With the NFL Combine in the rearview, the heavy lifting of free agency complete, and pro days in full swing, the 2023 NFL Draft is coming more and more into focus.
Since we are a little over a month away, let's take a look at how the draft can possibly shake out.
Keep in mind, the draft is highly unpredictable so when we talk about locks or prospects potentially falling, anything is possible.
No one thought CeeDee Lamb would realistically fall to Dallas at 17 in the 2020 Draft. Conversely, I have a hard time believing many predicted six wide receivers going in the top 20 in last year's draft to completely wipe out a top position of need for Dallas.
Today, we are going to explore players who appear in or around the first round in most mock drafts.
The goal is to list 26 players with varying degrees of likelihood they will be available for Dallas knowing that it is impossible for all 26 to be gone before their selection.
Long Gone Before #26 — top 15 locks barring a Laremy Tunsil gas mask video situation
1-3 — Top Quarterbacks (CJ Stroud, Bryce Young, Anthony Richardson)
Richardson is a wildcard. Inconsistent tape, but has unlimited upside. You won't find him outside of the top 10 in mocks, so I left him here.
Levis has seen a bit of a drop in mock drafts as of late.
There has never been a draft where four quarterbacks went top 10 so to say four going top 15 is a lock seems bold.
4-6 — Top Pass Rushers (Will Anderson, Tyree Wilson, Jalen Carter)
Despite his legal issues and poor pro-day performance, teams are going to have two full months to get comfortable with Jalen Carter.
Even if he somehow falls out of the top 10, he is too talented for someone not to grab him in the top 15.
7-8 — Top Cornerbacks (Christian Gonzalez, Devon Witherspoon)
There will likely be three to five cornerbacks taken before 26, but these two seem like the consensus top 2 and best bets to go top half of the first round.
9-11 — Top Offensive Linemen (Peter Skoronski, Paris Johnson Jr, Broderick Jones)
I could potentially see one of these three lasting past 15, but it seems slim given the importance of the position and the need of teams picking early in the draft.
Highly Likely Gone Before 26 — top 25 locks
12 — Will Levis, Quarterback
Dallas needs this to happen. Dallas isn't taking a quarterback in round one so the sooner Levis goes the better.
A recent mock draft by NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah also has Tennessee's Hendon Hooker going 23rd to Minnesota which would be unbelievably amazing for Dallas.
13 — Bijan Robinson, Running Back
Look, regardless of how you feel about a first-round running back, Bijan Robinson is considered a top 5 overall prospect by most draft analyst.
He is viewed a better running back prospect than 2021's 24th overall pick Najee Harris unanimously so don't count on him lasting to 26.
Possible? Of course, but I seriously doubt it.
Should Dallas draft him if he is there? No, but that's a different story for a different day.
14 — Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Wide Receiver
I wanted to put Jordan Addison, Quentin Johnston, or Jalin Hyatt here 'cause I would bet a good chunk of change at least two wide receivers are gone in the top 25, but the only player I felt comfortable with was Jaxon Smith-Njigba.
Again, this is a “highly likely” section so there is a tiny possibility Smith-Njigba slides to Dallas much like CeeDee.
If that happens, I almost don't care who else is on the board. Run in the card even with Brandin Cooks in the fold.
15-17 — Tier 2 Defensive Lineman (Myles Murphy, Lukas Van Ness, Nolan Smith)
The one I have my eye on is Nolan Smith.
Dallas has historically stuck to certain measurables at positions like cornerback and defensive end but does Micah Parson's success help open their minds to a smaller EDGE like Smith?
Smith tested favorably to Haason Reddick who is flourishing after finally being moved back to EDGE. Reddick went 13th in 2017. I doubt Smith sniffs the 20s.
*Sidenote: If Micah was viewed as a defensive end during the draft process vs an off-ball linebacker, does Dallas even select him? Would Micah be TJ Watt 2.0 for Dallas fans? I think about this all the time.*
18 — Joey Porter Jr, Cornerback
Chances are another cornerback/defensive back (like Deonte Banks or Brian Branch) is gone, but again if we are sticking with top 25 locks, Joey Porter is the only one I'm willing to bet won't be there at 26.
Like with Smith-Njigba, if he's there, run in the card.
Within Striking Distance — Good Chance of being available & who Dallas should target
*These are not necessarily in order, but going offense to defense, grouped by position.*
19-21 — Top Tight Ends (Darnell Washington, Michael Mayer, Dalton Kincaid)
Assuming the first 18 players are all gone as expected, the player I am most hoping is there for Dallas is Darnell Washington.
