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May 07, 2021

NFC East 2021 draft grades: Cowboys edition

Eagles NFL

The Dallas Cowboys' 2020 draft was thought of by many as a coup for the team, as they landed WR CeeDee Lamb in Round 1 and CB Trevon Diggs in Round 2. We gave them an A-. The 2021 draft? Eh, not as good. Let's analyze each of the Cowboys' picks, and give them an overall grade.  

Pick 12 (Round 1): Cowboys: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State. The Cowboys originally held the 10th overall pick, but when CBs Jaycee Horn and Patrick Surtain came off the board at picks 8 and 9, they traded back with the Eagles, picking up a third-round pick (84th overall) from the Birds. 

With the 12th pick, they grabbed Parsons, a 6'3, 246-pound linebacker who ran a 4.36 at Penn State's pro day. Parsons opted out of the 2020 season, but in 2019, he had 109 tackles (14 for loss), five sacks, and four forced fumbles. Highlights here. He's an extremely talented player, but also comes with vague, but seemingly legitimate character concerns.

The Cowboys value the linebacker position more than most, and they've spent heavy resources on it in the draft.

• In 2018, they spent a first-round pick (18th overall) on Leighton Vander Esch.

• In 2016, they spend a second-round pick (34th overall) on Jaylon Smith.

And now Parsons becomes the third linebacker the team has selected in the top 35 picks in the last 6 drafts, which, to say the least, is a questionable use of resources.

The fit makes sense, I guess. Sean Lee retired this offseason after an injury-plagued career, and Vander Esch has sort of taken that "always injured" torch from Lee.


Persons should be a Day 1 starter for Dallas, and could immediately be their best linebacker. But again... at pick 12?

Pick 44 (Round 2): Kelvin Joseph, CB, Kentucky: Joseph has highly impressive athleticism, notably his 4.34 40 time, but he comes with major character concerns. He originally enrolled at LSU, but was suspended for their bowl game in 2018, before transferring to Kentucky and missing the 2019 season as a result. In 2020, he had 4 INTs in 9 games. 

Late in the 2020 season, Joseph told head coach Mark Stoops that he wanted to sit out a game, and Stoops suggested he just opt out for the season, via

“He came in and visited with me after my press conference today,” Stoops said. “Kelvin, he’s a good young man and I appreciate what he did for us. He just didn’t, I don’t know how to phrase it. He didn’t really want to opt out but he didn’t want to play this week. I can’t just have him out there standing around saying, ‘I’m not playing in this game.’ That’s not how we’re going to do this at Kentucky.”

Lol. The Cowboys have a long history of taking big risks with their second-round picks on talented players with serious medical and/or character concerns. Prior examples include guys like Trysten Hill, Jaylon Smith, Randy Gregory, etc.

The Cowboys desperately needed help at cornerback, and Joseph has the talent to compete right away for a starting job.

• Pick 75 (Round 3): Osa Odighizuwa, DT, UCLA: At 6'2, 282, Odighizuwa is a DE/DT tweener. Probably just a rotational guy early in his career. 11.5 sacks in 37 college games.

• Pick 84 (Round 3): Chauncey Golston, DE, Iowa: Another tweener. 6'5, 269 DE who can move inside on some obvious pass rush downs. Like Odighizuwa above, production wasn't there in college. 12 sacks in 36 games.

• Pick 99 (Round 3): Nahshon Wright, CB, Oregon State: I won't pretend to have ever heard of this guy prior to the draft. The Athletic's Dane Brugler had Wright as his 38th ranked CB, and either a seventh-round pick or a priority undrafted free agent.'s Lance Zierlein also had him as a seventh rounder or PFA. The Cowboys took him with a top 100 pick, likely because his length is appealing for a Cover-3 scheme. 😬

At 6'4, 183, Wright is a long, but super skinny CB with unappealing athletic measurables. Maybe the biggest reach of Day 2?

Pick 115 (Round 4): Jabril Cox, LB, LSU: Cox was a high school quarterback who transitioned to linebacker at North Dakota State, and he was a very productive one in three years there, racking up 258 tackles, 14 sacks, 6 INTs, and 12 pass breakups. He often looked like the most impressive athlete on the field at NDSU. Cox transferred to LSU for the 2020 season, where he continued to make plays. In 10 games, he had 58 tackles (6.5 for loss), a sack, 3 INTs (1 pick-six), and 5 pass breakups. He is a long, speedy linebacker with coverage skills whose game should translate to the next level.

