Dallas Cowboys Rookies Forecast

By Charlie Campbell - @draftcampbell

Solid Starter

Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State - Round 1
The Cowboys gave clues that they were looking hard at the linebacker position in the first round when they declined the fifth-year option on Leighton Vander Esch. WalterFootball.com also reported veteran Jaylon Smith was available for a trade but Dallas could not find any takers for Smith. Thus, it was not surprising that the Cowboys added a long-term linebacker with their first-round pick.

In the passing-driven NFL, a linebacker has to be a good player in coverage in order to be a first-round pick, and Parsons has three-down-starter ability and is an asset for defending the pass. He is very good in zone, covering a lot of ground in the middle of the field and covering the flat sideline-to-sideline. On top of being a functional zone linebacker, Parsons has blitzing ability. He closes on the quarterback in a hurry and uses his vision and agility to dart through openings in the line to get pressure in the pocket. Parsons will be a nice linebacker in a blitzing scheme or playing a lot of zone like a Tampa 2 defense. New Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn does both, and Parsons is a nice scheme fit for him.

Parsons' best attribute might be his explosive pass rushing off the edge or up the middle. Dallas will be using Parsons as a rusher in the sub package, according to media reports, and that was an astute move by Quinn. In that role and as a base-down linebacker, Parsons could become a solid starter early in his pro career.

2020: Trevon Diggs, CB
2019: Connor McGovern, G
2018: Leighton Vander Esch, LB
2017: Jourdan Lewis, CB
2016: Ezekiel Elliott, RB
2015: Cha Green, OT
2014: Zack Martin, G
2013: Travis Frederick, C

Most Likely To Bust

Nashon Wright, CB, Oregon State - Round 3
In back-to-back drafts, the Cowboys have used a second-round pick on a tall, fast, athletic outside cornerback, and they re-signed slot receiver Jourdan Lewis. Thus, it was somewhat surprising Dallas drafted another corner in the next round after taking Kelvin Joseph. It never hurts to have cornerback depth, but Wright seems like an odd fit for Dallas.

Wright (6-4, 185) is a tall cornerback who is very adept at defending 50-50 passes. However, he lacks speed and has tightness. That means he is not a candidate to move inside to the slot and will be an outside-only corner. Shifty fast receivers gave him problems in college, and he could struggle with giving up separation to those type of wideouts in the NFL. As an outside-only corner, he will probably top out as a backup to Trevon Diggs or Joseph, but Wright's lack of speed makes him a mismatch against a lot of the fast outside receivers in the NFC East. That group includes Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, DeVonta Smith, Jalen Reagor and Kadarius Toney.

Third-round picks have expectations of being a backup to start out their career before eventually ascending into a starting role. Wright's lack of speed and his issues with stiffness, however, could lead to him giving up separation. Of the Cowboys early-round picks, I think he is the one with the most bust potential.

2020: Tyler Biadasz, C
2019: Michael Jackson, CB
2018: Connor Williams, OT
2017: Chidobe Awuzie, CB
2016: Dak Prescott, QB
2015: Randy Gregory, DE
2014: Anthony Hitchens, LB
2013: Gavin Escobar, TE

Potential Boom Pick

Kelvin Joseph, CB, Kentucky - Round 2
The Cowboys needed cornerback help, but they didn't luck out in the first round, as both South Carolina's Jaycee Horn and Alabama's Patrick Surtain went off the board to the Panthers and Broncos, respectively, at picks Nos. 8 and 9. Dallas drew on the depth of the corner class, however, to land Joseph, a player with an intriguing skill set. The 6-foot-1, 197-pounder has a lot of upside to develop and has boom-pick potential for the NFL.

Joseph possesses an excellent skill set that includes size, speed, athleticism and strength. He is a tough press-man corner who has a strong jam at the line of scrimmage to reroute receivers and disrupt timing routes. Joseph is a physical defender who battles receivers, uses the sideline well, and his size helps him outfight receivers to prevent jump-ball completions. With good hands and ability to track the ball, Joseph has impressive ball skills and is a threat to create interceptions.

On top of Joseph being big and strong, he has excellent speed for a big corner. Joseph closes fast and eats up ground in a blur. His quick-twitch athleticism and sharp reflexes give him ability to run with receivers out of their breaks in off-man coverage.

On the negative side, Joseph is raw and needs lots of development, which isn't surprising considering he is a 1-year wonder. Joseph is undisciplined and will bite on fakes. Kyle Pitts' route-running embarrassed Joseph and showed that he lacks eye discipline. Joseph could lack the discipline to play zone coverage and will need to be coached up on route recognition. Penalties and immaturity are problem sfor Joseph, but he does have the cocky, confident man-corner mentality.

Dan Quinn has had success in the past working with cornerbacks similar to Joseph. Good coaching could help Joseph grow more disciplined and technically sound. He has real boom-pick potential if he works hard and develops well. Landing with Quinn was a fortunate break for Joseph, and he could boom for Dallas.

