Nearly two weeks ago, Mazi Smith became the latest first-round pick in Cowboys history. But despite joining one of the league’s top defenses, Dallas’ new defensive tackle isn’t getting much attention as a potential impact player in 2023.
A few days ago, NFL.com’s Marc Ross put out a list of 10 rookies who he felt had the best chances for success with their new teams. It featured first-overall pick Bryce Young (Panthers), WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba (Seahawks), and DT Jalen Carter (Eagles) among others. Mazi Smith was nowhere to be found.
Now maybe Smith would’ve been the 11th guy on Ross’ list had he kept writing, but one could still take exception to his exclusion from the top ten. Smith is entering one of the best situations imaginable for any rookie as a member of this Cowboys defense.
First, consider the surrounding talent. Smith will often have Micah Parsons as the weak-side rusher to his right. Even if Parsons subs out, Dallas’ solid stable of defensive ends like DeMarcus Lawrence, Dorance Armstrong, Dante Fowler, and Sam Williams will maintain a consistent threat level on the edge.
The rotation among Smith’s fellow tackles isn’t half bad, either. With Osa Odighizuwa, Johnathan Hankins, Neville Gallimore, and Quinton Bohanna already present, Smith won’t be forced to do too much too soon. The coaches will be able to ease him in, use him where he has the best chances of success, and mitigate rookie weaknesses with plenty of substitution and schematic options.
Speaking of coaches, how about getting to enter the NFL and work with Dan Quinn? While Quinn’s return as defensive coordinator is a blessing for everyone connected to the Cowboys, it’s especially great for the defensive linemen as that’s his particular area of expertise. Quinn’s return also helped Dallas hang on to defensive line coach Aden Durde, an up-and-coming assistant who will also benefit Smith.
Beyond the clear benefit of joining an already stout defense, Smith’s arriving in Dallas after a 12-5 season and a seemingly strong offseason. This team’s poised for success and Smith doesn’t bear the burden of being a catalyst.
It also helps that the bar is relatively low at defensive tackle compared to other positions on the Cowboys’ roster. Smith isn’t being asked to replace some departed Pro Bowler; Dallas has hardly made any significant investments at DT before now. If the most Smith’s being asked to do this year is provide an upgrade from Carlos Watkins, that’s not a very tall order.
It doesn't hurt that, as only the 26th pick in the draft, Smith isn’t facing the same expectations of guys who went earlier that night. While he may be up against some pressure thanks to that first-round label, Smith is hardly going to be dealing with the scrutiny of some of those quarterbacks, or even a bigger name like Carter joining the Eagles.
While not one of the “green room” guys from this draft, Smith is still facing the crucible of joining the Dallas Cowboys. It will certainly put a spotlight on him, and perhaps even an unreasonable degree of expectation. But unlike players at the top of the draft who may be entering worse situations, Smith will get to debut with a Cowboys defense expected to remain one of the league’s top units. He’ll get to learn from one of the most respected coaches in the game.
He may not be as talented as some who were drafted before him, but Mazi Smith is clearly set up for success with the Cowboys. And given Dallas’ generally strong track record with first-round picks, Smith’s potential should hardly be dismissed.