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Cowboys countdown to kickoff: #58 Mazi Smith

The Dallas Cowboys face the New York Giants in Week 1. And we’re counting down to it by jersey numbers.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 05 Michigan at Rutgers Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We’re continuing our countdown to the opening game of the Dallas Cowboys 2023 regular season. Each day we’ll present a new player whose jersey number represents the countdown to opening day. Today is number 58.

NT Mazi Smith
Born: 16th June 2001 (22) - Grand Rapids, Michigan
College: Michigan Wolverines
Draft: 2023, Round 1, Pick 26, Dallas Cowboys

2022 Stats: (College)
Snaps: 632
Tackles: 48
Pressures: 25
Sacks: 0.5
TFL: 2.5
Defensive Stops: 32
Penalties: 0

Mazi Smith joined the Michigan Wolverines in 2019 and redshirted his first year. In Smith’s sophomore year he played as a backup defensive tackle for two games, a total of 51 snaps. For Smith, his college career really started in 2021 and he started all 14 games during his junior season as the team's leading nose tackle. He had 37 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and had one sack. He also managed to get 21 pressures and his 6.5% missed tackle rate was second best for Michigan. In 2022, with Aidan Hutchinson now in the NFL, the Michigan defense looked for someone to fill the lost talent. Smith stepped up to the plate and became a force in the BIG 10. He finished that season on the team second in pressures (25), sixth on the team in tackles (38) and second on the team in defensive stops (32).

He would have an altercation with the law when he got caught speeding and was found with a concealed handgun in his car. He would later plead guilty and have to spend time doing community service and make a statement of apology to his teammates.

During the offseason people were amazed with his athleticism after weighing in at 325 pounds and then clocking in a shuttle time of 4.41 along with a three-cone time of 6.94. With his leadership on the defense and high levels of production, he earned honors being named first-team All-BIG 10.

Cowboys Outlook:
Mazi Smith becomes the first defensive tackle taken by Dallas in the first round since 1991, that’s a big tell in how much importance this coaching staff want to put on run-stopping this year. Some people had issue with the Mazi Smith pick, but just watching his workout videos will tell you how much of an athletic freak this guy is. It’s true that pure athleticism isn’t everything when it comes to drafting players, but at nose tackle that really is a priority trait. Last year the Cowboys went on an 11-game stretch of allowing the opposition to rush for 100-yards or more in a game. Of those 11 consecutive games, seven of them went for 150 rushing yards or more, and two of them went for 200 rushing yards or more.

Smith should help reduce those rushing yards and anchor the middle of the line, which is something that’s been missing from the Cowboys defense for a while. He may not look flashy on the stat sheet, or be high on the sack or tackle totals each game, but that’s the role Smith is playing. In terms of stats, the nose tackle role is very selfless. What Smith will be doing is chewing up double-teams and plugging running lanes with his power and two-gap ability. That redirects and slows the run game while trying to make the opposition one-dimensional.

Last year among defensive tackles ranked in the FBS, Smith had 48 tackles (6th most), 24 defensive stops (4th most), 13.1% run stop percentage (3rd most) and zero penalties (1st least). In fact, the most outstanding stat Smith has is he has zero penalties while playing in college.

Projected 2023 Stats:
Snaps: 450
Tackles: 14
Pressures: 20
Sacks: 1
TFL: 8
Defensive stops: 12

The Big Question:
Where will the Cowboys rank in run defense by the end of the season this year? Answer in the comments.

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