The Dallas Cowboys draft class and choices during the 2021 NFL Draft raised plenty of eyebrows. One thing is for sure, the Cowboys placed a much higher value on what they saw on the field versus off of it. Let’s breakdown each pick and hand out some Cowboys draft grades.
Cowboys Draft Grades | 2021 NFL Draft
Round 1, Pick 12: LB Micah Parsons, Penn State
To say that it was a surprise that the Cowboys selected Micah Parsons wouldn’t be accurate. Yes, many thought Dallas would end up with one of the two top corners, and both were expected to be available. I’m not shedding any tears over not getting Jaycee Horn or Patrick Surtain II, simply because neither had a top-10 grade on my board, nor most in the scouting community. Both went in the top 10, but I don’t believe that would have been the case in any of the last several draft classes.
I also like the decision to move down with Philadelphia. One way or another, Dallas was going to see DeVonta Smith picked by a division rival, and they took it upon themselves to give him to Jalen Hurts as opposed to Daniel Jones, while also picking up a third-round pick. Where I was a bit caught off guard was their decision to pass on Rashawn Slater for Parsons. I only had six players with top-10 grades in this class. Slater was one, and Parsons wasn’t. Take away the Penn State linebackers off-the-field issues, and that changes, but he still would have had a slightly lesser grade than Slater.
However, this isn’t a situation like last year, where Dallas went with an offensive player because he was the top player on their board. Lamb was not just the best player available in 2020; it wasn’t even close to any defender we could have considered. Here, Slater and Parsons weren’t that far apart, and Dallas chose to lean towards need over value. Taking Slater would have given them a left guard that can quickly become one of the top players at his position in the league.
Still, Parsons is capable of that as well if he has matured. Ultimately, Dallas chose to help this defense, and I’m not sure anyone can argue with that sentiment.
Round 2, Pick 44: CB Kelvin Joseph, Kentucky
I was wrong. Here is what I can say about Joseph. Like Parsons, he can be one of the top defenders in this class. Watching his film reminded me of Janoris Jenkins, who was one of the more impressive collegiate corners I’ve scouted over the years. Joseph has elite athleticism and instincts that allow him to stick to receivers as well as anyone in this class. He may not have the size that fits best in this system, but his arm length is well above average for a corner that’s just a half-inch under six feet.
Without the character concerns that led to him being suspended and eventually leaving LSU, Joseph would have been taken in the middle of the first round. Only his average size would have kept him from being in the conversation for the first corner taken.
It stung to watch the Raiders deliberately jump the Cowboys for Trevon Moehrig, knowing Dallas had more than enough draft capital to spare by trading up. Still, I think it would have been considered a disappointment to come out of this draft without a top-50 selection being spent on a corner.
Round 3, Pick 75: DL Osa Odighizuwa, UCLA
The Cowboys had the draft capital to move up for either but stayed put and took the UCLA defensive lineman. I will say this, the pick established a pattern of Dallas targeting defensive lineman with exceptional arm length. That is essential at several of the spots on Dan Quinn’s defensive line, and Odighizuwa is capable of playing several spots on this front. Right now, I think he may be best suited to compete with Neville Gallimore and Trysten Hill as the under tackle in this scheme.
He can also rotate with the two of them as the Cowboys nickel rushers on the interior, although he needs to continue developing his pass-rush arsenal. Still, his strong hands and ability to quickly find the ball in the backfield before shedding and pursuing lend themselves to the interior-shaded end that often lines up as a four or five-technique.
One way or another, we should see him help this defensive line early in his career. I just hope the tenacity we see him play with is indicative of his passion for the game because his older brother, Owa, was on the Cowboys’ radar in 2015 before being picked 74th overall by the Giants. His NFL stint didn’t last long, as he never developed beyond what we say in college.
Round 3, Pick 84: DL Chauncey Golston, Iowa
No, I didn’t expect Dallas to go with back-to-back defensive linemen in the first half of the third round, but I did think they’d look to address the unit multiple times in this draft. I was a bit caught off guard that they passed on a corner like Ifeatu Melifonwu or linebackers like Baron Browning or Jabrill Cox.