Washington can help immediately in the run game as almost a quasi-6th offensive lineman while also being a 6'7” gazelle as a pass-catching threat up the seam or in the flats.
There's another tight end (Luke Musgrave) who I'd also be fine with, but I prefer one of these three.
22-23 — Top Interior Offensive Lineman (O'Cyrus Torrence, Steve Avila)
John Michael Schmitz would also be an option as well, but he's outside of the top 26 players Dallas should target for me.
The starting offensive line seems set, but insurance/depth is needed.
My biggest issue with selecting another offensive lineman in the first would be this player is likely a backup all year unless an injury happens.
With Zack Martin being close to the end of his career, Tyron Smith and Tyler Biadasz in the final year of their deals, there will likely be a job or two open on the interior offensive line in 2024.
An offensive lineman at 26 is a break-in-case-of-emergency scenario for me. Only draft one if the worst-case scenario plays out.
24 — Mazi Smith, Defensive Tackle
As of this writing, Jonathan Hankins is still unsigned. Even if re-signed, Hankins will be 31 at the end of March so Dallas needs to get younger at the position.
Hopefully, Dallas saw the impact that a massive, run-stuffing nose tackle can make on the entire defense with the Hankins trade last year.
They may not produce much individually, but there is value in eating double teams to allow your linebackers and other defensive linemen to hunt.
25-26 — Cornerbacks (Deonte Banks, Cam Smith)
This may not seem like a position they need or would pick in the first round, but the draft is often looked at for future needs.
When you look at the cornerback room, Trevon Diggs, Stephon Gilmore, and Jourdan Lewis are all in the last year of their deals. Hopefully, Diggs signs an extension or, at worst, is given the franchise tag.
Even with Diggs back, the 2024 cornerbacks would be Diggs, DaRon Bland, Kelvin Joseph, and Nahshon Wright.
Bland was really good as a rookie, but there's likely going to be at least one starting role open this time next year if not addressed in next month's draft.
The Wildcards — Players that might not fit a need, but I could see being selected
Right Tackles — Darnell Wright, Dawand Jones
Dallas only committed to Terence Steele for one year. He's coming off an ACL injury and only has one year of good film.
I would like for them to sign him long-term, but do the Cowboys feel the same?
Is his asking price too high?
Was the 2nd round tender a bridge to see if they can find a replacement?
Wide Receivers — Jordan Addison, Quentin Johnston, Jalin Hyatt, Zay Flowers
To me, Smith-Njigba is the only wide receiver prospect worthy to add to what Dallas has.
Before the Cooks move, I'm on board with selecting a non-JSN wide receiver. Now? Not so much.
Linebacker/Defensive End — Drew Sanders
Is he an off-ball linebacker or an edge rusher? No one seems to know. There are a few reasons why I think the Cowboys may be intrigued with Drew Sanders, but the main one is Micah Parsons.
Similar to my reasoning for Nolan Smith earlier, could Dallas see Sanders as a similar albeit lesser version of Parsons? An interchangeable chess piece that can rush and cover?
He also went to Arkansas (Jerry Jones's alma mater) which doesn't actually help like people think it does, but definitely doesn't hurt.
Defensive Linemen — Will McDonald IV, Adetomiwa Adebawore, Bryan Breese
Cowboys DC Dan Quinn put Will McDonald through drills at Iowa State's Pro Day. He was also at Iowa's doing the same for Lukas Van Ness and will be at Ohio State's — one would assume — for Zach Harrison (though he isn't considered a 1st-round player).
Quinn's active presence at these Pro Days makes you take note.
He put 2022 2nd-round pick Sam Williams through drills at Ole Miss's Pro Day last year.
Defensive end is one of the deepest positions on the roster so I'd be shocked if Dallas went this route. It is also one of the most important so I'd be on board with any player endorsed by Quinn.
So, there you have it, over 30 players, many of whom will fill up the 25 draft slots before Dallas picks, while the rest could be of interest to Dallas once they are officially on the clock.
The beauty of this year compared to seemingly all previous seasons in recent memory is that the Cowboys have done a great job of filling their needs with more than just warm bodies.
Most years, it feels like Dallas is pigeonholed into picking two to three positions in the first few rounds.
This year, they shouldn't have to focus on any particular position and can take a true best-player-available approach.