This is the last exploratory version of this mock draft series.
I take everything I've learned from this series and map out a draft plan for the Cowboys that I will use as a guide for my final mock draft coming out the day of the draft.
If you want to see where this journey has taken us, here are the links to the previous mocks: 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, 4.0, and 5.0.
For reference, here are the positions picked by round up to this point:
- Round 1 — Running Back – Cornerback – Linebacker/EDGE – Tight End – Defensive Tackle
- Round 2 — Defensive Tackle – Offensive Lineman – Wide Receiver – EDGE – Running Back
- Round 3 — Offensive Lineman – Wide Receiver – Defensive Tackle – Cornerback – Linebacker
- Round 4 — Wide Receiver – Defensive Tackle – Running Back – Offensive Lineman – Cornerback
- Round 5 — Linebacker – Running Back – Cornerback – Defensive Tackle – Offensive Lineman
I cannot speak highly enough of the 2023 NFL Draft Guide aka “The Beast” by Dane Brugler of TheAthletic. His insights and grades are leaned into heavily for this series.
I value his projects and grades more so than the consensus big board and the PFF Mock Draft Simulator player rankings.
If a player is a reach on those rankings, it is due to how Brulger values them.
As in all the iterations, no trades and the number in parentheses indicates their rank on the consensus board.
Round 1 — OL Steve Avila (51), TCU
Alternates at the same/similar position: OL Darnell Wright (21), Tennessee; OG O'Cyrus Torrence (29), Florida
There's a few “run the card in” players that if they are on the board, I'm almost willing to unplug the phone to ignore trade offers and just make the pick.
One of those is Darnell Wright; unfortunately, he was off the board.
Steve Avila was ultimately the pick over O'Cyrus Torrence despite Torrence being the better pure guard and my preferred choice.
Avila can play guard, center, and possibly even right tackle in the NFL. Position versatility has always been something the Cowboys have coveted, especially in their offensive linemen.
Terence Steele and Tyler Biadasz are free agents after this season. Tyron Smith cannot be relied on for a full season and who knows if he plays in 2024 or retires at the end of the season.
Avila projects better on the inside so he could be the long-term solution to left guard or move to center if Biadasz leaves via free agency. Then, in a nightmare scenario, can kick out to right tackle if needed.
If I had to bet on what position the pick is going to be on Thursday, my money would be on one of these three offensive linemen.
At 26, I would love Wright and be ok with Torrence/Avila but prefer the latter two in a small trade back.
Round 2 — CB Tyrique Stevenson (73), Miami (FL)
Alternates at the same/similar position: CB D.J. Turner (52), Michigan; CB Julius Brents (54), Kansas State; CB Clark Phillips III (63), Utah
Throughout this series, I've mentioned my hesitancy about using a top-100 pick on a cornerback.
At 6′ and nearly 200 pounds, Tyrique Stevenson could and has played both corner and safety.
He started his career at the University of Georgia and played a hybrid linebacker/safety/nickel cornerback role for the Bulldogs as a sophomore.
Brugler describes him as a physical tackler which is needed opposite Trevon Diggs.
With five of the top seven defensive backs on expiring contracts, a versatile player like Stevenson could be too valuable to pass up.
Round 3 — RB Tyjae Spears (77), Tulane
Alternates at the same/similar position: RB Tank Bigsby (88), Auburn; RB Roschon Johnson (90), Texas; RB Israel Abanikanda (106), Pittsburgh; RB Kendre Miller (114), TCU; RB Dewayne McBride (134), UAB
Similar to v3.0 where a running back was selected in round four, I love the potential running back options here at 90.
In addition to Tyjae Spears — Roschon Johnson, Kendre Miller, Dewayne McBride, and several others were all also available.
What I love most about the choices here is the flexibility it gives Dallas at the position moving forward.
Whether that's a Tony Pollard replacement as RB1 in 2024, a complementary RB2 if Pollard is signed to an extension, or a running back-by-committee approach to be paired with a 2024 draft pick.
I think the other three backs mentioned complement him better for 2023, but Spears offers a little more upside if Tony Pollard is not a Cowboy in 12 months.
