Welcome to the third installment of my mock draft series. The mission is to find the ideal draft order for the positions the Dallas Cowboys are most likely to draft this year.
This year is the most wide-open the draft has felt for Dallas in years due to their stellar offseason where they filled many holes. For that reason, I am aiming to do six mock drafts and pick a different position in each round in each version.
Here are the links to my previous mock drafts in this series, 1.0 and 2.0, if you've missed them.
Here is a quick breakdown of what positions were drafted in each round of the first two versions:
- Round 1 — Running Back, Cornerback
- Round 2 — Defensive Tackle, Offensive Lineman
- Round 3 — Offensive Lineman, Wide Receiver
- Round 4 — Wide Receiver, Defensive Tackle
- Round 5 — Linebacker, Running Back
You will see next to each player a number in parentheses. That represents the player's current ranking on the consensus big board that I've used throughout the series.
I will also reference Dane Brugler's Draft Guide which can be found on TheAthletic (subscription required). When I draft a player much higher than the consensus board has them ranked, it will be due to where he is valued/projected by Brugler.
As always for this series, there are no trades.
Round 1 — LB Drew sanders (39), arkansas
Alternates at the same/similar position: EDGE Myles Murphy (15), Clemson; EDGE Lukas Van Ness (16), Iowa; EDGE Nolan Smith (19), Georgia; EDGE Will McDonald (31), Iowa State; EDGE Felix Anudike-Uzomah (42), Kansas State; EDGE BJ Ojulari (46), LSU
First, let's debunk a common draft myth about Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones drafting players from his Alma Mater — Arkansas.
Jones has been the owner of the Cowboys since the 1989 draft. In the 34 drafts since Dallas has selected just two Razorbacks.
It's just not a thing.
Now to the breakdown of this selection. In my first three versions of this series, I wanted to address the three most unlikely positions first.
Drew Sanders (28th overall on Brugler's board) gets lumped in with defensive ends and ultimately selected over them in this exercise due to the unique conversation he creates versus a true EDGE defender.
He is a linebacker with pass-rush ability, but will likely spend the most time as an off-ball linebacker versus a true pass rusher.
He is also a 30 visit so there is definitely some level of interest there for the Cowboys.
Like Micah Parsons (to a much lesser extent), he gives Dallas another versatile defender to keep offenses guessing who is doing what on each play.
Dallas also has a need at linebacker and I could see Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn dreaming of ways to use him, Parsons, Jayron Kearse, Donovan Wilson, and Damone Clark as multifaceted chess pieces who can all rush, blitz, and cover.
Speaking of Quinn, he has been very active at Pro Days of fringe round-one pass rushers.
He even put a few of them through position drills much like he did with 2022 second-round pick Sam Williams.
Where there's smoke there's fire.
Even though defensive end is one of the deepest positions on the roster, it's also one of the most important in the NFL.
I have no issue picking a premium position like this in round one. Especially if guys like Myles Murphy or Nolan Smith fall, but I'm not on board with Sanders at 26.
Round 2 — WR Tyler scott (79), cincinnati
Alternates at the same/similar position: WR Jalin Hyatt (38), Tennessee; WR Josh Downs (51), North Carolina; WR Cedric Tillman (64), Tennessee; WR Marvin Mims (77), Oklahoma; WR Nathaniel Dell (78), Houston
In Mock 2.0, I had Tyler Scott listed as an alternate for round three. The closer the draft gets, the more I feel like wide receivers aren't going to last as long as previously thought.
This is why I included Marvin Mims and Nathaniel “Tank” Dell as alternates here and in 2.0.
I think I speak for all of Cowboys Nation when I say I've begged Dallas to add a true speed threat at wide receiver for years.
Based on the wide receivers the Cowboys have met with, they seem to be open to finally addressing it.
With Jalin Hyatt and Josh Downs gone before 58 (which will likely be the case) I took the next-best speed threat in Scott.
Scott's 40-yard dash time at the combine was a bit underwhelming at only 4.44s, but he improved that to 4.37s at his Pro Day. I debated Cedric Tillman here as well, but the need for speed won out.
I love when teams identify weaknesses from the previous season and aggressively attack them with resources.
After trading for WR Brandin Cooks, Dallas does not seem satisfied at the position. The right selection could flip it from a well-below-average unit in 2022 to a real strength in 2023.
Round 3 — DT Zacch Pickens (93), South Carolina
Alternates at the same/similar position: DT/DE Karl Brooks (87), Bowling Green; DT Jaquelin Roy (104), LSU; DT Byron Young (111), Alabama; DT/DE Colby Wooden (141), Auburn
Luckily Zacch Pickens was still available. He is my top round-three target at interior defensive lineman, so it made the selection easy.
