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Cowboys draft grade. An analysis of their 2021 draft class

There are two sides to the Dallas Cowboys’ proverbial coin. The first, and more optimistic side, is that they have a ridiculously talented offense who can go toe to toe with anyone in the league. On the flip side, the defense has too few playmakers. So, easy enough problem, right? Go sign some established veterans to plug the holes and the offense can make up the difference. Well, much easier said than done. First off, the Cowboys have PAID through the nose to acquire that level of talent offensively. Between Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, Zack Martin, La’el Collins, and Tyron Smith, the Cowboys have committed $82M in cap space, which is nearly 40% of their entire cap.

The plus side is that they’ve drafted well the last few seasons to plug the spots around those guys (i.e. CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup, Blake Jarwin, etc.). The down side is that, outside of Lamb, all of those guys will be looking for contracts in the next season or two.

Whereas the defense is pretty much barren. Sure, they have DeMarcus Lawrence and Jaylon Smith up front to build around. But, Leighton Vander-Esch has failed to stay healthy since his outstanding rookie season, Randy Gregory is about as reliable as Josh Gordon, and their cornerback room is a bunch of 2’s and 3’s. So, the draft had to be about one thing and one thing only; defense. Without money to spend, the Cowboys took a three-pronged attack:

  1. Bring in a new scheme/DC that has had success (Dan Quinn)
  2. Plug some holes with cheap vets who know the system (Keanu Neal, Damontae Kazee)
  3. Target the draft for your impact additions

Penn State LB Micah Parsons (Round 1, Pick 12)

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What was more surprising, a linebacker who is nearly 250 pounds that ran a sub 4.4-40 fell out of the top 10 or that the two top corners in the draft went back-to-back picks in front of Dallas? I hate to call it bad luck because Parsons has the physical gifts to become an absolute stud in this league, but it was pretty evident that Dallas was more enamored with adding to the secondary when they traded back a couple spots. Truth be told, so were we.

Now, linebacker is probably the last spot that many would have targeted as a key addition to the defense. The interior of the defensive line is atrocious, though they hopefully add another veteran before the season, and the secondary is reliant on Trevon Diggs making a solid 2nd year leap. However, the Cowboys need impact plays any way they can get them, whether that’s in the form of a sack, interception, tackle for loss, or forced fumble. Their best play was to grab a guy that could make a play, and there’s a steep drop-off between Parsons and the next tier of players.

Listen, Parsons has all the intangibles you look for in a linebacker. He’s big (6’3, 245), he’s fast (4.39 40), and he produces (109 tackles, 14.5 TFLs, 5 sacks, 4 FFs in 2019). He has all the tools to be a 3-down linebacker and I fully expect Dan Quinn to use him as that “queen” chess-piece type. This was a solid pick and a necessary one for Dallas, it solidifies at least one positional group on the defense. Great start for our Cowboys draft grade.

Kentucky CB Kelvin Joseph (Round 2, Pick 44)

I loved the value for this pick and another plus for our Cowboys draft grade. This is another high-upside player for the Cowboys, which assumes risk if he doesn’t live up to it, but I love his style. He’s known for being physical and aggressive at the line, which fits in seamlessly with how Dan Quinn likes his corners to act. He is pretty green, he came out after his sophomore campaign, which just so happened to be his first year starting. But, the Cowboys got the same upside at 44 that the Titans got with Caleb Farley at 22.

Joseph has the versatility to play outside or in the slot, but his aggressive style leads me to believe he’ll play on the boundaries. He also has a knack for finding the football too, he notched 4 picks in 9 games for Kentucky in 2020, so in a pressure scheme where Dan Quinn is going to bring a lot of heat, Joseph will have opportunities to make some big plays for them.

Would I have loved to see the Cowboys get aggressive and flip their 2nd and one of their 3rds to move up for IDL Christian Barmore? Absolutely, interior defensive line is easily the biggest need for the Cowboys going into 2021 and has been for the past few seasons. However, they have a lot of holes to fill and needed to throw as much as they could at the wall in hopes that a few stuck, so in this situation, quantity trumped quality.