Still, after taking a pair of players with character concerns with their first two picks, bringing in a player with a sterling reputation like this is encouraging. Golston is regarded as a leader in every facet of the term and has often outworked more physically gifted players during his time at Iowa.
He also has some of the longest arms in this draft at 34 ¾ inches, and like Odighizuwa, his motor is constantly running. I expect him to compete to be a day-one contributor at the four/five-tech end position with Brent Urban while also helping to rush the passer from the interior.
Round 3, Pick 99: CB Nahshon Wright, Oregon State
After not getting what I deemed great value with either of their prior third-round picks, you can imagine how frustrating this one was. Considered the most considerable reach of day one or two, Wright was ranked my 45th corner in this class. Typically, we see 25-30 corners drafted every year, showing that I did not believe he would be drafted. Yes, teams take flyers on “project players” that they think have the moldable traits to thrive in their system, but that usually happens later on day three, not at 99.
Wright has the kind of size and length Quinn’s system features at corner. He’s six feet, four inches with well-above-average make-up speed. Still, he also weighs 183 pounds which will not work in the NFL. Heck, many punters and kickers are heavier than that. Can he add the weight and keep that recovery speed in the sub 4.5 range (ran a 4.47 at his Pro Day)? The lateral movement isn’t great, but he does show light feet while flipping his hips rather well.
We will find out if this pick pans out in due time, but someone (likely Quinn) pounded the table for this guy, meaning Wright’s success could impact their long-term employment here. You don’t gamble and lose with top-100 picks and keep your job for long.
I wish I could say I was confident about Wright’s chances of making the team, outside of just being had a job to give this pick time to pan out. He’s not ready to supplant any of the Cowboys’ top four corners, which includes Joseph.
He’s also not going to push special teams’ ace, C.J. Goodwin, off the roster, and I’m not even sure he can survive on special teams with his current measurables. I even have questions about his ability to beat out Rashard Robinson and Maurice Canady if they choose to keep a sixth corner. That’s not including last year’s fourth-rounder Reggie Robinson if they decide to move him back to corner.
Round 4, Pick 115: LB Jabril Cox, LSU
After reaching with each of their third-round picks, this was a breath of fresh air. Jabril Cox was my 84th-ranked player in this class, which means I would have been fine with them taking him with any of those three choices. Instead, he fell to us in the fourth round, which could be the biggest steal of Dallas’ draft class. Cox is one of the best linebackers in this class in coverage and should fit very well at the role that Keanu Neal was brought in to play.
I believe the Cowboys need to show a little patience with Cox early on, which makes having Neal on the roster a bonus. Transferring to LSU for his final year was a bit of a wake-up call for areas he needs development.
I’d like to see him diagnose quicker when lined up inside and spring into action because he doesn’t have the size to consistently fight off offensive linemen. Still, that fits with what Quinn wants, and I will say that his instincts in coverage should lead to the assumption that he can improve in this area with time.
If so, Dallas might be getting someone that can start alongside Parsons with this pick. By the way, how impressive is it that he was named captain at LSU after only a few months on campus?
Round 4, Pick 138: OT Josh Ball, Marshall
It just doesn’t seem logical to bring multiple players with character red flags, but Jerry Jones has never been one to pass on talent if he believes a second chance is warranted. By all reports, Ball kept his nose clean at Florida State, which leads me to believe he has matured significantly since being suspended.
On the field, Ball has everything a team would want in a developmental project with starting upside at tackle. He’s actually pretty polished in most facets of playing the position but must develop patience in pass protection to keep from being a liability.
I like what he brings to the table as a run-blocker, and his size and athleticism are more than fitting for the blindside, although I would like to see him get more explosive in his lower half. If he has genuinely learned from his mistakes at Florida State, this could be a steal for Dallas.
Round 5, Pick 179: WR Simi Fehoko, Stanford
Simi Fehoko is another player I highlighted as a day-three fit for Dallas, given his imposing build and exceptional athleticism. He was Stanford’s most reliable pass-catcher this fall and led them in receiving touchdowns each of the last two seasons.
At just under six feet, four inches, he’s taller than any of the receivers Dallas dressed in 2020 and has the build to develop into an above-average blocker. Fehoko is also a proven commodity on special teams. I’ve always argued that the receivers best-suited to help Dak Prescott were bigger guys with catch-radiuses that made up for his less-than-stellar ball placement and accuracy. Fehoko often uses his frame to put defensive backs out of position and routinely extends his hands to the ball.