People would be fawning over the Cowboys' draft if they had taken, say, Rashawn Slater in Round 1, and landed Cox here. As is, the Cowboys' linebacker position, the least important in the three levels of an NFL defense, now includes Smith, Vander Esch, Parsons, Keanu Neal, and Cox. Does Neal now go back to safety, where he probably shouldn't be? Is Cox even going to see the field, assuming everyone else stays healthy?

To be clear, I do like the value of Cox in the fourth round.

Pick 138 (Round 4): Josh Ball, OT, Marshall: Ball is a talented, guard-tackle versatile offensive lineman who might have gone earlier in the draft, if not for seriously alarming behavior that led to his suspension from Florida State. With three of their first seven picks, the Cowboys selected players — Parsons, Joseph, and Ball — with off-the-field issues. They just don't GAF.

Pick 179 (Round 5): Simi Fehoko, WR, Stanford: Fehoko has an impressive blend of size (6'4, 222) and speed (unofficial Pro Day 4.37 40) who has a floor as a special teamer. I like his fit as a Day 3 developmental guy who won't have to play right away behind Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and CeeDee Lamb.

Pick 192 (Round 6): Quinton Bohanna, DT, Kentucky: Bahanna is a 6'4, 327-pound space eater with no athleticism. I'm pretty sure I could beat him in a foot race.

Pick 227 (Round 6): Israel Mukuamu, CB, South Carolina: Mukuamu is a 6'4, 212-pound corner, who like Wright above was no doubt drafted for the sole purpose of playing in a Cover-3 scheme. 

Pick 238 (Round 7): Matt Farniok, G, Nebraska: I won't pretend to know anything about this guy. Brugler and Zierlein both him as an undrafted free agent.


Philosophically, I hate some of the themes of the Cowboys' draft:

Character-concern players: One the one hand, I don't think teams should completely shut out players with spotty pasts, if they truly believe that they can get their act together in the pros. However, I do think that if you're going to take swings on players like that, you better have a solid foundation of winning, and a strong locker room. The Cowboys certainly aren't a winning franchise anymore, and a few individuals aside (Dak Prescott, for example) there's no indication that the Cowboys' locker room is loaded up with strong leadership. The Cowboys' history of taking those types of players is well documented, and has typically not worked out well for them recently. And they took three of them.

Reaches: I believe there's a legitimate argument that none of the Cowboys' five Day 1 or Day 2 selections were value picks, in that they went significantly earlier than most were projecting. A look at where the Cowboys drafted each of their first five picks, and where they were ranked overall by various big-name draft analysts:

 Player (draft slot)Jeremiah Kiper McShay Brugler 
Micah Parsons (12)12 11 12 
Kelvin Joseph (44)84 67 47 52 
Osa Odighizuwa (75)83 Did not make top 150 87 Did not make top 100 
Chauncey Golston (84) 102 Did not make top 150 177 Did not make top 100 
Nahshon Wright (99) Did not make top 150 Did not make top 150 272 Did not make top 100 

The only player who was drafted in a reasonable spot, at least in terms of pre-draft projections, was Parsons. McShay had him rated the highest of the draft analysts above, and even he said that Parsons was likely to fall in Round 1.

Scheme-specific players: Draft talent. Don't overdraft players with a trait or two that fits your scheme. That's clearly what the Cowboys did two of the cornerbacks they selected, as noted above. That's less of a big deal with the guy they took in Round 6, but you certainly don't want to be doing that in Round 3. What happens if the coaching staff is changed over, and a different scheme is implemented? You have marginally talented players with traits that probably fit better somewhere else.

Overcorrection: The Cowboys' draft strategy seemed to be this simple:

Problem: Our defense is trash.
Solution: Let's take defenders with our first half-dozen picks.

That might make sense on the surface, but if you're relying on rookies to immediately change the fortunes of your defense while passing on more talented players to fill needs, you're doing it wrong. The draft should be about finding players who can help long-term, not whatever this was.

Grade: C.

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