UCLA IDL Osa Odighizuwa (Round 3, Pick 75)

The theme is disruption and the Cowboys’ first third round pick keeps that trend going. Odighizuwa is what his size dictates on the interior, when you’re average height (6’2) and very light (280), you’ll make plays in the passing game, but be non-existent in the run game. For example, he notched 39 tackles behind the line of scrimmage in his 4-year career, 27.5 of them were sacks. Which sounds great, the Cowboys just drafted a guy who can get after the QB. Yeah, well tell that to the 31st run defense that needs a lot of attention.

In fact, I would be surprised if he is an every-down player, if Osa factors in at all it’s going to be as a 3rd down interior rusher who can use quickness to beat offensive linemen. Still, I was disappointed by the pick overall, sure it addressed a need, kind of? But, like I yelled at the Bills for, why not target an impact offensive lineman? Both Ben Cleveland and Wyatt Davis were still sitting them. The best iterations of the Cowboys, specifically recently, have all started and ended with a dominant offensive line. Why not pair a dominant college guard with the most dominant guard in the NFL today? Maybe that opens up holes for Zeke, which gives you a higher overall TOP, which allows your defense to do more watching than playing, and all of that has a bigger impact than some player that I have no idea how to pronounce his name!

Iowa ED Chauncey Golston (Round 3, Pick 84)

WHY NOT A STARTER INSTEAD OF A BACKUP?!? Fine, maybe the guy above at least fills a need for the Cowboys, but what does Golston do? How in the world did Ben Cleveland fall pass the Cowboys again here?? The best case scenario here is that Randy Gregory lays off the ganja, plays a full season, and actually produces like he can. Which, would slate Golston as a rotational back-up. Where he may be effective in, I’m not saying he’s garbage, but the sheer value in selecting a starter at the end of the 3rd round is ridiculous, it just doesn’t happen all that often.

Okay, so now to the pick. Is Golston a good player? Sure, I actually like him as a way to set the edge and turn the run game back to the interior. At 6’5, 270 he has the physical traits to be impactful in that aspect and his stats back that up. In his three seasons starting, he notched 27 TFLs and 130 tackles, both of those numbers means that he makes plays in the run-game. He’s not much of a pass-rusher though, only 12 sacks in 34 games, but that’s what Dallas pays Lawrence for and drafted Parsons to help do.

Oregon State CB Nahshon Wright (Round 3, Pick 99)

I find it hard to believe that the Cowboys didn’t make this pick with Richard Sherman in mind. Not only is he 6’4, but he also ran a reported 4.47-40. Both qualities make him the prototypical corner for Dan Quinn’s Cover-3 scheme. So, for that reason I absolutely loved this pick and that makes three for our Cowboys draft grade. Wright has the length and strength to jam receivers at the LOS, the height to defend vertical routes, and the speed to not get beat over the top.

Like I mentioned earlier, if the Cowboys are going to make the most of this window and turn this ship around quickly, they’re going to need to hit on a few of the later round draft picks they made. Kelvin Joseph has the talent, production, and pedigree of that player and Nahshon Wright has the physical traits.

This draft is critical for Dallas, they won’t have the financial flexibility to add impact names to their defense after signing Dak long term and with decisions to make on guys like Michael Gallup. This very much was taking players who have tremendous upside and would benefit from an aggressive scheme that is taught by a player’s coach. Did this draft solve all of their issues? No, the Cowboys still have major issues on the interior of their defense and neither Joseph or Wright project as a No. 1 corner. However, I thought they added a lot of youth and talent to a unit that needed an injection of it and that’s the primary driver of our Cowboys draft grade. And outside of passing up on Ben Cleveland at #75, they made the picks that they should have.

Cowboys Draft Grade: A-

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