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Cowboys training camp: Early evaluation of the 2023 rookie class

With the activation of Luke Schoonmaker, it seems a good time to look at the group as a whole.

Dallas Cowboys Training Camp
Jalen Brooks was the last draft pick, but he has been making some noise.
Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

One of the most anticipated parts of any NFL training camp is the debut of the new crop of draftees, plus the watch for UDFAs that might break through. This has been particularly fun for fans of the Dallas Cowboys this year. Early indications are that the 2023 rookies are collectively going to play a big role for the team.

Here is a breakdown of how all the draftees are doing. UDFAs have been mostly quiet, but there still are a few names to watch.

1st-round pick - DT Mazi Smith

Being a first round pick always comes with high expectations. For the first pick of the Cowboys, those get magnified way out of proportion. Smith represented a significant departure from past drafts. The team has under-invested in the nose tackle or 1-tech position for decades. Perhaps presaged by the trade during last season to add Johnathan Hankins, this pick signals a new way of looking at the value of the position.

Smith was brought in with a primary objective of shoring up the run defense, but already he is showing some potential at collapsing the pocket as well. One concern coming out of college was his slow first step, but he has shown promise of getting that fixed. His strength is clearly on display, and it is a bit scary. As he notoriously said, he’s not out there to play football. He just wants to hit people.

Oh, yes, please.

Smith has hit a snag as tendinitis in the knee is an issue requiring a preventative MRI. The hope is every thing is fine there.

2nd-round pick - TE Luke Schoonmaker

We lack meaningful data on him after he began camp on the NFI list. But he has just been activated, and now we will see how he handles the pros. We know the team is not going to release him barring a complete and total collapse, and nothing in his college career hints that is at all possible. His evaluation is TBD, but this is the time of year for sometimes irrational optimism, so let’s look for good things.

And on Monday, it began.

3rd-round pick - LB DeMarvion Overshown

As with all of these players, things are early and we have to keep that in mind. But Overshown has shown out quite a bit, and there is a growing consensus that he is going to be strong competition on the depth chart for one of last year’s surprises from the draft, Damone Clark. But both of them are quite secure and will make the roster.

What is really exciting is how his usage in practice seems similar to that of Jayron Kearse in more of a hybrid linebacker/safety role. Overshown has looked very good in coverage while exhibiting good ability to close down running plays. With Kearse a free agent next year, this may be both a future move and a strong addition for this season.

(Disclaimer: Overshown is a product of small town Arp High School, less than an hour’s drive from where I live, so I am really pulling for my fellow East Texan to make his mark.)

4th-round pick - DE Viliami Fehoko

Fehoko has had a quiet camp. Part of that may well be that he is in the same group as Micah Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence, Sam Williams, and Dorance Armstrong. Talk about being overshadowed.

What is notable is there have been no reports from the people attending the practices of him struggling or looking bad. If you haven’t noticed, the coverage of the Cowboys can be very critical. If he was not doing well, we would have heard something by now. His draft position makes it very likely he is going to be on the 53-man roster, even if he winds up being inactive for games a lot. It’s OK. The team can afford to let him develop with the QB hunters ahead of him on the depth chart.

5th-round pick - OG Asim Richards

Richards is much the same as Fehoko, not much glowing press, but no lowlights, either. And his development may be accelerated a bit due to the Zack Martin holdout. Richards is getting extra reps and coaching as a result. While he is in the more marginal area as far as the team keeping him due to draft status, he should be a backup on the line when the real games start.

6th-round pick, part 1 - CB Eric Scott

Dallas made a surprise trade to get an extra pick at the start of the sixth round, and so far, Scott has shown just what a wise investment that was. He has looked the part in camp, with some very good plays. Given how good the receiving corps is shaping up to be, that is impressive. Additionally, new acquisition Stephon Gilmore has already established himself as a mentor and on field coach for the rest of the defensive backs, which could help him a great deal. It’s a deep group this year, but Scott is making a great case to stick with the team.

6th-round pick, part 2 - RB Deuce Vaughn

He has already been christened with a new nickname or meme as the smol back for the Cowboys. His drafting, with his father Chris making the call to him that he was coming to Dallas, is already a minor legend. Still, his diminutive stature led to plenty of questions about how well he could hold up in the land of giants known as the NFL.

Yeah, those are getting answered in a hurry, in very positive ways. Vaughn just looks electric when he gets his hands on the ball, and he is even showing both a willingness and ability to do some blocking when needed. With Tony Pollard now the lead back, the change of pace role was wide open this year. So far, Vaughn looks to be just the right size.

7th-round pick - WR Jalen Brooks

No rookie has been a bigger surprise than Brooks. Seventh-round picks are often flyers, but Brooks has been a very different type of those. He has highlight catches in every practice, and has rapidly become a fan favorite with an excellent chance of making the 53-man roster. As challenger to be the sixth wide receiver over Simi Fehoko, he would also have to contribute on special teams, and so far he is checking that box. He could be another Will McClay late-round special.


Things have been somehwat subdued with this bunch, perhaps because the draftees are collectively doing better than might be expected. But a handful bear watching.

TE John Stephens, a converted WR, has made some impressive grabs in practices. While the return of Schoonmaker makes his path to the 53 much more dicey, he is starting to show signs of being a top priority for the practice squad. We don’t know how many TEs the team will carry this year, but if they keep four, Stephens might be a surprise member of the team.

RB/FB Hunter Luepke is not getting much mention, but he also seems to be used in a blocking role a lot. The fullback position is almost dead in the NFL. However, OC Brian Schottenheimer and head coach Mike McCarthy are not shy about stating how important the running game is for the team. If Luepke also shows potential as a short-yardage specialist, he could make this roster. And there are hints that he is going to be more than that.

It looked like Jalen Moreno-Cropper was going to be this year’s WR UDFA darling early on, but he has been quieter of late, with so much focus on the excellent camps of Jalen Tolbert, KaVontae Turpin, and Brooks. He’s probably another player auditioning for the practice squad, but there is not such thing as too much WR depth.

We’ll learn a lot more about these players this weekend when the Cowboys play their first preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

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