Over the years, the Dallas Cowboys use of their 30 pre-draft visits has often revealed what the team was planning to do. That was certainly true for 2023. In the NFL draft, the team would take four players who came to the Star to meet the staff, and sign one additional visitor as a UDFA. Here are the new rookies who already knew the way to team headquarters:
- 1st round DT Mazi Smith
- 3rd round LB DeMarvion Overshown
- 4th round DE Viliami Fehoko
- 6th round (via trade) CB Eric Scott
- UDFA LB Durrell Johnson
With the Cowboys using eight picks after trading for the one that netted Scott, this means that half their draft class were players they wanted to take a closer look at. The 30 visits are not tryouts, but a chance to meet the prospects and get a feel for them beyond their stats and tape. Obviously, these five impressed the team.
It is also an interesting split, because all four of the draftees on this list are defensive players, while the four who weren’t official visitors are offensive players. Many were somewhat surprised that the team didn’t go heavier on offense. That was seen as the area they needed to shore up the most. This indicates how badly that was misread. More evidence comes from three of the four listed above being taken with what are deemed as premium picks, rounds one through four.
Most of the Cowboys’ selections were seen as being taken earlier than they should have been. However, as Dan Rogers pointed out in the linked article, that is based solely on draft boards compiled by the media and other outside observers, and has nothing to do with the actual board Dallas used during the draft. The way things played out seems to indicate that the ones taken were rated higher for the team than the analysts. While there is a perennial discussion about need versus best player available, the team board bakes need into the process. A player like Smith that fits a need identified in the roster evaluation before the draft is going to be higher for them than a player who plays a position that they feel is well-stocked.
Clearly, the 30 visits this year were part of the targeting process for Dallas. It looks like the ones they landed are players that they believe will really help. The trade to grab Scott is a nice example. At the time, the start of the sixth round, Deuce Vaughn was clearly on their radar as well. They made the calculation that Scott was more likely to be taken before they went on the clock in the sixth, but Vaughn would fall to them as he did. We may not see as much value in Scott, but as always, we aren’t the team’s scouts.
Some years, we look to the 30 visits to find positions the team is interested in, and where they want to find them. The actual names that came to visit may have been more predictive, but there were some things that the visits did tip.
First, there were three DTs in all that they hosted. We have long discounted the Cowboys spending much draft capital on the position, but that changed radically this year, and the large number they wanted to talk to was a big hint it was coming.
Outside of Darnell Wright, the offensive line prospects that came in were late-round players, which fits with where they took Asim Richards. Fehoko was one of four defensive ends that were visits, so that was another priority for them. Tight end was as well, with Luke Schoonmaker being taken in the second and four total TEs visiting, but it is also important to note that they have some players high on their board that they don’t need to talk to, because they have seen enough from video study and other inputs to place them. It must be remembered that the scouts do much more than watch tape and games. They talk to people at colleges, not just coaches, but may others. The input of equipment managers, teammates, and other members of college organizations can be invaluable in getting a read on character.
The bottom line, however, is that the visits this year included half the drafted players that have landed with the Cowboys. This is why we pay so much attention to them each year, because they are very important to the decisions Dallas makes in the draft, and they also always use a few of them to look at likely UDFAs. With five of the 2023 thirty pre-draft visitors on the roster now, you can be assured we will keep studying this list.