The Dallas Cowboys were a preseason favorite in the NFC East, and after a few weeks of the regular season, it seemed the Dak Prescott-led offense could really drag them there. Once they lost their star quarterback, however, the holes on the offensive line and all across the defense were exposed.
There’s still reason to expect that the Cowboys are good in 2021—assuming they don’t mess around on the Prescott deal—because they have the high-quality quarterback and elite receiving corps. But winning shootouts across a 20-week season is an unsustainable model, so I have a defense-heavy approach that gives the Cowboys the high-ceiling targets necessary to add multiple starters in one class and shore up their weakness for a playoff push.
ROUND 1 (NO. 10 OVERALL): CALEB FARLEY, CB, VIRGINIA TECH
For my money, the biggest hole on the Cowboys’ roster is corner. They’ve yet to take the Byron Jones departure as seriously as they should, which means Trevon Diggs—a second-round pick with a largely disappointing rookie season—is still slated to be their CB1. Chidobe Awuzie is a rising free agent who isn’t a scheme fit for Dan Quinn’s defense, and Reggie Robinson is still a long bet.
You need corners who can survive on islands in the modern NFL. That’s Farley. He’s got wicked route recognition for a player with such little experience, ideal size to play in the press, and quality transitions despite his mass. At first, you may want to get him in more off alignments—his best role from Virginia Tech—but he’s got a great profile for press coverage with more time under his belt.
ROUND 2 (NO. 42 OVERALL): CHRISTIAN BARMORE, IDL, ALABAMA
This was a no-brainer. The Cowboys have been thirsting for an impact defensive tackle for… man, for as long as I can remember. A dominant 3-technique changes the complexion of your run defense and your pass rush, and Dallas has been operating without that advantage for a while now.
Barmore has that potential and is a great add outside of the first round. He’ll rotate at first on the Dallas’ defensive line, but experience will probably help accelerate his rate of growth. Much like Quinnen Williams coming out of Alabama a few seasons ago, Barmore is a one-year starter who won’t be high-impact in Year 1 but could start homewrecking by Year 2. He and Neville Gallimore are a promising young duo.
ROUND 3 (NO. 74 OVERALL): JAMES HUDSON, OT, CINCINNATI
This is a project pick. The Cowboys probably don’t need a starting tackle right now, with La’el Collins and Tyron Smith both under contract for the next few seasons. Of course, there are health concerns there on both fronts, so a workable OT3 is a critical add.
Hudson isn’t ready for that yet, but more time in an NFL weight room and with NFL coaching will get him there. Hudson was a defensive line recruit at Michigan before flipping to Cincinnati and changing positions in the trenches, and he played better ball with every successive game. For the first half of the Peach Bowl against Georgia, he gave Azeez Ojulari a good battle—then he was ejected for the second half, and the offense stalled. The Senior Bowl revealed some of his warts, but also emphasized just how much quickness and length there is in this prospect.
ROUND 3 (NO. 100 OVERALL): ANDRE CISCO, S, SYRACUSE
The Cowboys really wanted Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to be their starting deep safety this past season and ended up cutting him in camp. Sometimes the best-laid plans go awry! Of course, they were enthusiastic about Darian Thompson coming into camp, and while he won the starting job to start the regular season, he failed to hold that job down. An impact player from the roof would mean a lot for a Quinn defense that once enjoyed Earl Thomas.
I love Cisco. For all of the risks he takes in the middle of the field, it’s tough to argue with his ball production, explosiveness, and route recognition. At this late in the third round, grabbing a potential starter—and an impact starter at that—is too good of an opportunity to pass up.
ROUND 4 (NO. 115 OVERALL): ADE OGUNDEJI, EDGE, NOTRE DAME
The Cowboys’ EDGE room is all about length: Randy Gregory, Aldon Smith, DeMarcus Lawrence. Let’s lean into the mold with Ogundeji, a solid Senior Bowler and consummate pro on the Notre Dame defensive line. He didn’t get to start for more than one season, stuck behind Khalid Kareem and Julian Okwara on the depth chart, but you can tell his rush plan is blossoming and the athletic ceiling is pretty high.
Ogundeji also has a lot of experience rushing from interior alignments from his time with the Irish, which helps him potentially find playing time on clear passing downs early.
ROUND 4 (NO. 140 OVERALL): JAMES WIGGINS, S, CINCINNATI
Let’s stay on the safety train. Wiggins is a bit of a tricky prospect, as he missed all of the 2019 season with an ACL injury and was banged up across the end of the 2020 season. Those medical checks will be important, especially for a player called “The Freak” by his teammates for his ludicrous athleticism. Wiggins is a high-ceiling gamble for Dallas, but he can win their starting nickel job if he’s at 100%. His talent is top-75 worthy.
ROUND 5 (NO. 178 OVERALL): ALARIC JACKSON, OT, IOWA
Is Jackson a tackle? Is he a guard? With the issues he has dealing with quickness off the edge, he might be better suited for interior play in the league. The Cowboys’ offensive line situation is a bit up in the air, but even with the earlier selection of Hudson, Jackson represents a good investment in both the backup tackle and backup guard spots. If he remains a backup forever, that’s fine—if he gets a chance to fight for a starting job in a year or two, all the better. Good interior players are often found on Day 3.
ROUND 6 (NO. 189 OVERALL): WYATT HUBERT, EDGE, KANSAS STATE
Hubert’s got a dense, squatty build at 6-foot-3 and 265 pounds, and he plays with the expected toughness and stopping power for a player with that build. For Quinn, that’s the sort of build he could use as a big 5-tech in his Seattle-era fronts. Hubert played a much more traditional rush role for the Wildcats, but as a late pick, he’s a good fit for Quinn’s molds.
ROUND 6 (NO. 224 OVERALL): JACK STOLL, TE, NEBRASKA
Stoll has everything a depth tight end needs, down to the extremely standard, blue-collar name. He does a ton of dirty work in the trenches for the Cornhuskers, does good work stalk blocking, and has soft hands when called upon in the passing game. He fills out the depth chart and offers special teams looks as the team remains invested in Blake Jarwin.
ROUND 7 (NO. 236 OVERALL): RILEY COLE, LB, SOUTH ALABAMA
I would have liked to go linebacker earlier, but the board never really gave me a good look—and I don’t think the Cowboys will be as ambitious addressing linebacker as I’d like them to be, anyway. As it is, Cole has a nice frame at 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, and unlike a lot of modern college linebackers, has no issues taking on blockers aggressively in space. Good project player.