The Dallas Cowboys, because of a three-team trade that sent the Philadelphia Eagles back on the board to No. 12 overall, will be the first NFC East team on the clock in the 2021 NFL Draft with the No. 10 overall pick.
Following a free agency in which the Cowboys finally locked Dak Prescott into a four-year contract, there has been a celebratory energy in Dallas. After Prescott suffered his season-ending injury in Week 5 last year, it’s easy to forget that the Cowboys were considered by many to be a Super Bowl favorite heading into the 2020 season. Now that Prescott is back, Dallas wants to hit the ground running to make up for lost time.
The Cowboys’ biggest challenge heading into the draft will be harnessing that excitement in a smart and calculated way. Dallas has 10 picks in this year’s draft (the second-most of any team behind the Eagles) and therefore has the capital to fill all of their needs. Jerry Jones needs to perhaps get off the yacht though, stand on solid ground, and encourage the Cowboys to be responsible with their draft picks.
Defense, defense, defense.
With Prescott under center, Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield and a wide receiving corps of CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup and Amari Cooper, the Cowboys are largely set on offense. Tackle Tyron Smith and guard Zack Martin will provide protection for Dallas up-front, leaving most of the holes on the defensive side of the ball.
The Cowboys drafted Trevon Diggs in last year’s draft but they need someone who can line up on the outside corner opposite the former Alabama standout. There is a chance that wide receivers DeVonta Smith and/or Jaylen Waddle are still on the board when the No. 10 overall pick comes around. This is where Dallas needs to exercise restraint and prioritize its defensive need.
Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II has the ability to make an immediate impact at the NFL level. He was a three-year starter with the Crimson Tide, lining up at right cornerback in Nick Saban’s man-heavy scheme. Surtain allowed just four touchdowns and 46.1% completions in 41 career games.
The other option, depending on how the board shakes out, is South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn. A three-year starter at South Carolina, Horn was a left cornerback in former head coach Will Muschamp’s defense. His production in college was mostly limited to one breakout game against Auburn, but he will also likely make an immediate impact in the NFL.
The Cowboys are lacking depth all-around at the safety position. Former starter Xavier Woods signed a deal with the Minnesota Vikings this offseason and veterans Keanu Neal, Damontae Kazee and Jayron Kearse have only been signed to one-year deals. Targeting a safety in the early rounds will help fill both a long-term and short-term need for Dallas. Particularly in the second round, Richie Grant, Trevon Moehrig or Jevon Holland are all strong candidates.
The Cowboys’ defense was ranked 31st in the league last season in yards allowed per game with 158.8. Drafting a player (or players) to help stop the run game should be a top priority for Dallas in this draft. There isn’t a defensive lineman who is worth the 10th overall pick, so this is a need that Dallas can target later in the draft. Even with adding veterans Carlos Watkins and Brent Urban in free agency, the Cowboys should look to add more depth at this position.
While numerous trades are likely for Dallas due to their high amount of picks, there is one trade possibility at this position that is particularly intriguing. If the player the Cowboys really want is no longer on the board at No. 10, and if another team is looking to move up to draft a quarterback, Dallas could move back. The Cowboys could pick up some extra picks (picks that match the value of a first-round QB) and take Alabama’s Christian Barmore, who is considered by many to be the top defensive lineman in the draft.
This is a position of need that the Cowboys probably would not have anticipated even two years ago. Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch played poorly last season and there is very little depth behind them. With four picks in the third and fourth rounds combined, the Cowboys should be able to add some insurance at linebacker.
The Cowboys’ defense recorded 31 sacks, recovered 17 fumbles and intercepted just 10 passes last season. These numbers illustrate a lack of push up front and an inability to generate turnovers. Remember, Dallas was ranked in the bottom five in the league last season in points allowed per game and the lack of turnovers does not help.
Lucky for the Cowboys, this draft class has a lot of depth at the edge rusher position, making this is a need to fill in the later rounds. While Dallas is not necessarily thin at this position with DeMarcus Lawrence at left end and Randy Gregory expected to start on the right, it can only help to add additional young prospects.
I have emphasized the defensive side of the ball in this preview because the Cowboys’ overall goal for the 2021 NFL Draft should be achieving balance. Their offense, led by Prescott, is already strong and has the potential to be explosive if everyone stays healthy. Dallas will not be able to defeat every opponent by overpowering them offensively though. If the Cowboys want to not only win the division, but advance far into the playoffs (which they do), they need to emerge out of the draft as a defensive threat.
The Cowboys’ 2021 NFL Draft picks:
- First round: No. 10
- Second round: No. 44
- Third round: No. 75
- Third round: No. 99
- Fourth round: No. 115
- Fourth round: No. 138
- Fifth round: No. 179
- Sixth Round: No. 192 (via Lions)
- Sixth Round: No. 227
- Seventh Round: No. 238