Sep 24, 2022; Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA; Maryland Terrapins running back Roman Hemby (24) is tackled by Michigan Wolverines defensive lineman Mazi Smith (58) in the first half at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Prior to the draft, I wrote that the Cowboys’ top priority heading into the draft was fortifying the offense to secure an issue that lingered all of last season. Dak Prescott co-led the NFL in interceptions last year despite missing five games, and the Dallas higher-ups made their frustrations public knowledge almost immediately. My solution? Focus on the offense and make sure Dak doesn’t have any excuses.
The Cowboys did almost the exact opposite by adding to the defensive talent with three of their first four picks. Early on, I was torn on Dallas’ draft performance due to the fact they went against what I thought would benefit the team most. However, Vice President of player personnel Will McClay has earned the right to be trusted, given his track record, and this draft proved something for the Cowboys as well. They identified a real problem and fixed it.
The Dallas run defense ranked 22nd in the league last season, and even after the acquisition of Johnathan Hankins, the issue still stuck around. That was the issue that Dallas chose to solve, and it’s safe to say they were committed to eradicating that problem.
Michigan defensive tackle Mazi Smith was touted as one of the most ferocious run defenders in the draft. Although, according to some experts, Smith may have been a reach in the first round, he likely fortifies Dallas’ run defense right out of the gate. Not only that, but Smith plays with enough speed and explosiveness to eventually develop into a legitimate pass rusher from the inside.
On top of Smith in the first round, Dallas took another proven run-stopper in San Jose State defensive end Viliami Fehoko, who won the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year Award this past season. While his nine sacks in 2022 jump off the stat sheet, the thing that drew the Cowboys to him was his run defense grade. According to Pro Football Focus, Fehoko ranked in the 99th percentile in run defense among college players. This dude shuts down the run game, and with his positional versatility, he can be a viable asset across the defensive line.
Another selection to look out for on the defensive side is Texas linebacker DeMarvion Overshown, whose athleticism gives him some of the highest upside in the Dallas’ draft class. On top of his great size and speed, he was one of the best coverage linebackers in the draft and a violent tackler. If Dan Quinn can get him to aggressively attack running lanes, he could find a comfortable spot next to Leighton Vander Esch in the starting lineup.
As far as the offense is concerned, Cowboys fans were left with a bit to be desired. The Cowboys didn’t ignore the offense but clearly didn’t prioritize it. In the second round, Dallas took Michigan tight end Luke Schoonmaker, who saw most of his production when starting TE Erick All went down. Schoonmaker has plenty of upside and does a little bit of everything. He was one of the most athletic tight ends in the draft and has a well-rounded game with the ability to both block and catch passes at a high rate. The issue off the bat is the uncertainty of where he’ll sit on the depth chart. Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot both showed promise last season. Does Schoonmaker immediately get starts over them, or does he become rotational?
One pick that Cowboys fans should be excited about is Kansas State running back Deuce Vaughn, who Dallas selected deep in the sixth round. We all saw the video of his dad, who works for the team, calling Deuce to draft him to the Cowboys uniting them. It was a tearjerker, without a doubt, but Vaughn provides an outrageous amount of electricity to this offense.
We get it. He’s short. But I don’t care. The dude can flat-out play. He’s one of only five players in FBS history since 1996 to record over 3,600 rushing yards and 1,200 receiving yards in their career. Also, news flash, big guys play in college too. I think he can take it. His ability to win in open space and provide versatility in the offense will become immediately valuable to Dak and Mike McCarthy.
The Cowboys also addressed other areas with the selections of North Carolina offensive lineman Asim Richards, Southern Mississippi cornerback Eric Scott Jr., and South Carolina wide receiver Jalen Brooks. Scouts love Richards’ ability to move anywhere on the offensive line. He should be in the mix for left guard in camp depending on where the team plans to play their tackles.
Scott Jr. is a player Dallas brought in for a top-30 visit and clearly loved as they traded up in the sixth round to get him. He has good size and ball skills, which fits the mold of what Dan Quinn looks for in corners. Brooks is a receiver with solid hands and contested catch ability. He’ll have a chance to earn a spot on the roster in camp.
This was one of those drafts for the Cowboys that won’t ever be looked at as sexy. It’s a meat and potatoes draft. Heavy commitment to strengthening the trenches and solving the run defense issue. As it was happening, Cowboys fans may have been frustrated, but this could be the year that proves the genius of Will McClay and Dallas’ drafting abilities.
Overall Grade: B