More Sports:

May 04, 2023

NFC East 2023 draft grades: Cowboys edition

Eagles NFL
050323MaziSmith Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

Mazi Smith

The Dallas Cowboys improved their roster this offseason with a strong free agency period (we gave them an A-), and could very well be the Philadelphia Eagles' biggest threats in the NFC, even more so than the San Francisco 49ers. Let's look at each of the Cowboys' picks in the 2023 draft and grade them on what they did.

Round 1, pick 26: Mazi Smith, DT, Michigan: Smith was a huge, run-stuffing nose tackle in the middle of Michigan's stingy run defense. He was ranked No. 1 on Bruce Feldman's "freaks" list last summer.

His former teammate, Aidan Hutchinson, almost was our top guy in 2021, but this year a Wolverine is the No. 1 Freak in college football. The 6-foot-3, 337-pound senior has rare power and agility. So rare, in fact, it’s hard to find the right superlative to begin with. But let’s start with this: Smith does 22 reps on the bench press, but that’s with 325 (not 225). He close-grip benched 550 pounds. He vertical-jumps 33 inches. He broad-jumped 9-4 1/2. Smith, who had 37 tackles last season, has clocked a 4.41 shuttle time, which would’ve tied the best by any defensive tackle at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine, and it would’ve been better than any defensive tackle weighing 310 pounds or more in the past decade. His 6.95 3-cone time would’ve been by far the fastest among defensive tackles in Indianapolis. The fastest was 7.33. Smith’s 60-yard shuttle time is 11.90.

This is pretty nuts for a 323-pound guy:

Smith doesn't have impressive stats (0.5 career sacks), and he had a concerning arrest last year, but he is a physical beast with obvious speed and power traits.

The question is... Was Smith worthy of the 26th overall pick. Daniel Jeremiah had him 43rd on his big board. Dane Brugler had him 39th. Mel Kiper had him 30th. The Cowboys evidently had him 13th or 14th, per Jerry Jones:

Smith is a good player and he fits a need, but it does feel like the Cowboys had him rated higher than the rest of the league.

Round 2, pick 58: Luke Schoonmaker, TE, Michigan: I can squint and sort of get what the Cowboys see in Schoonmaker. He's considered one of the best blocking tight end prospects in this draft, and while he did not have good production in college, the ability is there. You can see below that Schoonmaker can move well. 

That said, it's pretty easy to question the value of this pick. Over the course of his college career (23 games), Schoonmaker had 54 catches for 634 yards and 7 TDs, or 27.6 yards per game. He'll also turn 25 in September.

It felt like the Cowboys were going to take a tight end with a high pick, come hell or high water, and when three of them came off the board in the second round, Dallas felt the need to reach for one before the cupboard was bare.

• Round 3, pick 90: DeMarvion Overshown, LB, Texas: Overshown is a safety-turned-linebacker who also has experience playing wide receiver (in high school) and on the edge (at Texas). He is a tall, fast linebacker prospect with good athleticism some ball skills. 

As a fifth-year senior in 2022, Overshown had 96 tackles (10 for loss), 4 sacks, and 5 pass breakups. The Cowboys have some fast, explosive players at LB.

Round 4, pick 129: Junior Fehoko, Edge, San Jose State: Fehoko had good production the last two seasons at SJSU, racking up 16 sacks and 5 forced fumbles. I had him as an Eagles target, but as more of a late Day 3 guy. 

Fehoko has good size at 6'4, 276, and he kind of reminds me of the string of similarly-sized defensive ends that the Cowboys seemed to take every year in the fourth or fifth rounds, like Ryan Russell (2015), Charles Tapper (2016), Dorance Armstrong (2018), Joe Jackson (2019), and Bradlee Anae (2020). Armstrong has panned out. The others, not so much. I do think it's an approach that makes sense, and the Cowboys are back to it after taking a couple of years off.

