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Mazi Smith brings massive freak-like upside to the Cowboys run defense

The Cowboys just got a whole lot better in the trenches!

Penn State v Michigan Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys got their guy. For the second straight season, the Cowboys front office marched to the beat of their own drum by surprising everyone and selecting a player that nobody saw coming. Last year it was Tyler Smith. This year it’s Mazi Smith.

These picks are eerily similar. Both these players were projected as second-round players due to their perceived lack of NFL readiness. The raw power each of them display is quite amazing, and has allowed them to be effective players despite still having underdeveloped fundamentals. We saw this firsthand with Tyler Smith last year. Many of us were concerned because, without the proper development, he seemed like a penalty flag waiting to happen.

But to the surprise of many, Tyler’s development came along extremely well. Not only did he play more snaps than any other Cowboys player last season, but he was also tasked with protecting Dak Prescott’s blindspot, and he delivered. This once-questioned draft pick was one of the best bargains in the draft last year. The Cowboys are hoping the same is true for this year’s pick, Mazi Smith.

Mazi is a fun player to watch on tape. The raw power of this guy is amazing as he can be seen just throwing guys around. He’ll latch onto blockers with those long arms and pull them wherever he wants them to go. Smith is a gap buster who bullies his way into the gap and doesn’t allow running lanes to develop. He’s not always a player who is “making the play” but the way he disrupts the path and impacts the outcome is on full display.

Like the Smith before him, Mazi’s bread and butter is his power. This guy is an absolute beast. He has power in his upper body, he has power in his lower body, and make no mistake about it, the Cowboys got themselves one powerful dude!

Smith’s athleticism provides him with the tools to be effective in the trenches. He’s able to stay low, gain leverage, and use his lower body strength to overpower blockers at the point of attack. He also has long arms to control his man and take them for a ride only to quickly shed as he throws them around like a rag doll.

The downside to Smith comes from his fundamentals. The first thing that stood out in the film is how slow he is off the line of scrimmage. He’s constantly beaten to his spot, but at the college level, it didn’t matter as much because he could just make up ground with his raw power. This slow get-off will be more challenging at the next level. Additionally, while his arms are long, his hands are not very active. He mostly just pushes his arms into the chest of the blocker and uses his power to drive. There’s not a lot of creativity in his hand-to-hand fundamentals, and this is something that needs to be developed. The good news is if Smith can improve his hand technique, this will just make him that much more powerful in the trenches. Dan Quinn has to be salivating at the mouth with the potential of this one.

There are also some concerns about his stamina as while he’s quick out of the gate, he’s not much for endurance. Smith’s tape was not consistent as he can be seen taking plays off to conserve energy. In a Dan Quinn system that features an assortment of rotating defensive linemen, this doesn’t seem like it’s going to be a big issue.

For years, the Cowboys have taken the cheap route at the defensive tackle position. It’s the first time this team has selected a defensive tackle in the first round since Russell Maryland was taken no. 1 overall in 1991. The Cowboys' defense was fantastic last year, but if there was an area of concern it was their lack of strength along the interior defensive line and it showed up against the run. It was so worrisome that the team traded for veteran nose tackle Johnathan Hankins midway through the season last year.

Now, the team has a true powerhouse in the middle who has the upside to be an absolute game-wrecker in the running game. Smith is not a guy who will light up the stat sheet, but his ability to disrupt is easy to see. He’ll command attention and draw double teams, and those moments will open things up for other guys. Smith is a guy who instantly makes Micah Parsons better, Osa Odighizuwa better, and all the linebackers behind him who will now have more free paths to the ball carrier.

The Cowboys landed themselves a powerful, freak athlete to help solve a run defense issue, and that’s a big win for this football team. What Smith ultimately ends up becoming remains to be seen, but you have to like this guy's upside when you factor in his raw traits combined with the masterful coaching ability of Dan Quinn. It’s a massive get for the Cowboys.

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