It’s an exciting time for fans because people can start planning their trips to AT&T Stadium or when they’ll see America’s Team on the road. It also means the season is closer to kickoff, and the Cowboys will know who to gameplan for between now and September.
A new season also means new faces will take the field, particularly from the NFL draft class. When the Cowboys take on their opponents at home, here is one rookie from each team to remember when they match up against Dallas.
1. Detroit Lions - Jahmyr Gibbs, RB
The Cowboys have made an effort to stop the run this offseason by re-signing Johnathan Hankins, Leighton Vander Esch, Donovan Wilson and drafting Mazi Smith. One of the best running backs the defense will face this year will be Jahmyr Gibbs.
After being selected 12th overall in the draft, Gibbs comes in with the expectation of being the No. 1 back, mainly after the Lions traded D’Andre Swift to the Philadelphia Eagles. Gibbs has a similar skill set to Dallas’ Tony Pollard, who can be a shifty runner while being a threat out of the backfield as a pass catcher.
The Cowboys are familiar with the Lions’ concerted effort to run the football after facing each other last season when Detroit rushed for 117 yards. Dan Campbell’s team has the potential to contend for a playoff berth this year, so depending on where this game falls on the schedule, Gibbs could be a problem for Dallas’ revamped run defense.
2. Washington Commanders - Emmanuel Forbes, CB
ESPN reported that Dallas had their eye on Emmanuel Forbes potentially being in the conversation as their first-round pick. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, Forbes was selected by the division rival Washington Commanders at No. 16.
If Prescott is on his A-game, there shouldn’t be a problem, but if the mistakes of turning the ball over roll into 2023, Forbes could create some nightmare scenarios for Dallas’ offense. During his career at Mississippi State, Forbes had 14 interceptions, returning six of them for touchdowns, an NCAA record.
The former Bulldog’s style is comparable to how Trevon Diggs plays. Both players will risk biting on double coverage if it means they intercept the ball more. It can sometimes be a liability, but it’s something Washington should be able to live with.
3. Philadelphia Eagles - Nolan Smith, DE/LB
Jalen Carter is the obvious name for Dallas to circle on offense, but the Eagles’ other first-round pick could be a bigger problem. The Cowboys passed on Nolan Smith at No. 26, only for him to fall into Philadelphia’s lap at the back end of the first round.
Smith is a perfect fit for the Eagles’ defense because he brings a similar skill set to a player already on their defense in Haason Reddick. After losing key players from their Super Bowl team on defense, Smith will be used in various ways to fill multiple holes. He might line up on the outside at edge while getting snaps at linebacker in certain situations.
If Micah Parsons is Superman, think of Smith as Bizzaro because Philadelphia could end up mirroring how Dan Quinn uses his All-Pro player to be a disrupter on defense. Smith might be the player the Cowboys regret passing on the most if he helps the Eagles to another division title.
4. Los Angeles Rams - Steve Avila, OL
Fans will see what could have been when the Los Angeles Rams play the Cowboys this year. Steve Avila was a favorite amongst Cowboys Nation and was often linked to the team as high as the first round.
After taking Mazi Smith, Dallas could have hoped Avila would be there in the second round, but he was selected by the Rams way before they had the chance. This could be the game that frustrates Cowboys fans the most, especially if they struggle at left guard to defend Aaron Donald and can’t get any pass rush against Avila with Mazi Smith.
5. Seattle Seahawks - Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR
Just like the Eagles, the Seattle Seahawks had two selections in the first round of this year’s draft. Their first pick, Devon Witherspoon, could be the best cornerback in the draft. However, on the flip side, Jaxson Smith-Njigba could be the best wide receiver from the 2023 draft.
The Seahawks caught the NFL by surprise with Geno Smith becoming a Pro Bowl quarterback and leading a prolific passing offense, already having DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett to throw to. Now throw Smith-Njigba into the mix, and it could be the best trio of receivers in the NFL.
Smith-Njigba was labeled as a “slot only” receiver, but he pushed back, saying it was not true and that he could line up all over the field. If that’s the case, then his technique and master class in route running could become trouble for DaRon Bland and the rest of the secondary.
6. New England Patriots - Keion White, DE
When a prospect slides ten picks past their projected destination, it puts a massive chip on their shoulder coming into the season. When a player falls out of the first round after being invited to attend the NFL draft in Kansas City, it puts a cinder block on their back.
Keion White looked visibly upset and motivated after the New England Patriots picked him in the second round after not hearing his name called on night one. That’s a player no one should want to face, especially the Cowboys. Not only will White be on a war path to prove 31 other teams wrong, but he’ll be doing it for Bill Belichick’s defense.
Depending on who the Cowboys have at offensive tackle, it could be a long day at the office for whoever matches up against White on gameday. Belichick always finds a way to use players differently from the rest of the league, and having someone with White’s skill set should be exciting for the long-time head coach. In previous years, Chandler Jones, Matt Judon, and Kyle Van Noy succeeded in similar roles under Belichick.
7. New York Jets - Zack Kuntz, TE
Of the players listed, all of them have been first- or second-round picks for their teams. Zack Kuntz is a seventh-round pick, but don’t let where he was selected fool you about his talent. Even comparing him to Darnell Washington, Kuntz is probably the most athletically gifted tight end from the 2023 class.
His Relative Athletic Score (RAS) was a perfect ten and ranked as the No. 1 score among tight ends coming into the NFL since 1987. Kuntz also measures 6’7”, which would be a difficult matchup for Dallas’ linebackers and Jayron Kearse.
Kuntz could have been drafted higher if not for injuries during his collegiate career, but talk about landing in the perfect situation with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. The matchup between the Cowboys and Jets could be up for a Sunday Night showdown on NBC, and if Kuntz lives up to the hype, his moment in the spotlight could come against Dallas in primetime.