Given Pollard's presence on the team and the depth of running back in this draft, picking a running back before here is a tough pill to swallow for me.
Round 4 — LB/S Marte Mapu (167), Sacramento State
Alternates at the same/similar position: LB Noah Sewell (112), Oregon; LB Owen Pappoe (126), Auburn; LB Ivan Pace Jr (149), Cincinnati; LB/EDGE Yasir Abdullah (159), Louisville
Ok, hear me out on this one. Marte Mapu might not be a player you've heard of and yes, he's player 167 on the consensus board so he seems like a reach at 129.
He is the 100th overall player for Brugler and carries a 3rd/4th round grade. He is also the 73rd player on Daniel Jeremiah's Top 150 so he probably doesn't even make it to pick 129!
Dane has him as a safety, while Jeremiah has him as a linebacker. At 6'3″ and 221 pounds, it's easy to see why the lines are blurred when it comes to projecting his best position.
The Cowboys LOVE these safety/linebacker hybrids, plus he was one of their 30 National Visits so there's some level of interest with Mapu.
The Cowboys need a linebacker for 2023. With safeties Jayron Kearse and Malik Hooker in the last year of their deals, they will likely need a safety in 2024.
Mapu can play special teams and maybe get a handful of snaps throughout the season before potentially replacing Kearse in 2024 in the box safety/nickel linebacker role.
Round 5 — TE Josh Whyle (153), Cincinnati
Alternates at the same/similar position: TE Brenton Strange (160), Penn State; TE Davis Allen (163), Clemson; TE Cameron Latu (169), Alabama; TE Payne Durham (187), Purdue; TE Will Mallory (192), Miami (FL)
Josh Whyle, Will Mallory, and Payne Durham were all still available and I'd be happy with any of the three.
Whyle tested better than Durham and is a better blocker than Mallory so he was the choice.
Wide receiver had some intriguing height/weight/speed options, but ultimately, I felt more confident that one of the tight ends could a) make the roster and b) push for significant snaps in 2023.
I honestly deplored the thought of waiting past the third round to add a pass catcher.
I am still not in love with the idea, but there are a few intriguing day-three tight ends who may give Dallas a cheap and formidable trio at the position over the next several seasons.
Since I've picked a defensive tackle in each of the five rounds in the previous versions, I couldn't draft one here.
As one of their biggest needs, I would hope they aggressively added some veterans in free agency or via trade before the start of the season if they bypassed the position to this point in the draft.
Avila at 26 is a tad rich for my blood, but I wouldn't necessarily call it a reach.
The versatility to play multiple roles should allow him, Stevenson, and Mapu to see playing time as rookies. They also provide a ton of flexibility in the 2024 off-season.
Spears and Whyle are both excellent value at positions that need an injection of talent.
What I learned by position by round:
Round 1 — Offensive Lineman
- If I had to guess the first pick for the Cowboys come Thursday, it would be an offensive lineman. I think they'd prefer Notre Dame TE Michael Mayer, but I don't think he makes it to 26.
- I like the first-round offensive line options and again would love Wright. Given their track record with the position in round one, you have to give them the benefit of the doubt if offensive line is the pick.
Round 2 — Cornerback
- Cornerback is one of the most important positions in the NFL and, as we saw last year, a team can go through many players throughout the season.
- With that being said, round two is too early for me this year given the depth of the position and the need for other positions.
Round 3 — Running Back
- In my opinion, this is the earliest I consider a running back in this draft.
- With the lack of talent at other positions of need and the ability to find talent into rounds three and four at running back (especially this year), I'm willing to wait.
Round 4 — Linebacker/Safety
- Both of these positions are weak in the draft. I have a hard time seeing the Cowboys not drafting someone who can play linebacker at some point, but it's tough to nail down the right opportunity to do that.
- Finding a small-school gem with athletic upside and position versatility could be the best out of a bad situation.
Round 5 — Pass Catcher
- The Cowboys seem dead set on improving the receiving weapons. Can a player this late come in and contribute year one?
- Sure, but there's a better chance a player taken this late fails to make the roster versus making an impact as a rookie.
- Only way I see a wide receiver/tight end being the pick here is if they pick one of those positions early and use a pick late to address the other position.