty impressive that the entire 2021 class is still here as of today. We’ve seen drafts where guys didn’t even make the team as rookies. So to be having this discussion, especially with how some of the later-round picks are doing, is its own boon for the front office and scouting department.

But that will almost certainly change in a few months. A few of these guys may have already been phased out based on Dallas’ current offseason moves and with the next draft and more free agency still to come. The full 2021 class should still be at training camp to at least compete for their jobs, but a few could be in for a rough summer.

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