2020: CeeDee Lamb, WR
2019: Trysten Hill, DT
2018: Dorance Armstrong, DE
2017: Taco Charlton, DE
2016: Jaylon Smith, LB
2015: Byron Jones, S
2014: DeMarcus Lawrence, DE
2013: Terrance Williams, WR

Future Depth Player

Jabril Cox, LB, LSU - Round 4
I would not be surprised if I'm selling Cox short here and he develops into a starter for Dallas. He was one of my favorite values for the second day of the 2021 NFL Draft, and I think the Cowboys got a steal in the fourth round. Cox slipped in the draft because of concerns about his abilities in run defense. A lot of evaluators felt Cox was not physical, did not impress taking on blocks, and was going to struggle to defend the run in the NFL. Even though it is a passing-driven league, and covering is Cox's strong suit, the struggles as a run defender were what sunk him to the third day of the draft.

As stated above, the Cowboys did not pick up the fifth-year option on veteran Leighton Vander Esch and veteran Jaylon Smith struggled in 2020 and was shopped for a trade during the 2021 NFL Draft. Cox could start out as a backup, developing his strength and run defense behind Vander Esch and Smith. Cox, however, is superb in pass coverage, so he could rotate into the game in nickel sets and grow from there. In time, he could be a replacement for Smith while Parsons could replace Vander Esch. Cox is a great fit for Dan Quinn's defense and could be used similar to Deion Jones in Atlanta. It might take some time, but I would not be at all surprised if Cox works himself into being a solid starter for Dallas. If he doesn't become a starter, I think he will be a good backup and rotational pass coverage linebacker for the Cowboys.

2020: Bradley Anae, DE
2019: Tony Pollard, RB
2018: Michael Gallup, WR
2017: Ryan Switzer, WR
2016: Charles Tapper, DE
2015: Damien Wilson, LB
2014: Ben Gardner, DE
2013: Joseph Randle, RB

Walt's 2021 NFL Draft Grades:

12. Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State - C+ Grade
Charlie Campbell, who was 8-of-8 in his 2021 NFL Mock Draft, reported a few years ago that an NFL team removed Leighton Vander Esch from their draft board because of concerns regarding his neck injury. Now, we see why that team was so worried. Vander Esch hasn't been able to stay healthy, while Sean Lee just retired. The Cowboys needed a linebacker, and Micah Parsons is a mega talent. He has some glaring off-the-field concerns, however, so I can't grade this too favorably.

44. Kelvin Joseph, CB, Kentucky - C- Grade
Ouch. The Cowboys really wanted Trevon Moehrig and Jevon Holland, yet both safeties were snatched off the board before their pick. The Cowboys had to settle for Kelvin Joseph, a raw cornerback with character concerns. Joseph belonged in the third or fourth round, so this was a reach. That said, Joseph could meet his upside and fill a big need.

75. Osa Odighizuwa, DE/DT, UCLA - B Grade
This is an upside pick for the Cowboys, as Osa Odighizuwa is a very athletic player who can get after the quarterback. The problem is that he's a tweener and a liability against the run. This selection has a low floor, but I like Dallas taking a chance with this selection.

84. Chauncey Golston, DE/DT, Iowa - C Grade
I mocked Chauncey Golston to the Cowboys, but in the fifth round. He's a high-motor, high-effort player, but he's not very talented. The Cowboys could have done better, but this isn't a terrible pick.

99. Nahshon Wright, CB, Oregon State - F Grade
Nahshon Wright is a tall cornerback (6-4), but that's all he has going for him. He's very thin and frail, and he'll be beaten up by tougher receivers. Wright is the first prospect chosen I never slotted in my mock draft, so I have to flunk the Cowboys for this pick.

115. Jabril Cox, LB, LSU - A+ Grade
Jabril Cox would have been chosen in the second round if he didn't have any injury issues. At this point in the draft, it's worth it to take that sort of risk. This is a steal for the Cowboys, who needed a second linebacker because of Leigthon Vander Esch's neck problems, which one team flagged him for prior to his draft.

138. Josh Ball, OT, Marshall - C- Grade
The Dallas offensive line was a huge problem last year, so it's not a surprise that the team addressed this area. It's a bit of a surprise that they took Josh Ball at this juncture because I had him in the seventh round, so I'm not a fan of this value.

179. Simi Fehoko, WR, Stanford - A Grade
For the second year in a row, the Cowboys spent a great value pick on receiver without needing to address the position very much. Simi Fehoko was pegged in the fourth round, so this is a steal. Amari Cooper won't be around much longer, so Fehoko could start in the future.

192. Quinton Bohanna, NT, Kentucky - C+ Grade
The Cowboys struggled to stop the run last year - or do anything positive on defense - so Quinton Bohanna will help in that regard. I didn't think Bohanna would be drafted, but I don't hate this pick because he could address a big need.

227. Israel Mukuamu, CB, South Carolina - A+ Grade
Here's another great value! Israel Mukuamu was once in the first round of my mock draft. He ended up in the fourth frame of my final mock draft because of some major injury problems. He continued to fall, but Dallas could be getting a talented starter if Mukuamu can recover.

238. Matt Farniok, G, Nebraska - B Grade
It's no surprise that the Cowboys addressed the offensive line once again, given what occurred last year. Matt Farniok never made my mock draft, but I like the upside because he's so athletic for his position.

2021 NFL Draft Team Grade: C-. Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

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