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Cowboys draft analysis: Dallas bolsters defensive line with DT Mazi Smith in first round

After years of struggling against the run, Dallas addressed it with their top pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 03 Colorado State at Michigan Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys made Michigan defensive tackle Mazi Smith the 26th pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. Despite having a slew of tight ends and some other major talents available at cornerback and edge rusher, Smith joins Dallas as they look to solve a longstanding issue in the middle of the defensive line.

Smith’s spent the last four years with the Wolverines, just finishing a standout season as a First-Team All-Big-Ten performer. Despite having the size of a traditional nose tackle, listed at 6’3” and 323 lbs. at the combine, Smith’s athleticism is what sets him apart from the traditional 1-tech prospect.

Compared to a young Dontari Poe by some, Smith’s physical gifts are clear. He has technical issues to work on but the Cowboys clearly love the idea of putting this raw potential in Dan Quinn’s hands for molding.

Some will balk at Dallas passing on CB Joey Porter Jr. or pass-rusher Nolan Smith, both more highly-regarded prospects in this class, to take a different defensive pick. But given their current numbers at corner and defensive end, Dallas’ interest in improving things at defensive tackle isn’t unreasonable.

The Cowboys have been happy with third-year DT Osa Odighizuwa but are still waiting for consistency from Neville Gallimore and Quinton Bohanna. They re-signed veteran Johnathan Hankins in late March for another run-stuffer, but Smith provides an immediate key rotation piece with a high ceiling.

Dallas had the 22nd run defense in the league last year, giving up over 129 yards per game. It’s been an issue for a while now and attempts to fix it through mid-round picks and bargain-bin free agents haven’t worked. Now Quinn’s finally been given a premium asset to work with at DT.

After heavy speculation that Dallas would take a tight end, they passed on nearly every possible prospect. The Buffalo Bills traded up to 25th to snag Dalton Kincaid, and we may never know if he’d had been the Cowboys’ pick otherwise. But they passed on Michael Mayer, Sam LaPorta, Darnell Washington, and whoever else you might have considered.

Any thought of Dallas taking a running back tonight ended quickly. Texas’ Bijan Robinson was gone at #8 to Atlanta, and then Detroit surprisingly took Alabama’s Jahmyr Gibbs at the 12th pick.

As always, only hindsight will tell if Mazi Smith follows Travis Frederick as a “reach” who defies the naysayers or another bust from Michigan like Taco Charlton. For now, he’s the Dallas Cowboys' first-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft and a welcome addition to the defensive line.

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