The Dallas Cowboys made all the necessary moves to enter the 2023 NFL Draft in position to draft the best players overall, and add to existing strengths instead of drafting for any glaring needs. In a class with a notable lack of star power, it would be hard for the Cowboys to make the same type of splash they did when trading for Brandin Cooks and Stephon Gilmore earlier in the offseason, but still used their premier picks on players that can see the field right away.
Mazi Smith, Luke Schoonmaker, and DeMarvion Overshown will all step into situations where they can add to the talent already in place at defensive tackle, tight end, and linebacker respectively. For a team still very much trying to win now though, the Cowboys will hope to tap into the upside of these prospects quickly. Drafting Smith in the first round was a commitment to the defensive interior Dallas hasn’t made in decades, Schoonmaker gives the Cowboys a healthy competition with Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot at tight end, and Overshown is yet another athletic middle of the field defender for Dan Quinn to coach up.
Here are three traits from each of these draft picks that can help the Cowboys immediately in 2023.
Michigan DT Mazi Smith
- Run defense
- Bull rush
So much has already been written and said about the Cowboys’ 26th overall pick, and just how much of an outlier it was for the Cowboys to spend a top pick on the run-stuffing defensive tackle position. The Cowboys have been serious about upgrading their run defense in every year under Quinn, but never more so than Thursday night - unbothered by a run of offensive talent just before their pick as they honed in on Smith.
Run defense is easily the first thing the Cowboys will be expecting Smith to help with, playing in a true nose tackle stance for a Michigan defense that’s renowned by the NFL to produce ready-made players because of it’s pro style. Not only should working with Quinn help Smith tap into his pass rush potential, but the Cowboys are expected to move him around to slightly different positions on the defensive front to help as well.
Smith showed flashes at Michigan of a strong bull rush move that helps him push the pocket and get in the quarterback’s face. With a strong initial knockback with his hands, Smith shows above average flexibility to not get pushed off his spot. Drafting Smith should help the Cowboys use Micah Parsons as more of a hybrid player, but they’ll need more from all of their pass rushers when he’s in coverage, and Smith paired with Neville Gallimore and Osa Odighizuwa can provide a big boost here.
The last trait to look for from Smith right away is his anchoring ability to go with a developing pass rush repertoire. Though far from an official metric, the eye test on the Cowboys defense last year may have them in the league lead for near sacks, with Parsons and DeMarcus Lawrence bringing the juice off the edge. When QBs step up to avoid the waves of edge rushers Dallas deploys, Smith is the player that can be there to clean up and take this defense to the next level.
Brandon Loree and Jess Nevarez discussed how this year’s rookies will impact the team in 2023 on the latest episode of The Writer’s Block which you can listen to right here. Make sure to subscribe to the latest episode of the Blogging The Boys podcast network so you don’t miss any future episodes or any of our other shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.
Michigan TE Luke Schoonmaker
- Setting the edge
- Soft hands
After plenty of buzz that the Cowboys would go tight end in the first round, a run on the position to start the second round forced them to act quickly if they wanted to address it at all. Luke Schoonmaker made it back-to-back Michigan Wolverines for the Cowboys at 58th overall, the Cowboys latest answer to replacing Dalton Schultz who left in free agency.
Schoonmaker is the type of route runner that can give Dak Prescott another reliable check down option. Getting on defenders quickly, Schoonmaker attacks leverage well and shows a suddenness in his game that gives him upside as a vertical threat. Schoonmaker makes his best plays on out-breaking routes, moving the chains on the types of designed rollouts or pocket passes that have been layups for Prescott.
In making their transition from Ezekiel Elliott to Tony Pollard, the Cowboys could feature plenty of two tight end sets that helps get Pollard’s speed on the edge - with similar traits in Malik Davis, Rico Dowdle, and now Deuce Vaughn behind him. Adding the dual-threat ability they’d get from any combination of Jake Ferguson, Peyton Hendershot, and Schoonmaker could be Dallas’ answer to not addressing wide receiver until their last pick.
Schoonmaker’s yards after catch ability comes from his naturally soft hands, snagging the ball well outside his catch radius and securing it on the move. This is a lanky player that knows how to avoid big hits from defenders, and surprises with the sudden change of direction ability to make them miss in the open field.
Texas LB Demarvion Overshown
- Coverage depth
One of the most noticeable trends in Dan Quinn’s defense since arriving in Dallas is the fluidity between linebackers and safeties through the second and third levels. One of the keys to leading the league in takeaways for two straight seasons is simply having speed and athleticism roaming the middle of the field, and the Cowboys invested in this with third-round pick DeMarvion Overshown.
Overshown played some safety before, and is already embracing the hybrid role that both Quinn and special teams coordinator John Fassel can find for him. Overshown’s size would be an outlier as a traditional safety, but drafted in the third round where teams can begin to look ahead to future needs, it’s not hard to picture him in a Donovan Wilson/Jayron Kearse like role down the line. This versatility was just another selling point for Quinn to bring in a player the Cowboys showed interest in as early as the Senior Bowl.
DeMarvion Overshown conference call take aways:— Jess Nevarez (@JessNevarez_) April 29, 2023
-it means the world to him to play for the Cowboys (who he considers his hometown team) and is ready to get to work
-Dan Quinn has a plan for him involving him being “anywhere and everywhere”
-his versatility is his biggest…
Defending against wide open offenses in the Big 12, Overshown’s most immediate pro-ready trait is his ability to read pass patterns and drop to proper depth. Overshown covers ground in a hurry and doesn’t get hung up on blocks, taking away intermediate to deep routes with a smooth backpedal.
Shrinking the field when playing against read option looks vs. Jalen Hurts or Daniel Jones, and erasing big name tight ends like Dallas Goedert or Darren Waller in the division, is how Dallas can reclaim the top spot in the East - where a player like Overshown can go a very long way.