In this edition of ‘perfect fits’ in the run up to the 2021 NFL Draft, Mark will be taking a deeper look at the Dallas Cowboys. America’s team are a bit like marmite: you either love them or hate them. Dallas has a huge following on both sides of the Atlantic, but they also have many who like to laugh at their failures along the way.
When writing articles like this, I really enjoy the process of going deep on a team. I like to take into consideration coaching hires, contract situation, pending free agents and of course needs highlighted from the previous season. This gives a clear insight into what each team might do in the offseason and upcoming draft.
A quick glance at the Cowboys reveals a team who have roughly $25million in cap space. Of course, Dak Prescott needs a new deal. Most likely he will be allocated the franchise tag so the franchise can get a look at how he returns after injury.
Dallas started the season pretty well in 2020. Many had backed them to win a weak NFC East after a brilliant draft (on paper). Looking around their team, there is an obvious arsenal of offensive talent. However, injuries slowly took their toll.
Bodies seemed to fall regularly on the offensive line. Of course in Week 5, their whole season was derailed when franchise QB Dak Prescott suffered a horrendous leg break. Despite having perennial pro-bowlers Zeke Elliot and Amari Cooper, the Cowboys, led by trusted veteran Andy Dalton, couldn’t make it work. Another season without playoff football beckoned.
Dallas wasn’t helped by terrible defensive play. Mike Nolan was an early offseason coaching casualty, and was replaced by Dan Quinn, formerly head coach of the Atlanta Falcons. He brought with him a history of Cover 3 schematics in Seattle with the ‘Legion of Boom’, Gus Bradley and Pete Carroll.
Pending Free Agents
The Dallas Cowboys have several players hitting free agency. On offence, Prescott is the obvious big name. Re-signing him will be paramount. Using the franchise tag on Dak is the most likely route, given he is returning from an injury. He will want to negotiate using the Deshaun Watson contract in Houston as a template.
Swing tackle Camren Erving is also scheduled to be a free agent. Erving (a former First Round pick) offers good depth in a number of positions along the O-Line but suffered injuries of his own. With too little cap to go around, he has not shown the availability to warrant a new deal.
The Dallas Cowboys defence has a number of pieces due to hit the open market. Starting corners Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis will be free agents. Given the Cowboys woes in pass coverage in 2020, I can’t see either being offered a Cowboys contract. In hindsight, neither are bad players. More so, these are players that have been put into bad situations under Nolan. With Dan Quinn coming in as DC, neither has the length to fit into his Cover 3 system.
Long term stalwart Sean Lee at 35 is prime for retirement. He is also a pending free agent after spending his full NFL career with The Dallas Cowboys. This will leave a hole on the second level, especially with Leighton Vander Esch’s frequent neck injuries.
Aldon Smith did well, returning to the NFL after 5 years in retirement. He featured in all 16 games, producing 5 sacks. Dallas would probably like to bring him back and he would fit into the Leo role (edge-linebacker hybrid).
The Dallas Cowboys fielded such a poor defence last year. Their most glaring needs are on this side of the ball. However, the O-line that was once a thing of legends has aged. The unit has suffered injuries, and is now in need of an upgrade. Linebacker could also be another area of need in the 2021 NFL Draft.
In order, their 2021 NFL Draft needs are:
Byron Jones left a big hole. Awuzie and Lewis are also hitting the market, which makes this position an area of priority.
In Cover 3, they need a single high safety. Earl Thomas has forever been linked with The Dallas Cowboys, but they might search in the draft for a young player to groom into the role, even if they do sign Thomas.
The run game stuttered once pieces started going down to injury. More depth will hopefully for the sake of Dallas fans see a good return from Elliot in 2021. Elliot’s contract makes him unmovable.
Smith and Vander Esch are 2 excellent pieces, but Smith’s contract and Vander Esch’s injuries could also make this an area of need.
At Pick 10, The Dallas Cowboys are in a great position to snag one of the two best corners in the draft. Both Surtain II and Farley are long boundary types, and both have the skillset to play opposite 2020 rookie Trevon Diggs. Diggs saw a lot of playtime in his rookie year, and will no doubt be a better player for it in 2021. Finding someone to play opposite must be a priority for the Cowboys. To fuel discussion, I’m going to add a 3rd name to the Round 1 mix.
Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
A true technician of the position. Coached by his all-pro ex Dolphin father Patrick Surtain Snr, he has been preparing his whole life for the NFL. He has championship pedigree from his time with Alabama, and might be the most polished evaluation I’ve ever made on a corner prospect.
Surtain II has adequate juice, but lacks top end speed. However, his IQ and fluid hips means he’s never out of phase. Surtain II is a high floor corner. The only knock is whether he is going to get much better than he is right now.
Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
Farley is already a very good man cover corner. Farley has great speed and at 6’ 2” he has pro typical length. He’s very tight in coverage but at times he can be grabby. I think we might see some flags early in his career.
The exciting thing with Farely is his ceiling, he is very athletic and breaks well on the ball. He also tackles very well and brings some quality when defending the run. Farley is very fluid in the position and is quick to come down hill out of breaks to wrap up the receiver. Has plus awareness on using the boundary as an extra defender.
Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
This is a bit of a wild card pick. In most mocks, The Dallas Cowboys have been mentioned as a landing spot for the top corners in the 2021 NFL Draft. If Parsons is still to hear his name called by Pick 10, it might not be that simple.
Adding Parsons to Smith and Vander Esch would give Dallas a formidable second level defence. Parsons is a very good blitzer and holds up in coverage. He’s the best defensive player in the 2021 NFL Draft. If Dallas were to go best player available, that would be Parsons if he is still on the board
This could be a great spot for The Dallas Cowboys to land their single high safety of choice. I have bookmarked two who should be available in this range.
Richie Grant, Safety, UCF
Grant leaves UCF with 10 interceptions over 3 years. Although a “jack of all trades” Safety, he comes with a very high floor. Grant has just enough athleticism and speed to be considered for single high safety formations.
He could have entered the 2020 draft and been a mid-round prospect. Returning to central Florida served Grant well, he cut down on the missed tackles that were frequent in 2019 and will enter the 2021 draft projected as a solid rd. 2 prospect. At 23 he is already a man and his frame can’t be expected to change much in the pros.
Andre Cisco, Safety, Syracuse
Andre Cisco’s college career will be remembered for the frequent big time plays he made on the football. He had 13 interceptions and 14 pass breakups in just 24 games. This goes some way to explaining the kind of game changing ability Cisco possesses. Simply put, he’s a ball magnet. His ability to take away the football makes him an interesting and fun prospect.
Cisco can be described as a feast or famine type of player. Any team drafting him will hope he learns to gamble more wisely, and will want to see his frequent blown coverages cut out of his game. Improvements will also need to be made in his run support. Cisco suffered a season ending injury in September, so medical reports will be important in the run up to the 2021 NFL Draft.
This seems to be a great area for looking at the interior of the O-Line. I have selected 3 interior O-Line players who Dallas could add with the aim to dominating in the run game. I expect Dak to return on the franchise tag and protecting him after his nasty injury is a necessity.
Ben Cleveland, Guard, Georgia
Cleveland possesses one of the most astonishing builds you’ll see for an offensive guard. His measurements at the Senior Bowl were 6’ 6” and 354 lbs. At Georgia, he was known for his dedication in the weight room. Rumour has it he once pressed 225lbs 50 times! Obviously with this power he is a force in the run game.
Cleveland is powerful and well-schooled from his time in the SEC. He has a strongman body type that translates well to the NFL. He isn’t carrying much bad weight, and therefore has enough athleticism to hold up in pass protection. In this past season he only allowed 6 pressures from 283 pass blocking snaps.
Trey Smith, Guard, Tennessee
Once the overall number 1 prospect of the 2017 recruiting class, Smith has long been destined for NFL glory. The 5-star prospect fielded dozens of offers from teams and after committing to Tennessee. He started as a freshman for The Vols at Left Tackle.
The following year, Smith received shocking news that threatened his budding career. Doctors identified blood clots in his lungs which forced him to consider retirement. Doctors would later clear him for football and Smith returned, this time kicking inside to Guard.
In 9 starts in 2020, Smith only allowed one sack and committed just one penalty. He has immense power. His size makes him dominant in close quarters, and his mauler mentality with an added nasty streak makes him a very good guard prospect, who is strong in the run game. With Smith you can help but feel there is so much more to come. Injuries will need to be vetted but in round 3, someone will be getting a stud.
Deonte Brown, Guard, Alabama
Brown and the above-mentioned Smith are similar prospects. Both are maulers in the run game, and better at blocking in a phone booth. Brown is a mountain of a man, and weighs in at 365 lbs.
Brown will dominate in the run game, but needs to improve in pass protection. He is pretty fluid for such a big guy. He never fails to finish his block. Well coached on an Alabama line, he and Landon Dickerson paved the way for a big Najee Harris year.
Dallas Cowboys – fixed
There you have it, Cowboys fans. Your franchise is fixed and ready to dominate in 2021. Find Mark on Twitter @stickapininit, and of course @5yardcollege. Let me know what you think of your team’s “perfect fits”, Cowboys fans!