Entering the 2020 season, the Dallas Cowboys certainly didn’t expect to be turning in their first-round draft card within the first 90 minutes of the 2021 NFL Draft. Indeed, selecting in the top 10 the following April is not what any franchise has in mind when they kick off the regular season in September (at least, they won’t admit to it).
Even in the midst of a chaotic campaign impacted dramatically by the COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying protocols, the Cowboys came into the season with championship aspirations — a confidence prompted by what expected to be high-octane offense, complemented by a capable defense and savvy special teams unit, all at the direction of a new, but experienced head coach with a Super Bowl pedigree and his hand-picked coaching staff.
But, alas, the Cowboys stumbled out of the gate, the offense unable to get out of its own way, the defense surrendering points at a record-setting pace, and the coaching staff if not seemingly helpless, then struggling mightily to right the ship. Then, in Week 5, any hopes of salvaging the season were effectively carted away with quarterback Dak Prescott when he suffered a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle against the New York Giants. While the Cowboys would go on to win the game, they would only be victorious in four more throughout the remainder of the season — with the wins all coming against teams that would finish with a losing record. Even still, that would be enough to keep them in contention for the NFC East crown until the final week of the season, when a loss to those same New York Giants would ultimately seal their fate.
The year now officially lost, all attention returned to the ticking clock on Prescott and the Cowboys to come to terms on a new contract. With talks at a stalemate for the better part of two years and the prospect of a second season on the franchise tag looming, a historically lucrative deal was finally struck on March 8 that would keep Dak in Dallas and put the most important building block in place for the foreseeable future.
However, the NFL’s most valuable franchise remains under construction as a whole. And with the organization’s cost-conscious approach to free agency, the draft is where the Dallas Cowboys of 2021 and beyond will be built — which leads us to this exercise.
In this one and only edition of Drafting Dallas 2021, I’m assuming front office duties to mock draft the full seven rounds for the Cowboys using my DRAFTPLEX Board and the current official draft order. For context, this isn’t a prediction or projection of what the actual front office will do, nor is it a fantasy draft where the best players just happen to conveniently fall to the Cowboys. I will be making my selections as realistically as I can based on my evaluations and how I think the board could fall.
That all being said, let’s go on the clock with Drafting Dallas 2021.
Round 1 | Pick 10
Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
Being the earliest the Cowboys have selected since 2016, they have the opportunity to draft one of the elite prospects in this class. And given how quarterbacks and pass catchers have dominated the top-10 conversation, there’s a high likelihood that the Cowboys’ decision could come down to either a top-rated offensive tackle or a top-rated cornerback.
Personally (and whether you or I agree or not), I believe the Cowboys are optimistic about the health of tackles Tyron Smith and La’el Collins moving forward and I think they feel good about who they have behind them on the depth chart should injury strike again. To that end, they could see drafting Penei Sewell or Rashawn Slater — should they be available — as a luxury. Meanwhile, the current CB combination of second-year starter Trevon Diggs, veteran Anthony Brown, and the newly re-signed Jourdan Lewis would appear to need a fourth to be legitimately formidable.
But, make no mistake about it, Patrick Surtain II wouldn’t be coming to Dallas to compete for playing time. Athletically impressive, technically refined, and highly experienced against top-tier collegiate competition, he would be a day-one starter and arguably the new CB1 for America’s Team.
Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern
Not expected to be there:
Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
Watch out for:
Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
Round 2 | Pick 44
Baron Browning, LB, Ohio State
It was just a couple of years ago that the Cowboys were believed to have one of the best young linebacker tandems in the league with Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch. Cut to the spring of 2021, and there’s a case to be made that neither will be on the team come 2022. With Smith’s play sharply declining and Vander Esch struggling to stay on the field since — and both due significant salary next year — another season of underperforming or being unavailable could see the Cowboys cut their losses and transition to a new stable of second-level defenders.
Baron Browning would seemingly be in the mix of physically imposing, athletic linebackers who could be targeted to succeed either Smith or Vander Esch. While this might be slightly ahead of his projected range, an early run at LB in the late-first or early-second round could see him go earlier than expected, with the Cowboys as a potential suitor.
Richie Grant, S, UCF
Not expected to be there:
Jamin Davis, LB, Kentucky
Zaven Colliins, LB, Tulsa
Watch out for:
Carlos Basham Jr., EDGE, Wake Forest
Aaron Robinson, CB, UCF
Round 3 | Pick 75
Jackson Carman, OL, Clemson
As stated above, the Cowboys could see drafting an offensive lineman in the first round as a luxury, but that’s not to say that there isn’t cause to look toward the future. And with this being a very talented and very deep class of blockers, there’s a strong possibility that they would still look to grab a protector from the pack in the early rounds — especially if they were to go in the direction of a defender with the #10 selection.
With the organization typically placing value on versatility up front, an OL prospect like Jackson Carman — who perhaps projects best as a guard, but played tackle at a high level in college — could be of interest as a swing blocker early before growing into a starting role at either position.