He definitely has an intriguing skill set to push for a fifth or sixth spot in this roster at wide receiver. I won’t be shocked if he and the quarterbacks develop some early chemistry either, given his passer-friendly traits.
Round 6, Pick 192: DT Quinton Bohanna, Kentucky
Still, at 6-4, 327 pounds, he’s precisely the kind of run stuffer that can improve this run defense after a year in which they were one of only three teams to allow opposing offenses to rush for five yards or more per carry. Guys like this make the linebackers better, and Dallas now has plenty of talented linebackers to benefit from him. Like Odighizuwa and Golston (and Brent Urban and Carlos Watkins), he has 34-inch arms that help him keep opposing blockers off his frame.
He’s got the power to press his man and patrol the gaps on each side of him and holds up well against double teams. Bohanna also has a knack for spotting the runner and disengaging to get involved, although it’s usually in the muck of everything.
I’d like to see him routinely use his lower body to drive blockers back, allowing him to get a bigger piece of the runner once he disengages. Bohanna is also not likely to offer much as a pass rusher, outside of his ability to collapse the pocket or get his hands in passing lanes. Still, not every starter is going to impact the game for 50 or more snaps. Some have more limited, albeit essential, roles, and Bohanna can fill one on this roster.
Round 6, Pick 227: CB Israel Mukuamu, South Carolina
The former Gamecock also has tremendous ball skills and the ability to recover and elevate well for the position. He also weighs 25 pounds heavier than Wright, giving the Cowboys a more accurate view of what he will bring as an NFL corner and special teamer.
However, it sounds as if Dallas has their sights set on moving Mukuamu to safety. I have to say, that baffles me even further, considering he was a luke-warm tackler, at best, during his collegiate days. Something tells me they see a similar skill set to the one Reggie Robinson had coming out of Tulsa a year ago. They transitioned him to safety as well, but were hesitant to push him into the lineup a year ago. However, Robinson was a more willing tackler in college.
Mukuamu does have more room on his frame to add bulk, and with that usually comes the confidence to be a more passionate participant as a tackler. However, that’s an awful extensive projection, considering he could be the fifth or sixth-best corner on this roster right now.
I will say, I was also very interested in seeing Dallas go after Tennessee guard Trey Smith here. His history with blood clots in his lungs caused him to slide well past where I thought some teams would be willing to block out the risk.
Still, he can be a starting guard in this league on day one, and he was taken with the pick right before this one. With the seventh-round selection that the Cowboys used on an interior lineman, they could have moved up from here to secure his services.
Round 7, Pick 238: OL Matt Farniok, Nebraska
Dallas did plenty of homework on Farniok’s teammate Brenden Jaimes, and I’m sure they saw plenty of the two-time captain as well. He’s mainly played right tackle but spent his final season inside.
A taller player for the inside, he can sometimes play too high, and I’d like to see him get stronger in general to stall momentum against rushers and get movement in the run. Still, he has the kind of traits you want in a player that is going to fight for a spot on the end of the roster.
Cowboys Draft Grade: B
Off the top, Dallas got two players that are sure to be starters right away in Parsons and Joseph. Still, both also have the potential to get a call from the commissioner’s office, which is part of the reason the Cowboys garnered this grade. Dallas already has several players on the roster that have caused their fair share of sleepless nights for the front office, and bringing in three more (including Ball) isn’t the ideal scenario. Plenty of people make mistakes when they are young and have the capacity to mature from those errors.
If that ends up being the case, this grade may be too low. In addition to Parsons and Joseph, each of the three defensive linemen should find a role in this unit’s rotation. Cox could also push for a prominent role in this defense, while Wright and Mukuamu are expected to be projects.
Ball could be the swing tackle on this team as a rookie, and Fehoko has a real chance to make this team as well. For Farniok, the practice squad may be the best-case scenario.
Obviously, the character concerns bring this trade down, as does the fact that they reached on all three of their third-round picks. It’s also tough to watch Dallas resort to Plan B on several occasions despite having 11 picks in this draft after the initial trade back. That’s more of a “quantity over quality” approach.