The Dallas Cowboys saw four consecutive wide receivers and tight end Dalton Kincaid all get drafted within six picks of their 26th overall selection of Thursday’s opening round of the NFL Draft, but appeared to have a plan all along with Michigan defensive tackle Mazi Smith. The first DT drafted in the first round by Dallas since Russell Maryland in 1991, Smith is a serious commitment to the ongoing work the Cowboys have made in run defense, primarily playing a nose tackle position the Cowboys haven’t prioritized prior to Dan Quinn.
This Cowboys offseason started with the great news that Quinn would return as defensive coordinator, and was followed up by the front office continuing to lean into his defense being the strength of the roster when the team traded for cornerback Stephon Gilmore. With Trevon Diggs and Gilmore paired on the outside, Leighton Vander Esch back in the fold at linebacker, and Donovan Wilson re-signed at safety, the Cowboys well-rounded defense, built around superstar Micah Parsons, had the luxury of addressing the interior defensive line with their first pick.
It’s safe to say Parsons, one of the most vocal Cowboys defenders when it comes to supporting the player-first coaching style Quinn has brought to The Star, was a fan of this pick. Smith should help lighten Parsons’ load as a primary edge rusher, freeing up rush lanes for Parsons to attack from the standup linebacker position and go back to being Quinn’s jack-of-all-trades player.
The Cowboys have a young core on defense they want to build around and win now with, and have seen their past two seasons end at the hand of Kyle Shanahan’s 49ers team. One of the most physical ground-and-pound teams in the league, the Cowboys are justified to build a roster that can get over this hump, pushing more pressing needs on offense towards their remaining six picks even as head coach Mike McCarthy steps into the play-calling role in a pivotal year for his tenure - making his input known in a spirited way prior to the Cowboys making their pick.
Mike McCarthy quite animated in war room right now— Jane Slater (@SlaterNFL) April 28, 2023
The Smith pick at 26th overall is one of the biggest commitments to building a defense-first roster the Cowboys have made in a while, and not only their best defender, but arguably best all-around player, is behind it in a big way. The Cowboys already had a defensive line capable of taking over games and dominating the trenches prior to Thursday night, and the possibility of adding another piece was seen as a way to take it over the top.
Mazi Smith may not have the pass rush potential of a Jalen Carter or Calijah Kancey, but is more than capable of pushing the pocket and developing into an every-down player that pairs well with the upside Dallas has seen in Chauncey Golston, Osa Odighizuwa, and Quinton Bohanna here. The idea of drafting “one more” talented player at a position group that already felt set is something we covered on the Hidden Yardage podcast, and it came true in a big way with the 6’2”, 323 pound athletic freak Smith.
With potential tight end targets Michael Mayer, Luke Musgrave, and Sam LaPorta all still on the board heading into the second round, the Cowboys can still get the best of both worlds and make an already-strong defense better while getting Dak Prescott some much-needed help as day two rolls around.