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Final 2023 NFL Draft Grades: Mel Kiper says ‘Dallas did well’

A look at the first draft grades published over the last few hours, and how the Cowboys graded out.

NCAA Football: Sugar Bowl-Kansas State at Alabama
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

The grades for the Cowboys draft have been a mixed bag over the last three days. The crew at the Dallas Morning News is a good example of that:

  • Michael Gehlken: A
  • David Moore: B
  • Tim Cowlishaw: B
  • Kevin Sherrington: B-
  • Joseph Hoyt: C+
  • Calvin Watkins: C

Gehlken’s “In-McClay-I-Trust” summary echoes a thought many Cowboys fans share:

Some deference is shown here toward the Cowboys’ evaluators and their track record. If the front office and coaching staff, including the likes of Will McClay and Dan Quinn, are overjoyed with the eight-player haul, it seems unwise to cast a stone with one hand while, in the other, carrying far less information on the players than them. McClay and Co. have earned public trust and deserve the benefit of the doubt.

David Moore adds an extra twist, arguing that the Cowboys’ use of their draft capital was an unqualified success.

What the Cowboys did with the capital they had in this draft makes it an unqualified success.

Dallas added a Pro Bowl cornerback and a perennial 1,000-yard receiver with a couple of fifth round picks. A sixth round pick yielded a veteran run stopper. No other team can make that claim.

The acquisitions of Stephon Gilmore and Brandin Cooks must be factored into the assessment of this class. The same goes for defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, who was picked up during last season for a sixth round pick in this draft.

Do that, and an otherwise pedestrian haul for a team coming off consecutive 12-5 seasons takes on a much different look.

The national pundits (and perhaps even some Cowboys fans) may not necessarily agree with the takes above; their draft grades show the same wide range we saw from our draft coverage over the last two days, which just means there’s a take for just about every taste below.

Chad Reuter, Grade B+

Smith will be a tough guy to move inside and has the athleticism to win gaps more consistently. Schoonmaker will meet a need to replace Dalton Schultz as a receiving/blocking tight end, while Overshown is in the Jayron Kearse mold and should be a solid second-level defender.

Dallas sent fifth-round picks to Houston for Brandin Cooks (161st) and Indianapolis for cornerback Stephon Gilmore (176th). They chose Fehoko as a hustling edge rusher who has the bulk to play inside in sub packages. Richards is a great pick for a Cowboys team needing depth at tackle. They gave up a 2024 fifth-round pick to select the long, athletic Scott, whom I thought might go earlier. Vaughn joins his father — a Cowboys scout — in Dallas. He’ll provide depth and open-field quickness.

Mel Kiper, ESPN: Grade B

After another early playoff exit that saw the offense sputter late in the season, the Cowboys fired coordinator Kellen Moore and promoted Brian Schottenheimer. Coach Mike McCarthy will go back to calling the plays, like he did in Green Bay. With tight end Dalton Schultz leaving in free agency and running back Ezekiel Elliott getting cut, Dallas had holes at both positions heading into the draft, and I thought it could address each of them on the first two days.

In Round 1, however, the Cowboys went a different direction, and I have no qualms about it. Mazi Smith (26) is the best run-stuffing defensive tackle in this class, a 323-pounder who will instantly improve their run defense. Their D-line too often last season was blown up at the line of scrimmage, so adding an anchor like Smith will help the entire front seven. If you look at the other NFC East teams, Dallas needed to beef up to stop the run.

I would have taken other tight ends over Luke Schoonmaker (58), but he does have intriguing traits. Tucker Kraft and Brenton Strange were available and higher on my board. Schoonmaker will turn 25 as a rookie, so the question is about how much more room he has to develop. DeMarvion Overshown (90) is one of analyst Louis Riddick’s favorites in this class; he can be impressive as a blitzer.

Edge rusher Viliami Fehoko (129) had 23 sacks over the past three seasons; I highlighted him as a potential sleeper in December. Running back Deuce Vaughn (212) is a great player in a 5-foot-5 package. I’d love to see him succeed in Dallas, where his dad is a scout.

There’s not much flash in this class, which is not usually how team owner Jerry Jones does things, but I can’t knock many of these selections. Dallas did well.

Nick Simon, DraftKings: Grade B

Not a sexy draft for Jerry Jones and company, but the picks they made near the top could pay immediate dividends. Smith and Overshown should provide solid depth to an already strong front seven for the Cowboys. As for tight end, it was thought that they would use their first rounder on Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer. Instead, they turned to another Michigan man in Schoonmaker and given Dak Prescott’s rapport with his tight ends, he should see some targets as a rookie. A solid B for Dallas.

Vinny Iyer, Sporting News: Grade C

The Cowboys reached right away for need with 4-3 run-stuffing nose tackle Smith in the first round. Schoonmaker, Vaughn and Brooks didn’t give them the offensive skill punch they needed. Overshown is their type of linebacker to complement Micah Parsons, and he and Smith save the class for immediate impact, on top of Fehoko’s own big defensive upside.

Gilberto Manzano, Grade C

The Cowboys went for need with the run-stopper Smith, but they probably would have gotten a more complete player in Bryan Bresee, who went three picks later to the Saints. Dallas reached for Smith and waited too long to fill the tight end void left by Dalton Schultz. Schoonmaker is a versatile player, but Michael Mayer would have made a bigger immediate impact. Dallas added defensive depth with players Overshown and Fehoko.

Ryan Gosling, ProFootballNetwork: Grade C

The Cowboys are renowned for their ability to build through the NFL Draft. The trust they’ve built over the years is partly why their grade is as high as it is. Although the class overall feels a bit uninspired, Dallas’ scouts, particularly on Day 3, have been able to find gems. But they’ll need Mazi Smith to be an impact player early to see significant results from this class.

Danny Kelly, The Ringer: Grade C-

The Cowboys went heavy on non-premium positions over the first two days of the draft, grabbing a run-plugging nose tackle in Michigan’s Mazi Smith in the first round before adding tight end Luke Schoonmaker in the second, and off-ball linebacker DeMarvion Overshown in the third. If Smith is able to unlock his high-end athleticism and turn that into better pass-rush production, it would provide a massive boost to this class—but if he’s capped out as an early down rotational player, it’s hard to find a big-impact player in Dallas’s draft haul.

Chris Trapasso at CBSSports provides pick-by-pick grades for day three:

129. Viliami Fehoko, Grade: A

Advanced rusher who’s strong and has a thick EDGE frame. Multiple years of high-level productivity. Athleticism is a little concerning. Love the depth at the position for Dallas here.

169. Asim Richards, Grade: B+

Undersized, finesse type at OT. Typically good hand work. For his size, he works hard to grow roots in pass pro but has to get stronger at the initial point of attack. Prudent depth pick for Cowboys up front.

178. Eric Scott Jr., Grade: C-

Long, explosive cornerback who’s best as a linear athlete. Stiffness pops when changing directions. The Cowboys like picking some obscure CBs at time. Wasn’t firmly on the draft radar.

212. Deuce Vaughn, Grade: B

Darren Sproles Lite. Not as explosive. But similar super-tiny frame. Glides around the field. Can’t find him among the trees. Highlight-reel jukes at times but not ridiculously elusive. Useful in the pass game. Impressive pass pro reps.

244. Jalen Brooks, Grade: C-

Brooks is a big, physical boundary receiver who lacks top end speed. He does a good job of flattening his routes across the field, but lacks burst. Dallas adds more size to the room. (Josh Edwards)

What grade would you give this draft class?

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