If there is one thing to take away from the 2021 NFL Draft, it is that the Dallas Cowboys are firmly committed to improving the defensive side of the ball. Eight of the team’s 11 draft picks were spent on the defensive side of the ball — including the first six.
Defense was the popular side of the ball for the Cowboys to address in the first-round. Dallas did just that but not at the position that many expected.
Cornerbacks Jaycee Horn and Patrick Surtain were selected directly ahead of the Dallas Cowboys’ 10th overall selection. That was undoubtedly a big blow to the Cowboys, as corner was arguably the biggest position of need to address, and Horn and Surtain would have stepped in as a day-one starters.
Nevertheless, the Cowboys opted to trade back two spots with the Philadelphia Eagles. Dallas gained a third-round draft pick in the transaction. The Cowboys then grabbed Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons with the 13th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
The pick was met with mixed reactions — for a variety of factors. For one, many were set on the Cowboys selecting one of the top corners in the class. Secondly, linebacker wasn’t expected to be the pick addressed in round one. Third, Parsons is a talented prospect, but he comes with some risks.
Dallas continued to attack the defense after selecting Parsons. In total, the Cowboys drafted three defensive backs, two linebackers, two defensive tackles, and one defensive end.
COWBOYS REBUILD LINEBACKER CORPS
While linebacker was not seen as the biggest hole for the Cowboys to address, the unit certainly needed some upgrades.
Leighton Vander Esch has struggled to stay on the field, and a decision regarding his fifth-year option for the 2022 season has not been made yet. Jaylon Smith has regressed mightily, and Dallas has a way out of his contract next offseason. Both Sean Lee (retirement) and Joe Thomas (free agency) left the building.
The Cowboys not only addressed the position, the Cowboys probably improved the unit as a whole. For the question marks that Parsons brings — lack of experience in coverage, raw at the position, and maturity concerns — he has the talent to give a boost to the defense immediately.
Dallas picks up a do-it-all defender 😤
— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) April 30, 2021
Parsons is an athletic freak that was an absolute force rushing the passer on the collegiate level. He provides the Cowboys with a linebacker that create havoc getting after the quarterback while also being a contributor in run support. Draft guru Dane Brugler wrote that Parsons “projects as one of the best talents in the draft”.
Additionally, the Cowboys came away with one of the best values in the draft by taking former North Dakota State and LSU linebacker Jabril Cox. Cox was widely viewed as a second- or third-round pick, but he fell to the 115th pick.
Cowboys have taken SIX defensive players 👀
LSU LB Jabril Cox lands in Dallas pic.twitter.com/xzM5t1KbLV
— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) May 1, 2021
Cox reportedly had a shoulder injury that concerned some teams, but he is too good of a talent to pass up on in the fourth-round. The former FCS and SEC star defender is impressive in coverage, something that should complement Parsons well.
The Cowboys’ linebacker room now looks like this: Parsons, Cox, Vander Esch, Smith, and Keanu Neal. That is how you rebuild a position unit.
DALLAS ADDRESSES SECONDARY
The Cowboys missed out on Surtain and Horn, but Dallas did address the secondary.
Second-round pick Kelvin Joseph was seen as one of the more talented cornerback positions in the entire draft class. While he does come with some baggage — kicked off LSU’s team and has some maturity concerns — Joseph is oozing talent and potential.
Joseph is a 5-foot-11, 197-pound corner that possesses 4.34 speed and very impressive athleticism — a theme between Parsons, Cox, and Joseph. The former four-star recruit turned in a strong performance against Eagles’ first-round pick Devonta Smith in 2020. Expect Joseph to compete for a starting gig right away.
After Joseph, the Cowboys drafted two more defensive backs — the two biggest DBs in the entire draft, in fact. Nahshon Wright was the pick at 99 that caught many off guard. The Oregon State corner was not on my radars, but Dallas obviously fell in love with the 6-foot-4 DB.
— Mike Leslie (@MikeLeslieWFAA) May 1, 2021
Wright is seen as a project that the Cowboys may have drafted a round or two early. That said, Dan Quinn has had some success with bigger defensive backs, and Wright has some interesting tools that could translate to the Cowboys’ Cover 3 scheme.
Finally, Dallas grabbed South Carolina defensive back Israel Mukuamu in the sixth-round. Mukuamu played alongside Jaycee Horn in the Gamecocks secondary and was a standout player in the SEC in his own right. Mukuamu’s best collegiate performance came in a three-intereception performance against Georgia in 2019.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) March 27, 2020
There is some thought that the Cowboys could initially try Mukuamu out at safety. Either way, the Cowboys selected the two tallest corners in the draft. Dan Quinn’s influence is evident.
COWBOYS ADD TO DEFENSIVE LINE
The Cowboys also threw a handful of selections at the defensive line in the 2021 NFL Draft. From the third-round to the sixth-round, Dallas made sure to add some more bodies to the trenches.
UCLA defensive tackle Osa Odighizuwa was the team’s first of three third-round selections. Odighizuwa offers a little bit of position versatility along the line of scrimmage, as he can play inside and out at end. Brugler says that the UCLA product “might be the Cowboys’ next Tyrone Crawford”. Expect Odighizuwa to compete for meaningful snaps as a rookie.
— John Owning (@JohnOwning) May 1, 2021
Following the Odighizuwa pick, the Dallas Cowboys selected Iowa defensive end Chauncey Golston. Golston is a player that 105.3 The Fan’s Jeff Cavanaugh has described as a “safe” player with a high floor.
The Iowa product may never turn into a Pro Bowler, but he should provide Dallas with important depth along the defensive line. That would be a great thing to get out of a third-round draft pick.
Play. Maker. 🙌
— Iowa On BTN (@IowaOnBTN) April 26, 2021
Finally, the Cowboys grabbed a big body on the third day of the draft. Dallas used one of its two sixth-round picks on Kentucky defensive tackle Quinton Bohannon. Bohannon is a 6-foot-4, 330-pound defender that immediately provides Dallas with some beef in the trenches.
Bohanna is not going to be a player that is going to make a lot of big plays — just 58 total tackles during his four-season career with the Wildcats — but he could make the roster due to his size and ability to clog up gaps. The Cowboys need a “space eater” on their defense, and Bohanna can be just that.
LSU NT Tyler Shelvin gets a lot of shine as as the 2021 Draft’s super-heavyweight run stopper, but let’s not forget about Kentucky’s big fella Quinton Bohanna either. pic.twitter.com/EtBb3mmp8J
— Eric Froton (@CFFroton) April 1, 2021
DALLAS THREW MUCH-NEEDED DARTS IN DRAFT
Overall, the Cowboys certainly went into a the NFL Draft with a plan: fix the defense. Quarterback Dak Prescott was quoted earlier last week saying “I think it will be a heavy defensive draft for us”. It certainly was just that.
Not every pick that the Dallas Cowboys made is going to pan out. That is just how the NFL Draft works — it’s a crapshoot and nobody bats a thousand.
Still, the Cowboys made sure to throw enough darts in some smart areas that can hopefully translate to the field. The run defense was addressed by selecting Parsons and the three defensive linemen. The pass defense was focused on by drafting the three defensive backs and Cox.
All in all, the Cowboys showed its commitment to the defensive side of the ball this April. Now, we wait to see if it pays off.
Featured image via Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports