We are just days away from the 2021 NFL Draft. After a disappointing 6-10 campaign in 2020, the Dallas Cowboys find themselves in a prime position to add top-notch talent to their roster, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
Last season the Cowboys had arguably the worst defense in its history as they gave up a franchise-record 473 points, were ranked 31st against the run and were 28th in points allowed. With that being said, new Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn needs upgrades and fast if he wants his particular scheme to succeed right away.
So, that's the focus in this mock draft, the defense. Sprinkling in a few offensive line pieces, the Cowboys will be ready to take back the NFC East crown in 2021. After Kyle Pitts, Penei Sewell, and Rashawn Slater went in the first eight picks, it was down to the two top cornerbacks, Patrick Surtain II and Jaycee Horn at 10. Now, let's get to building the Cowboys roster via The Draft Network's Mock Simulator.
Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
Round 1-Pick 10
The debate that's been running wild inside the Cowboys fan base is put to an end with the selection of Patrick Surtain II out of Alabama. He registered 116 tackles, four interceptions, 24 pass breakups, four forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery as a three-year starter. After career highs in tackles (42) and interceptions in 2019, he finished his time in Tuscaloosa as a First-Team All-SEC selection, a Unanimous All-American, and the SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 2020.
Surtain is the most technically sound corner in this year's class. His size at 6'2 and 208 pounds and speed (ran 4.42 in the 40-yard dash) allow him to match up with any type of receiver. He can play in press-man coverage, zone, the slot (if need be), and provides excellent support against the run. Also, he had his best collegiate season playing opposite the Cowboys 2020 second-round selection Trevon Diggs so there's chemistry there. Surtain would give the Cowboys defense a true shutdown corner for the foreseeable future.
Nick Bolton, LB, Missouri
Round 2-Pick 44
Now let's hit the second level of the Cowboys defense with the addition of Linebacker Nick Bolton out of Missouri. After just 22 tackles in a reserved role as a freshman in 2018, he showed the tackling machine he was in his final two collegiate seasons. He registered 198 tackles (103 in 2019, 95 in 2020) while also racking up four sacks, 12 pass breakups, two interceptions, a fumble recovery, and a defensive touchdown. He was named First-Team All-SEC in 2019 and 2020.
Bolton is an explosive linebacker that delivers a heck of a blow when he crashes into ball carriers. He shoots through gaps like a cannon and diagnoses plays very quickly. Possesses great instincts, takes great pursuit angles and has good coverage skills. Although the retirement of Sean Lee shouldn't influence this pick, Bolton would give the Cowboys dynamic linebacker to go with Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, and Keanu Neal.
Ar'Darius Washington, S, TCU
Round 3-Pick 75
In the third round, the Cowboys address a position that they've neglected for quite some time, safety. Ar'Darius Washington was a cornerback in high school in Louisiana but transitioned to safety as a true freshman at TCU in 2018 and only played in four games to preserve his redshirt. In 2019, Washington showcased his skill set by leading the team with five interceptions to go along with 46 tackles as he was named the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year. He didn't record an interception in 2020 but did register 37 tackles and four pass breakups.
Don't let Washington's 5'8 and 178-pound frame fool you. He has great eye discipline to dissect plays. Flips his hips well when transitioning out of his breaks. Washington has excellent ball skills, can cover slot receivers, challenges at the catch point, and is a good run defender. With Damontae Kazee only signed for one year, Washington could give the Cowboys their free safety of the future.
Alim McNeill, DT, NC State
Round 3-Pick 99
We turn our attention to the trenches with the Cowboy's second pick in the third round, Defensive Tackle Alim McNeill out of NC State. As a 1-technique, McNeill registered 77 tackles, 10 sacks, an interception, five pass breakups, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, and a defensive touchdown in his three years with the Wolfpack.
McNeill has room to grow as a pass rusher, but he clogs the middle by absorbing double teams and penetrates through gaps to makes plays in the backfield as evidenced by his 17.5 tackles for loss in college. Possesses great power and pursues plays well down the line of scrimmage. He's a very capable run stuffer on the interior which is exactly what the Cowboys need after their poorest effort against the run in 2020. McNeill would provide good depth behind Antwaun Woods and add give the Cowboys another young and talented interior defender alongside Neville Gallimore and Trysten Hill.
Victor Dimukeje, Edge, Duke
Round 4-Pick 115
The Cowboys took care of the interior of their defensive line with the previous pick, and now it's time to add an edge rusher with Duke's Victor Dimukeje. He was a steady four-year starter for the Blue Devils with 161 tackles, 21.5 sacks, an interception, three pass breakups, four forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries. He was named Second-Team All-ACC in 2019 and Honorable Mention All-ACC in 2020.
Dimukeje does an excellent job of keeping offenses behind the chains with 32 tackles for loss in college. He uses his raw power and athleticism to win in most of his reps. He can set a good edge to force plays back inside. Good hand usage and pursues plays well down the line of scrimmage. Dimukeje would give the Cowboys excellent depth behind DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory and would challenge Tarrel Basham, Dorance Armstrong, Ron'Dell Carter, and Bradlee Anae for playing time as a rookie.
Brenden Jaimes, OT, Nebraska
Round 4-Pick 138
The Cowboys revisit the trenches for the third straight pick but this time it's on offense with the selection of Offensive Tackle Brenden Jaimes out of Nebraska. Jaimes started nine games (school record as a true freshman) at right tackle in 2017. He transitioned to left tackle a year later where he spent his final three seasons. He was named Honorable Mention All-Big Ten in each of those seasons and set the school record with 40 consecutive starts on the offensive line. He didn't allow a sack or quarterback hit last season and only gave up four pressures in 473 snaps.
Jamies performed well as a pass and run blocker. Does a good job of using his hands to keep defenders at bay and plays with good technique. His versatility to play both tackle spots should intrigue the Cowboys with the recent injury history of Tyron Smith and La'el Collins. If selected, he would give the Cowboys a very solid swing tackle who could be groomed into a starter.
Jonathon Cooper, Edge, Ohio State
Round 5-Pick 179
The Cowboys make it four consecutive picks on the line of scrimmage in the fifth-round with Ohio State Edge Rusher Jonathon Cooper. He was overshadowed during his five-year career playing with Chase Young and Nick Bosa, but Cooper was an underrated and steady player for the Buckeyes. He totaled 77 tackles (15 tackles for loss), 10 sacks, two pass breakups, two fumble recoveries, and a forced fumble.
Cooper uses a quick first step and his athleticism to bend off the edge. He has good power that allows him to bull rush and his speed lets him get upfield very quickly. Uses his hands well to get an offensive lineman off of him and gets good gap penetration. Cooper would be another solid depth piece coming off the edge as he works on his development.
Tristen Hoge, G, BYU
Round 6-Pick 192
With the offensive line being a major liability in 2020, the Cowboys add another piece with Guard Tristen Hoge out of BYU. Hoge started his collegiate career at Notre Dame but only played six games as a redshirt freshman in 2016 before transferring to BYU. He sat out in 2017 as a transfer student. He started all 13 games in 2018 and the first five games in 2019 but his season was cut short by a leg injury. In 2020, he started the first seven games until COVID-19 and pneumonia hit him.
Hoge has three years of starting experience. He's a mauler on the interior but also plays with good technique. He fires off the ball, gets to the second level well, and maintains good balance to keep excellent leverage. With neither Connor Williams nor Connor McGovern firmly locking down the left guard spot, and Zack Martin's recent injury history, Hoge would be a solid late-round depth piece on the offensive line.
Shemar Jean-Charles, CB, Appalachian State
Round 6-Pick 227
The Cowboys added the top cornerback in the 2021 class with the selection of Surtain in the first round. Now, they bring in one of the most underrated in the form of Appalachian State's Shemar Jean-Charles. He spent his first two collegiate seasons as a reserve and special teams contributor and only registered 15 tackles and five pass breakups. Over his final two seasons, Jean Charles put his name alongside the best cornerbacks in the nation with 80 tackles, two interceptions, 26 pass breakups (led the nation with 17 in 2020), and a forced fumble.
Don't let his size at 5'11 and 184 pounds fool you, he's a feisty and physical competitor at the cornerback position. According to Pro Football Focus, Jean-Charles allowed the second-lowest completion percentage for cornerbacks who faced at least 20 targets and gave up the fewest receptions for all cornerbacks that saw 50 or more targets in 2020 and had the highest forced incompletion rate since 2019. He played mostly on the outside in college but may have transition inside due to his size. If so, he'll provide good depth behind Jourdan Lewis and Anthony Brown in the slot while still being able to help on the outside as well.
Aashari Crosswell, S, Arizona State
Round 7-Pick 238
We end this mock where we started, the secondary, and it's another safety piece with Arizona State's Aashari Crosswell. As a freshman in 2018, Crosswell made an immediate impact with 43 tackles, four interceptions, nine pass breakups, and a fumble recovery while garnering Honorable Mention All-Pac 12 honors. In 2019, he balled out again with 50 tackles, two interceptions, three forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. He opted out of the 2020 season after one game.
Crosswell has excellent versatility playing deep safety, box safety, and slot corner during his time with the Sun Devils. He has the speed to cover sideline to sideline and is a good tackler in the open field. Crosswell does a good job challenging at the catch point and has a non-stop motor. He'll need to refine his coverage skills but Crosswell would be a good late-round addition to the Cowboys secondary as he continues to develop on his raw talent.
Well, there you have it. The Cowboys get much-needed upgrades in the secondary and defensive line, a stud linebacker, and insurance for the offensive line. Now, let's get them back to the playoffs for the first time since 2018.