Marlon Tuipulotu, DL, USC
Watch out for:
Ronnie Perkins, EDGE, Oklahoma
Tommy Togiai, DL, Ohio State
Round 3 | Pick 99 (compensatory)
Dylan Moses, LB, Alabama
Aside from the concerns moving forward with Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch as discussed above, the Cowboys will also be losing Joe Thomas and likely Sean Lee from their 2020 roster, leaving the linebacker corps incredibly thin in terms of proven talent and starter-quality potential. Thus, double-dipping at the position could be on the table.
Dylan Moses had first-round buzz prior to a season-ending knee injury in 2019, but when he wasn’t quite the player he was in his return to the field in 2020, his draft stock slipped to the Day 2 / early-Day 3 range. Depending on where the Cowboys have him graded, he could be a “Blue Star Special” consideration should he still be available as the draft begins to creep into the middle rounds.
Walker Little, OT, Stanford
Jay Tufele, DL, USC
Pete Werner, LB, Ohio State
Round 4 | Pick 115
Quincy Roche, EDGE, Miami
From drafting Randy Gregory and Taco Charlton, to trading for Robert Quinn, to signing Aldon Smith and Everson Griffin as free agents, the Cowboys have tried repeatedly in recent years to install an impact pass rusher opposite DeMarcus Lawrence. With Gregory and Dorance Armstrong only signed through this season, Bradlee Anae seeing only limited action as a rookie, and free-agent signee Tarell Basham viewed as a rotational player, the Cowboys and new DC Dan Quinn could definitely explore adding at least one more viable name to the competition.
Temple transfer Quincy Roche doesn’t come with nearly the hype as fellow Hurricanes Jaelan Phillips and Gregory Rousseau, but coming off an incredibly productive four-year college career in terms of sacks, tackles for loss, and fumbles both forced and recovered, he’s an accomplished edge defender in his own right.
Marvin Wilson, DL, Florida State
Keith Taylor, CB, Washington
Janarius Robinson, EDGE, Florida State
Round 4 | Pick 138 (compensatory)
Khyiris Tonga, DT, BYU
Dallas has invested significant draft capital into the 3-technique defensive tackle role the past two years with Trysten Hill in 2019 and Neville Gallimore in 2020, but a 1-technique has not been a draft priority at all. And it’s quite possible that trend continues, especially after tendering Antwaun Woods and signing free agents Brent Urban and Carlos Watkins.
But, if the Cowboys were to consider a two-down, space-eating nose tackle for their rotation on Day 3, Khyiris Tonga would be a prime candidate for the proverbial “trash can full of dirt” role that comes with the responsibilities of occupying blockers, clogging running lanes, and pushing the pocket.
Round 5 | Pick 179 (compensatory)
Trill Williams, DB, Syracuse
Assuming the Cowboys were to draft with all 10 of their picks — which is unlikely considering the way the front office tends to work — securing more help for the secondary would expect to be on the agenda, as the defense cycled through a variety of names at both cornerback and safety in 2020.
While the hope would be that former Falcons safeties Keanu Neal and Damontae Kazee yield immediate returns and that there is a leap in the development of second-year DB Reggie Robinson, a fluid defender like Trill Williams, who can be flexed up, down, and across the defense, could help fill multiple roles within the Cowboys’ scheme and maximize a roster spot.
Round 6 | Pick 192
Dazz Newsome, WR, North Carolina
Wide receiver is a position that could remain fully intact from 2020, with Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, CeeDee Lamb, Cedrick Wilson, and Noah Brown all back for 2021. But, again, with this many prospective picks with which to work, the Cowboys would likely consider plucking at least one pass catcher from a deep field to compete for the fourth or fifth receiver role, or perhaps even force them to keep six.
Highly productive from the slot and as a punt returner, Dazz Newsome fits the mold of the shifty separator and offensive gadget the Cowboys have gravitated to in recent years to complement their primary weapons.
Round 6 | Pick 227 (compensatory)
Deon Jackson, RB, Duke
The Cowboys have a strong 1-2 punch at running back with star rusher Ezekiel Elliott and slasher Tony Pollard, as well as second-year prospect Rico Dowdle, who showed some promise in limited action. However, that doesn’t mean another back couldn’t crack the roster or the rotation if he were to impress.
To that point, Deon Jackson followed a solid college career by opening eyes and likely earning himself Day 3 consideration with an impressive pro day performance, highlighted by clocking in with a 4.41 40-yard dash at 218 pounds.
Round 7 | Pick 238
Curtis Robinson, LB, Stanford
While the main concerns with the linebacker group were addressed with prior picks, depth at the position could continue to be a focus for the Cowboys towards the very end of the draft.
Curtis Robinson was solid, if not particularly a standout, in his time at Stanford, but he has prototypical size and intriguing overall athleticism that projects well to the pro game and could warrant a late-round flier as a developmental defender and special teams contributor.