Cowboys 3rd-round rookies’ fate depends on important shared trait

The Cowboys had two third-round picks to play with in the 2024 NFL draft. Pick No. 73 was acquired from Detroit when the Lions moved up five spots in the first to snag the falling cornerback, Terrion Arnold. Pick No. 87 was Dallas’ own.

After selecting offensive tackle Tyler Guyton in the first round and defensive end Marshawn Kneeland in the second, the pressure was on the third round to deliver two more key contributors. At No. 73 the Cowboys selected Cooper Beebe, a guard from Kansas State. At No. 87 they picked Marist Liufau, a linebacker from Notre Dame.

Odds of success fall drastically as the draft moves out of the top 150 and since the Cowboys traded away their fourth-round pick to acquire Trey Lance last season, Dallas would have to wait 87 picks between their final third rounder and their first and only fifth rounder. To put it plainly, they couldn’t afford to miss with either pick.

The Cowboys could have gone a number of different directions in the third round. They had needs at defensive tackle and running back that each demanded consideration. But it was center and linebacker that ultimately won out, with two of their favorite prospects falling right into their laps.

At face value, the two selections couldn’t be any more different. One player was a stout 322-pound offensive lineman from the Midwest. The other was a trim 234-pound tackling machine out of Kalihi, Hawaii. One was considered a steal. The other was thought to be a reach.

But a common trait shared by both was what resides between their respective ears. Even though one came from cornfields and the other from the Pacific waters, one played offense and the other played defense, one made tackles and the other warded off tacklers, both were cognitively elite prospects.

Liufau, an academic standout from the University of Notre Dame is both a hard worker and mentally gifted. Beebe, a finalist for the William V. Campbell award (Academic Heisman) and working on his graduate degree, is no slouch by any definition.

OC is a notoriously demanding position. It requires players to make pre-snap reads, call out blocking assignments for teammates and execute personal assignments in the process. There’s a reason why the average Wonderlic score of NFL OCs rate second overall.

LB might not be as mentally demanding as OC, but intelligence is equally as important. IQ is typically what separates the busts from the success stories. LBs often relay play calls to the defense, make adjustments at the line and execute without the slightest hesitation. The most talented LB in the world is almost worthless if he doesn’t have the IQ to support it.

Without reading too much into news out of the Cowboys 2024 rookie minicamp, it seems both of the Cowboys’ third-round picks stood out for their intelligence. For as different as they are as individuals, they are similar in the smarts factor. Combined with strong work ethics, these two rookies are seemingly starting out on the right foot in Dallas.

The quicker Beebe and Liufau grasp the mental side of things, the quicker they can put their skills to the test and carve out roles on the team. Expectations are Beebe will win the starting OC spot and Liufau will get in the LB rotation this season. They’re lofty goals for rookies but not unattainable given the intelligence both possess.

If there’s one trait that’s going to push these two third-round picks into the winner’s circle, it’s their intelligence. Physical ability and work ethic go without saying but it’s intelligence that stands to make the difference.

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Story originally appeared on Cowboys Wire