Where does the 2023 draft class stand ahead of cutdown day?
Jul 13, 2023
It has been said one must wait three years in order to properly gauge how well a team’s draft class fared. Growth is part of the process, but immediate impact by special players reinvigorates fanbases and quickly changes the season’s outlook. Take the rookie seasons of QB Dak Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott for obvious examples.
While the three-year mark is a nice guideline, it is far from a rule and honestly, a lot less fun. Gauging a player with draft grades sets a baseline of expectations which are fun to track throughout a player’s career.
While immediate impact is always desired, having the patience to trust the developmental program may be the most beneficial support a young player can have. So where do the players from the Cowboys 2023 draft class currently stand before rosters are trimmed to 53?
(Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)
If first impressions are lasting, defensive tackle Mazi Smith has convinced all he is one of the strongest people on the field at almost any given moment. His combination of size and strength allowed people to believe he was the final piece to a stacked Cowboys defense.
Cowboys NT Mazi Smith’s strength translates to the NFL. pic.twitter.com/H7e1tVQHdb
— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) August 5, 2023
While he has displayed the raw strength that made him a first-round pick, his technique is far from refined.
While at Michigan, Smith was responsible for occupying linemen to allow his linebackers to run free to the ball while also possessing the ability to peel off and make a tackle.
While that assignment in the NFL won’t change, it was his ability to get upfield that made his pre-draft highlight reels feel like he would become an immediate impact player. If anyone is looking for eye-popping plays or statistics, they’ll likely be disappointed. More astute students of the game will understand his importance is much more than getting fans to jump out of their seats.
Coming off the ball a tick late and not remaining square, allowing linemen to turn his body, have been the easiest problems to identify with Smith’s early snaps. While it may seem obvious now, the lessons he has received thus far in preseason will go a long way toward his development.
Smith is a lock to make the final roster and concentrating on his rush defense by occupying blockers may become his primary job until he develops.
Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Reports out of Dallas portrayed a picture the Cowboys desperately wanted to draft a tight end early in what was seen as a deep class.
The tight ens flew off the board and the team drafted tight end Luke Schoonmaker from the University of Michigan in the second round, which left many people scratching their heads. Skeptics were given more fuel to the fire as a partially torn plantar fasciitis in his right foot kept him out of offseason work.
While things started off slow, Schoonmaker has quietly gotten back to work. In the three preseason games he’s caught all five of his targets for 44 yards and scored his first professional touchdown on Saturday.
Schoonmaker is virtually guaranteed a roster spot because of his draft status. With Jake Ferguson entrenched ahead of him on the depth chart, patience to develop is paramount, but he’s shown signs of ramping up sooner rather than later.
(Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images)
The selection of linebacker DeMarvion Overshown was met with mild regard but there is no question that by the end of training camp, the Cowboys believe they found a star.
From his vocal leadership to his energetic play, Overshown demonstrated in a short period of time that he is a perfect fit for how defensive coordinator Dan Quinn wants his linebackers to play.
Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy on rookie LB DeMarvion Overshown (knee) being out for the season: "You feel terrible for the young man." McCarthy noted that he was playing like "the star of the rookie class," excelling at every opportunity
— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) August 21, 2023
The arrival of Overshown combined with the prospect of him and fellow linebacker Damone Clark roaming the second level of the Cowboys defense felt like the team quietly reconstructed their linebacker room with two young playmakers.
While injuries are terrible no matter how you dice them, losing this former Longhorn to a torn ACL took the air out of this draft class. He seemed to be carving out a unique role in Dan Quinn’s defense. Overshown will be moved to injured reserve but the draft grade this class receives will undoubtedly hinge on his success.
Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
The most forgotten man in this class has been defensive lineman Viliami Fehoko. The fourth-round pick out of San Jose State has missed time due to a shoulder injury which explains the lack of buzz around his name.
His availability issues have naturally called into question his roster spot security. His limited on-field play paints a different picture.
Viliami Fehoko was the #Cowboys' most productive pass-rusher vs. SEA, finishing with 3 pressures and an impressive 36.4% pass-rush win rate on first review.
