In case anyone was unaware of the fact, the 2020 rendition of the Dallas Cowboys had some issues on defense. This was precisely why the franchise went with a defense-heavy approach during the 2021 NFL Draft. Addressing the issue is certainly what Dallas did, too, as eight of their 11 draft picks were used on a defensive player.
The question, at this point, is simple: how well did Dallas pick? Did they grade out OK? Will the defensive selections (along with the ones on offense) improve the team just enough to put them firmly in the playoff picture?
This article will hopefully answer some of those questions. Here is my grade of each draft pick Dallas made during the 2021 NFL Draft.
Round 1, pick 12: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
Dallas was initially supposed to pick 10th-overall but traded back with the Philadelphia Eagles and scooped up an additional pick from them as compensation (84th-overall). Dallas wanted to take a defensive back with their selection, but with Patrick Surtain II and Jaycee Horn already off the board by the time they picked at #10, it made sense to trade back, given the fact that Parsons was still going to be on the board anyway. This pick might create some question marks regarding Leighton Vander Esch and Co., but the Cowboys arguably picked up the most dynamic linebacker in the draft. You can slot Parsons anywhere the 4-3 scheme allows and it will pay off. He might have sat out last season, but the potential is still there. Dallas received a ton of value, here.
Round 2, pick 44: Kelvin Joseph, CB, Kentucky
Dallas did not want to wait too long to address their defensive back needs. So, they went with a high-upside option in Joseph, a transfer who originally hailed from LSU. Joseph might not have a ton of starting experience, but the experience he does have is enough – in nine games with the Wildcats last season, Joseph amassed four interceptions and one defensive touchdown. He might be raw when compared to other corners, but he should pair up nicely with Trevon Diggs when it is all said and done.
Round 3, pick 75: Osa Odighizuwa, DT, UCLA
There are two commodities you can never have enough of: offensive linemen and defensive linemen. Odighizuwa gives Dallas another depth option up front that has experience finding the quarterback – in 37 career games with the Bruins, Odighizuwa had 27.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks. There might be concern regarding if he sits on the bench or fights for a starting spot during camp, but Dallas doubling down on an area that might need to pick up the slack should the defensive backs falter is not the worst idea in existence. The more the merrier.
Round 3, pick 84: Chauncey Golston, DE, Iowa
Remember what I said about Odighizuwa? The same statement can be said for the former Hawkeye starter. Dallas has made the message quite clear that they not only want to pressure the quarterback more but want to have younger players that do it. Durability is key, and so is depth for that matter. Golston provides both. The defense up front is becoming more crowded with each pick, but for a defense that struggled as much as it did last season, this is not a bad thing.
Round 3, pick 99: Nahshon Wright, CB, Oregon State
Wright’s addition to the fold gives Dallas another possibility in the defensive back meeting room. Wright might not be the most smash-mouthed defender out there, but he is long, lengthy and can cover well if put in the right formations. Considering this the Cowboys’ draft was defensive-oriented from the get-go, how this pick pans out could be anyone’s guess – again, it all goes back to the schemes put in place. However, it is still a solid pick and a safe one, too. Depth, depth, and more depth.
Round 4, pick 115: Jabril Cox, LB, LSU
Here is a steal of a pick. Even with LSU’s defensive leakiness last season under Bo Pelini, the North Dakota State transfer was still able to put up gaudy numbers. In 10 games played, Cox compiled 58 total tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, three interceptions and one sack. Oh, and just for good measure, he added a defensive touchdown to the mix, too. Cox’s ability to not only pressure the quarterback, mitigate the running game and cover receivers makes him a Swiss army knife of sorts, and a utility player like this in the fourth round brings that much more upside to a defense hungry for three-dimensional defensive players.
Round 4, pick 138: Josh Ball, OT, Marshall
What has been the bread-and-butter of the Cowboys over the past few seasons? What has made the offense click when it is at its best? The offensive line, of course. However, as every NFL fan under the sun has seen over the past few seasons, the Cowboys’ offensive line has started to age and become more prone to injuries. On paper, Ball is a depth option that can, in due time, become a potential asset up front for a line that might need a refresher. Off-the-field problems, including that of domestic violence, will continue to be a dark cloud over the former Florida State Seminole. This is an interesting pick based off pure need, but due to these issues alone, the grade suffers.
Round 5, pick 179: Simi Fehoko, WR, Stanford
Let’s be blunt about this. With Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, CeeDee Lamb, Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, Blake Jarwin and Co., it will be difficult for Fehoko to find consistent playing time. However, this is a solid selection if seen as a weapon from the practice squad or bench (should the injury bug hit). Over the course of his 2019 and 2020 campaigns, Fehoko combined for nine touchdowns and 1,000+ yards. The grade for this pick might not be the highest, but this is more so because of who is ahead of him in the depth chart as opposed to what he brings to the field skill-wise.
Round 6, pick 192: Quinton Bohanna, DT, Kentucky
Bohanna brings upside similarly to the defensive tackles picked previously but has one significant advantage: he can play nose tackle. Whether or not he sticks there, and gets playing time on top of it all, might be open to interpretation, but the talent and depth is still there for Dallas to utilize in any way they see fit. The Cowboys might have been able to scoop up a nose tackle earlier in the draft, but you must give credit where credit is due. They still picked one up.
Round 6, pick 227: Israel Mukuamu, CB, South Carolina
Playing opposite of Horn at South Carolina brings its perks, and while Dallas was unable to nab the former, they will attempt to mold the latter into what they prefer. As with many late-round draft selections, Mukuamu can stick at his usual position or perhaps move to another (possibly safety?), depending on the personnel the Cowboys decide to go with. Molding a player into something else might come with a risk, but it is a risk Dallas will roll with should they decide to go down that path with Mukuamu.
Round 7, pick 238: Matt Farniok, OG, Nebraska
For their final pick, Dallas decided to go with a former two-time Cornhusker captain in Farniok, who has played all positions on the offensive line at one point or another (yes, this includes center). He finished out his Nebraska career by playing right guard, and that will likely be where he sticks in the future. Zack Martin might not miss many games for Dallas, but in case he does, Farniok is an option there. Expect Farniok to move around the line a bunch as he takes part in more practices.
It was obvious Dallas needed to pick based off pure need as opposed to best player available. This might lead to teams reaching for certain players, and Dallas was not an exception to this rule. Even still, they came out of the draft with more depth on the defensive side of the ball than they possessed beforehand. What will come of it remains to be seen, but there are some intriguing assets in this crop. Dallas looks to be on the right track when it comes to transforming their defense for the better, and fans should be excited.
Overall Grade: B+