Round 5, pick 169: Asim Richards, OT, North Carolina: The Cowboys released a weird video of their selection of Mazi Smith over Syracuse OG Matthew Bergeron in the first round:

So after like 10 months of prep for the draft, the Cowboys were still debating between two players extremely likely to be available to them at pick 26 with under two minutes left on the clock? Uh, alright. Maybe it was just a show for social media engagement? Anyway, who cares. I only show that here because it feels like they were targeting a guard. Richards played tackle at UNC, but he could be kicking inside for Dallas after losing Connor McGovern in free agency.

Round 6, pick 178: Eric Scott, CB, Southern Mississippi: I had never heard of this guy before. He was Dane Brugler's 60th ranked cornerback, and he ran a 4.71 40 at Southern Miss' pro day. He does have decent size at 6'1 with 32 1/4" arms, and a 39 1/2" vertical jump. This pick reminds me of when the Cowboys reached for CB Nahshon Wright in the third round in 2021 because he's 6'4 and his length was appealing for Dan Quinn's Cover-3 scheme.

The Cowboys traded up for Scott, so he was a player they were targeting. It should be noted that Scott may have been dealing with a minor quad injury when he ran his 40, so that might be an unfair time. 

Round 6, pick 212: Deuce Vaughn, RB, Kansas State: Vaughn is a 5'5, 179-pound running back with very good college production. Over the last two seasons, he racked up 2862 rushing yards and 846 receiving yards on 91 receptions. Fun player to watch:

Will it translate to the NFL? To be determined. There will be obvious comparisons to Darren Sproles, another very short KSU running back alum. Sproles was faster and thicker, and could stay upright through contact. He also was a major factor on kick and punt returns, whereas Vaughn was not at KSU. Vaughn may be closer to the Donnel Pumphrey end of the miniback spectrum than the Sproles end. We'll see.

In case you missed this, Vaughn's dad Chris works as a scout for the Cowboys: 

That's a pretty cool draft moment.

Round 7, pick 244: Jalen Brooks, WR, South Carolina: 58 catches, 785 yards, 2 TDs over a three-year career, best known for this highlight catch in a blowout against Georgia. Average size at 6'1, 201, and he ran a 4.69 40 at the Combine. We're talking about the 244th pick of the draft here, so, whatever. 🤷‍♂️


Time will tell how good the Cowboys' drafted players will be, but on the surface it doesn't appear that they made value picks, in that they selected players at positions of need significantly earlier than most were projecting. For example, their first four picks:

 Player (draft slot)Kiper Jeremiah McShay Brugler 
Mazi Smith (26)30 43 38 39 
Luke Schoonmaker (58)79 71 71 90 
DeMarvion Overshown (90)94 8689Not in Brugler's top 100 
Junior Fehoko (129) Not in Kiper's top 150 Not in Jeremiah's top 150 207 Not in Brugler's top 100 

If you were to look at the Cowboys' biggest needs heading into the draft, you'd see a lot of defensive tackle, tight end, and linebacker. For example, Jon Machota and Bob Sturm of The Athletic had the Cowboys' five biggest needs as follows

  1. Interior defensive line
  2. Interior offensive line
  3. Running back
  4. Tight end
  5. Linebacker

And, well, they drafted an interior defensive lineman (Smith), an interior offensive lineman (Richards), a running back (Vaughn), a tight end (Schoonmaker), and a linebacker (Overshown).

If you can find players who fit needs, that's great, but ideally you won't be sacrificing value while going about it. I thought the Giants were able to fill needs while also getting appropriate value by sticking and picking, while the Eagles found a need/value balance by moving up and down the draft order via trades.

The Cowboys probably think that they are Super Bowl contenders, and I wouldn't disagree. As such, I understand the impulse to draft for immediate need, but I think it's also pretty clear that they were willing to leave value on the table.

Grade: C+

Follow Jimmy & PhillyVoice on Twitter: @JimmyKempski | @thePhillyVoice

Like us on Facebook: PhillyVoice Sports

Add Jimmy's RSS feed to your feed reader