— John Owning (@JohnOwning) August 20, 2023
Fehoko has played well in his limited opportunities and the team’s lack of a true three-technique behind Osa Odigizuwa paves the way for Fehoko to make the team. The overpopulation of talent on the defensive line, as well as other position groups, creates doubt.
A lesser performance in the last preseason game against the Raiders may have dampened opinions so for now, Fehoko is a bubble player who could receive the highest of priorities to return if exposed to the waiver wire.
Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Drafting college tackles and turning them into guards has been a recent blueprint for success in Dallas. That plan may have taken a turn for the better when they drafted offensive lineman Asim Richards.
While he was able to showcase position flex by playing multiple spots on the line to begin training camp, the Cowboys, at a minimum, may have found their swing tackle for the next few years.
I continue to be impressed with rookie tackle Asim Richards. I like his kick step and how he squares up quickly. He's been solid. He does need to clean up his hand fighting as defenders are still tossing him aside at times. pic.twitter.com/cGHNCFNYR8
— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) August 20, 2023
It is apparent Richards needs to get stronger but that is generally the case with young linemen from both sides of the ball. A full offseason in an NFL strength and development program is the usual cure.
Richards is another young player who has locked up a roster spot and it comes down to two things. He is a young prospect who displays the raw talent to function today and the lack of serviceable linemen in the NFL makes him an easy poaching candidate.
Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
One of the biggest surprises of training camp has been the play of cornerback Eric Scott, Jr. While we expected to hear the usual names to begin camp, Scott forced his name into the conversation by making the first big headline.
First interception of the year goes to… not Trevon…Not Stephon…but the ROOKIE 6th Rd Draft pick Eric Scott!!! pic.twitter.com/hUG70JGRR7
— Hailey Sutton (@_HaileySutton) July 26, 2023
He followed that up by consistently making plays. His security on the roster may not come down to his play but through numbers.
Cornerbacks Trevon Diggs, Stephon Gilmore, and Daron Bland appear to be the team’s top three cornerbacks. Scott could be CB4 but the same case could be made for Kelvin Joseph, Jourdan Lewis, and Nashon Wright.
With equally frustrating decisions to make in safety room, creating enough spots for everyone may not happen. Although not a lock, Scott should be on the roster in Week 1 against New York.
Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
If there is a rookie who has captured the hearts of the fanbase then look no further than running back Deuce Vaughn. The much-publicized draft story has a real chance of having a Cinderella ending. The undersized Vaughn has shown that his size is a weapon and his elusiveness is just as lethal.
Through two games, Vaughn was tied for the league lead in preseason rushing touchdowns with two and is averaging 4.9 yards per carry. He sat out the preseason finale but the electric atmosphere he brings to the stadium whenever he touches the ball is an incalculable perk of his game.
The questions coming from the running back room combined with stellar performances in his first two preseason games give zero doubt Vaughn will be on this squad.
Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Due to a combination of reasons, undrafted rookie free agent Dennis Houston lined up for 52 pass plays in the first two weeks of the 2022 season. This year, Houston is fighting for a roster spot because of the emergence of wideouts like Jalen Brooks.
His ascension is similar to cornerback Eric Scott. Like his fellow classmate, Brooks has made an abundance of plays throughout camp but it’s his ability to translate his performance against competition that makes him a favorite for that sixth and perhaps final wide receiver spot.
There’s those sure hands from Jalen Brooks that we’ve gotten so used to seeing at training camp.
Fourth down conversion, move the chains.#DallasCowboys
— Nick Harris (@NickHarrisDC) August 20, 2023
Also like Scott, I have Brooks as “In” but it all depends on the number of roster spots dedicated to the position. Wideouts CeeDee Lamb, Brandin Cooks and Michael Gallup occupy the first three spots. Jalen Tolbert is the likely fourth while Kavontae Turpin eats up a spot mainly due to his return ability. That means a handful of guys are fighting for the sixth spot.
Brooks is clearly in that mix with Dontario Drummond and Dennis Houston.
Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Finding roster spots on a team that won 12 regular-season games last season was a tough task yet there’s a good possibility all eight draft picks will make the final roster.
While this draft class might lack the traditional star power, Dallas has strengthened the bowels of this team that have lacked depth in years past.
While draft grades will fluctuate constantly, the 2023 draft class may be the most “complete” class Dallas has ever drafted.
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