The Dallas Cowboys' 2023 NFL Draft was like loading any streaming app on a smart TV device: initially fuzzy with an unclear picture before coming into a sharp, clear focus. Dallas secured consecutive seasons with 12 or more wins across the last two years (2021-2022), a run of winning not seen by the Silver and Blue since the Super Bowl glory years of the 1990s from 1992-1995 with Hall of Famers Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin leading the way.
With that context, the Cowboys approached the draft not to make the highest-upside pick, but rather to fill their roster with players who could play roles at their positional needs immediately in 2023. That approach could turn out well for them in the short-term and long-term futures.
After a, it felt like Dallas had the opportunity to go all-in on the "best player available" approach, but that wasn't the route they pursued. Here is a breakdown of the Cowboys' 2023 draft class, starting with the bad news first (what they missed on) and finishing with the good news (what they successfully accomplished):
Cowboys 2023 draft class
Viliami Fehoko Jr.
San Jose State
Eric Scott Jr.
What did the Cowboys fail to accomplish?
- Maximize value with first two picks
In a vacuum, adding Michigan defensive tackle Myles Murphy (went 28th to the Bengals) and Georgia's Nolan Smith (went 30th to the Eagles) -- in addition to one of the top cornerback prospects in the entire draft, Penn State's Joey Porter Jr (went 32nd to the Steelers).and Michigan tight end means adding players who can help the Dallas Cowboys in 2023. The issue, which is admittedly nitpicking, is the context of who was available at higher impact positions when the Cowboys made those picks. When Dallas was on the clock at 26 on Thursday night, a couple of uber-athletic edge rushers were on the board -- Clemson's
Three-time Pro Bowl defensive DeMarcus Lawrence is 31 years old, carries cap hits of $17.1 million and $20.5 million across the next two seasons and has failed to record seven or more sacks or over 60 quarterback pressures in each of the last four seasons (2019-2022). Selecting Murphy or Smith would've allowed for an incredibly athletic, young pass rusher to learn from Lawrence and become All-Pro linebacker Micah Parsons' pass-rushing partner for the next decade. That value is significantly higher than run-stuffing defensive tackle.
Similarly, Porter Jr. would've been just as much of a justifiable selection at 26 overall given the value top-tier cornerbacks have in the passing league the NFL has become over the last decade. The trade to acquire former Defensive Player of the Year was as shrewd one, but he turns 33 years old in September. Gilmore will likely be a high-end contributor for the Cowboys' secondary for maybe two seasons since his contract expires after the 2023 season. Porter Jr. being able to learn from the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year while being integrated into defensive coordinator Dan Quinn's scheme in 2023 and then taking over him on the outside full-time in 2024 (if he leaves in in free agency) or in 2025 and beyond makes too much sense. Once Gilmore's time is done in Dallas, the Cowboys still have the same cornerback depth issues that plagued them in 2022 behind Trevon Diggs.
As for Round 2, there's one player that would've made more sense at 58 overall in Round 2 than Schoonmaker, and it's the one the Buffalo Bills selected with the very next pick: Florida offensive guard O'Cyrus Torrence. Many viewed Torrence as this draft's most pro-ready guard and for good reason. He went 1,427 pass-blocking snaps without allowing a sack in his collegiate career, the most pass-blocking snaps in the entire nation without allowing a quarterback takedown over the last four seasons. Dallas has a clear need at left guard opposite Zack Martin, and this pick would've been a perfect one to solidify the offensive line in front of Dak Prescott. As for Schoonmaker himself, they likely could've selected him in Round 3 given 2023 was the deepest tight end draft class in recent memory, and he's an older prospect who doesn't have a ton of upside as a pass-catcher. Not going Torrence is additionally confusing considering Dallas was debating between defensive tackle and offensive guard in Round 1 as the video below shows.
O'Cyrus Torrence's college career stats
|Pass Block Snaps
* Most in FBS without allowing a sack in last four seasons
What the Cowboys definitely did right
- Address positions of need (defensive tackle, tight end, linebacker, defensive end, and running back) with young, cost-controlled talent
All that being said about the Cowboys' first two picks, they did come away from the the draft with a vastly superior roster entering 2023. Dallas' run defense was their Achilles heel in 2022, ranking 22nd in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (129.3), and the Mazi Smith pick clearly helps fix that issue. Smith also gives Dallas a young, middle of the defensive line anchor for years to come while standing at 6'3, 337 pounds as a 21-year-old. The Cowboys needed a long-term replacement for Johnathan Hankins, the 31-year-old defensive tackle who returned on a one-year deal this offseason, and they got it.
With tight end Dalton Schultz's departure to the Houston Texans on a one-year, $6.3 million deal in free agency, the Cowboys were left with 2022 fourth-round pick Jake Ferguson (19 catches, 174 receiving yards, and two receiving touchdowns in career), 2022 undrafted free agent Peyton Hendershot (11 catches, 103 receiving yards, and two receiving touchdowns in career), and 25-year-old Sean McKeon (two catches and 11 receiving yards in career) at the tight end position. Schoonmaker fills the void as a pro-ready blocker and as a possession receiver. He won't wow you after the catch or with incredibly polished route-running, but Schoonmaker can be a nice big-body target over the middle who is an upgrade from Schultz as a blocker.
The Cowboys' big victories in the 2023 NFL Draft were in the third, fourth, and sixth rounds. University of Texas linebacker DeMarvion Overshown was their best value pick of the entire draft, finding a long-term fill-in at linebacker for the aging, former Pro Bowler Anthony Barr, whom they employed last season. Overshown is strong in pursuit when it comes to playing against the run, and he's a big hitter for his size at 6-foot-3, 229 pounds. He's a former safety who is a plus as run defender. Overshown is fast and enough (4.56 40-yard dash) to act as a capable quarterback spy on Philadelphia Eagles quarterback and 2022 NFL MVP runner-up Jalen Hurts as well as on New York Giants dual-threat quarterback Daniel Jones. A speedy, rangy linebacker is a Dan Quinn template at that position, strong pick there.
San Jose State defensive end Viliami Fehoko Jr. is a great rotation piece for Quinn's defensive line. He racked up at least 12.5 tackles for loss in three times in his collegiate career and finished with nearly the same amount of TFLs (47.0) as he did college games played (48). The 2022 Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year also totaled over five sacks in each of his last three seasons, including a career-high of 9.0 in 2022. Fehoko doesn't have a top, high-end prospect build in terms of athleticism, but his strong pass-rush technique could lead to an extensive NFL career.
Selecting Darren Sporles Jr., Kansas State running back Deuce Vaughn, in the sixth round was great for the Cowboys' team needs and Tony Pollard, especially after his freak leg injury at the end of last season, and Vaughn can provide a similar big-play threat each team he touches the football despite his stature (5'6, 176 pounds)., since his father Chris is the Cowboys' assistant director of college scouting. Dallas needed a capable backup to spell
Overall, the 2023 NFL Draft was a safe, down the fairway approach that will aide the team's quest for their first Super Bowl in the 21st Century immediately, which is exactly what they had hoped.