Order of Defense
After giving up a franchise-worst 473 points in 2020, the consensus among experts and the Dallas Cowboys was that they would and should be about defense in the 2021 NFL Draft.
That they certainly did, going all defense in their first six picks, a franchise record, with eight of eleven overall, but there’s a mixed bag of bargains and stretch players along with character issues that raise questions about this team’s draft.
For months, the additional consensus was the Cowboys would and should go cornerback at the 10th overall pick, but unfortunately the top two corners were taken right in front of them at eight and nine, and then the rival-Philadelphia Eagles made a trade for the 10th pick, giving up a third-rounder, moving Dallas back to the 12th. Just like the previous year, the Cowboys went with the best available player approach, taking linebacker Micah Parsons from Penn State.
Parsons could have gone much higher if he didn’t opt out of the 2020 season as he might be the best defensive player in this draft. The 21-year-old has great speed, covers and tackles well. The only problem is his maturity. He’ll be replacing Sean Lee, who just retired last week and could have had Hall of Fame potential if he wasn’t hurt so often. The question is will he also replace the injury-prone Leighton Vander-Esch, who the Cowboys declined the fifth-year option on and/or the overrated Jaylon Smith, who’s signed through 2025?
After missing out on a cornerback in the first round again, the Cowboys got one in the second for the second-consecutive year, drafting Kelvin Joseph of Kentucky at №44. Joseph is an interesting case because he’s very talented on the field with great speed, coverage ability and ball skills, but he transferred from LSU and had character issues there and with the Wildcats. He also has a rapping career, producing six albums, which might be a commitment problem away from football even though he says it won’t.
Having already gained two and then a third pick, the Cowboys got busy in the 3rd round. At №75, Dallas decided to stack up their defensive line, taking DT Osa Odighizuwa out of UCLA. Odighizuwa is thought to be a reach as he’s not great in any area and is undersized, a trait Dallas loves, but he’s got a non-stop motor who knows how to get up field and can play multiple positions on the line.
At pick 84, the Cowboys added more to that line, taking defensive end Chauncey Gholston out of Iowa. Like the previous pick, Gholston is considered a reach, not fast and undersized, but he’s got long arms and can find ways to get to the quarterback.
Dallas got their second cornerback at №99, taking Nahshon Wright of Oregon State. Wright may be the biggest reach of this draft as some had him not being picked at all. He’s not great in man coverage, but he’s long and tall at 6'4", a trait favorable to new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, and is also a ballhawk.
At №115, the Cowboys made their most proficient pick with linebacker Jabril Cox of LSU. Cox was supposed to be much higher as he’s the best coverage linebacker in the draft, but he fell right in their lap. He’s capable of playing in the box, at corner, slot and on the D-line. This really makes you question the future of their current linebacker tandem.
Another steal came at №138 in offensive tackle Josh Ball of Marshall. He’s got a lot of raw, skilled talent but needs to be groomed. The reason he’s not much higher is because of his issues off the field as he had a domestic violence case at Florida State that made him transfer. He can be a backup and possibly a future starter with Tyron Smith dealing with injuries that could lead to his retirement.
At one of the deepest positions, the Cowboys took a late flier on receiver at №179 with Simi Fehoko of Stanford. Not being a great route runner and drops are why he was taken low, but he could be a sweet deal with his speed, 6'4” size, and playmaking ability, especially in the red zone, getting jump balls just like Dez Bryant.
With the 192nd pick, the Cowboys finally took a guy who can take up space with defensive tackle Quinton Bohanna of Kentucky (the second pick from that school), who’s also great at run-stuffing…..and that’s about it.
At №227, the Cowboys got another tall cornerback with Israel Mukuamu of South Carolina, the other cornerback from the school where Jaycee Horn was taken in front of them in the first round. At 6'4", he shows great size and ball-playing skills but isn’t great at situational coverage.
With their final pick at №238, another offensive lineman was added in Matt Farniok of Nebraska. Like other seventh rounders, he’s a fringe player on making the roster, but, unlike some of the other draftees, he possesses great character and leadership traits.
Lots of experts didn’t give the Cowboys the greatest grades unlike last year’s magic, but you can only tell so much. It’s what they do on the field in the NFL that matters.
Other big picks in the draft include the first three picks going quarterback for just a third time in league history. There were the obvious ones: Trevor Lawrence (Clemson) going to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Zach Wilson (BYU) going to the New York Jets, and then there was the excitement with Trey Lance (North Dakota State) going to the San Francisco 49ers, who made some trades and put their current QB, Jimmy Garoppollo, on notice. The Chicago Bears trading up to №11 to take Justin Fields (Ohio State) was slightly shocking given their drafting skills, especially at QB. And then there’s the one that intrigues me the most with the New England Patriots not having to move at all at №15 as Mac Jones (Alabama) dropped into their lap. He’s a pocket passer who’s not very mobile. Sound familiar from that franchise? (Hint: It’s Tom Brady.)
It was quite nice to see an in-person, normal draft in Cleveland with so many vaccinated unlike last year’s virtual event being hosted from commissioner Roger Goodell’s basement. The rest of the offseason should be more like normal and, hopefully, that makes up for better football compared to 2020 where everything was virtual until training camp in August with no preseason games.