Pickens is a former five-star recruit and the number one defensive tackle in the 2019 recruiting class.
Though he didn't have the college career for a recruit of his magnitude, he is extremely physically and athletically gifted.
He's over 6'3″, nearly 300 pounds, and has 34 3/8″ arms (85th percentile according to Mockdraftable.com). That size combined with his athletic testing gives him a 9.22 Relative Athletic Score.
Defensive tackle is one of the few positions where, even without an injury, a path to significant snaps as a rookie is clear.
A top-100 pick makes a lot of sense.
Round 4 — RB Zach evans (108), Ole miss
Alternates at the same/similar position: RB Tank Bigsby (101), Auburn; Rb Israel Abanikanda (107), Pittsburgh; RB Dewayne McBride (116), UAB; RB Sean Tucker (120), Syracuse; RB Chase Brown (121), Illinois; RB Kenny McIntosh (135), Georgia; RB Eric Gray (137), Oklahoma
Zach Evans, Israel Abanikanda, Chase Brown, Kenny McIntosh, and Eric Gray were all available. But for me, the debate was between Evans and Abanikanda.
Brugler had Abanikanda ranked higher, but also noted he projects more as a running back-by-committee type. Meanwhile, Evans “offers RB1 potential for an NFL offense.”
With the potential of Dallas moving on from Tony Pollard next year, I went with Evans.
Regardless of whether or not Pollard is in the team's long-term plans, they need a backup who can start if he were to miss time.
Newly signed RB Ronald Jones was guaranteed just $300,000 at signing and was a healthy scratch most of last season. Meanwhile, the other two backs on the roster are former undrafted free agents with a combined 45 carries in the NFL.
Competition is needed at RB2 and round four seems to have a handful of players who can do just that.
Round 5 — cB Darrell luter jr (262), South alabama
Alternates at the same/similar position: CB Terell Smith (165), Minnesota; CB Mekhi Blackmon (206), USC; CB Rejzohn Wright (214), Oregon State
Though way down on the consensus board, Darrell Luter Jr carries a fifth-round grade on Brugler's list and is a great fit for a Quinn-run defense.
His measurables are eerily similar to last year's fifth-round pick, CB DaRon Bland, who had an outstanding rookie campaign.
Luter is just under 6′ with 32 3/8″ arms while posting a 4.46s 40-yard dash and 40.5″ vertical. Bland was just over 6′ with 32″ arms and ran a 4.46s while jumping 35.5″.
Given the depth of the current position but the potential need in 2024, Dallas can afford to wait and see if they can find a day-three gem, like Bland.
If the player picked here doesn't pan out, they can look toward next offseason to replace potential departures.
I wanted to experiment/explore different scenarios and drafting Sanders is one that has been floated out there. Even if it's highly unlikely he is the pick come draft night, I wanted to see what it looked like.
If you change out Sanders for Murphy/Smith, an interior offensive lineman, or one of the projected first-round tight ends, it would be a really solid draft.
Even so, this is still my favorite draft of the three thus far.
What I learned about the positions I drafted by round:
Round 1 — Linebacker/Defensive End
- Defensive end is a valuable position with expiring contracts so I would understand the thought process behind the pick.
- I'm a little concerned they'd likely be the sixth-best defensive end on the depth chart to start the season. For a team that wants to break through the divisional round wall, is it wise to take a depth/redshirt player?
- I'm usually out on linebackers in round one in most drafts. With this class, I'm all the way out.
Round 2 — Pass Catcher
- The Cowboys seem to be leaving no stone unturned for wide receivers projected to go in the first two rounds.
- After waiting until rounds three and four in the first two mocks, I can see them not willing to tempt fate by waiting that long. Even if it's considered a small reach, taking one at 58 makes a lot of sense.
Round 3 — Interior Defensive Lineman
- As I mentioned in my team needs article, this is the biggest position of need in my opinion.
- Round three has fewer names at the position than desired and is likely the latest they draft one to truly upgrade for 2023.
Round 4 — Running Back
- This may be the sweet spot for running back. I still have a few more versions where I need to select one in the second and third rounds, but there were several players on the board for me here.
- Most importantly, I believe a potential starter for 2024 should be available here if Pollard is not part of the team's long-term plans. If he is, then you have a good chance of finding a quality RB2 on a cheap contract.
Round 5 — Cornerback
- For the state of the cornerback position both in 2023 and looking into 2024, this feels like a good spot to take a swing at cornerback.
- It's a low investment at a premium position that can push the bottom of the depth chart. If not, it's a redshirt-rookie-year and then see if they push for snaps in 2024.