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The Dallas Cowboys selected 11 prospects from the 2021 NFL draft. After trading down in the first round and failing in an attempt to trade up in the second, they allowed the rest of the draft to fall to them and ended up selecting eight defensive players and three on offense.
The truth is it’s unknown how good or bad any of the players picked on any team will be until they get a chance to play, and play for multiple years. Pre-draft rankings were even more difficult in 2021 due to the lack of structured process and a fall-down of the normal banter between teams and media. Still, many analysts watch these prospects and weigh in on how they see the value of each team’s picks. So how did the Cowboys do? Here’s a list of draft grades for the Dallas Cowboys 2021 NFL draft.
USA Today: B-
Link “They picked up a third-rounder on Day 1 (with an amusing intra-divisional trade with the Eagles) when the cornerback market didn't fall their way. But LB Micah Parsons – arguably the most gifted defender in this draft – dropped to them at No. 12 and has a chance to be a superstar for a defense that needs one. Many of Dallas' Day 2 picks were panned, notably third-round CB Nahshon Wright. But they did recover a bit Saturday, seemingly getting value with Round 4 LB Jabril Cox and Round 5 WR Simi Fehoko.”
“The Cowboys moved down a couple spots in Round 1, picking up a third-round pick so rival Philadelphia could select receiver DeVonta Smith. Then they picked Parsons, a determined and athletic second-level defender who likely would have been their choice at No. 10 had they not dealt the pick. They also took advantage of good value to bolster the defense on Friday night, with solid picks Joseph, Odighizuwa and Golston. Wright is more of a project but has some good tools with which to work.”
“Dallas continued to build the defense with Cox, a nice addition given the recent retirement of similarly athletic Sean Lee. Ball looks the part and has talent but inconsistent play and off-field issues had put his stock in question. Fehoko has the tools to compete for playing time in 2021.”
Pro Football Focus: B
Day 1: “The Cowboys seemed destined to take a cornerback at No. 10 overall, but the Panthers starting a mini-run at the position allowed Dallas to trade back and reassess. Linebacker isn’t an obvious need, with Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander-Esch already there, but Parsons is the best linebacker prospect we have seen in years and could provide some versatility to the Cowboys defense.”
Day 2: “Both Jaycee Horn and Patrick Surtain II coming off the board before the Cowboys’ selection in the first round led to the team selecting a linebacker in Round 1, but they fill the need at cornerback here with Joseph. The Kentucky product has elite speed and is a fluid mover at his size, but there were questions about his consistency on tape. That’s why he ranked just 67th on PFF’s Big Board.”
“No interior defensive lineman was more dominant at the Senior Bowl than Odighizuwa. He was the highest-graded player at the position both during the week of practice and in the game itself, winning with power and quickness. Odighizuwa also has four seasons of solid-run defense grades on his resume from his time at UCLA. He addresses a clear area of need for Dallas. Their defensive tackles were regularly blown off the ball in 2020.”
“Golston developed at a solid pace during his time at Iowa, going from a 63.7 grade in 2018 to 75.1 in 2019 before breaking out with an 82.3 grade last season. He is a physical and willing run defender and uses his hands extremely well as a pass rusher. He just might not have the explosiveness to play every down in the NFL.”
“From out of left field, the Cowboys select Last Chance U cameo star, Nahshon Wright. He’s a long corner and shows good ball skills, and he picked up five interceptions in only 18 games in his Beaver career. He is more of a zone player, which may fit Dan Quinn’s scheme, but his athleticism leads a lot to be desired, and that’s why this is a very big reach.”
Day 3: “Jabril Cox was the top player on PFF’s Big Board entering Day 3. We projected him as a second-round prospect. He is such a smooth player in coverage, showing as much both at North Dakota State and LSU in zone coverage, when going up against tight ends and while covering the slot. This past year for the Tigers, Cox ranked third among Power Five off-ball linebackers in coverage grade. His play strength isn’t anything special, though.”
The New York Post: A-
“Traded down after missing out on top two cornerbacks and landed Parsons, maybe the draft’s best overall defensive prospect. Their first six picks were defense after setting a franchise record for most points allowed in 2020.”
Pro Football Network: C+
“The Cowboys drafted 11 players overall, with eight of them attempting to address one of the more underwhelming defenses in the NFL in 2020. Their first two selections have massive potential, but both also come with some character questions. Their next two selections both address the defensive line and are high character and high floor players that could contribute in a rotational role. Jabril Cox and Simi Fehoko are exciting names, but the rest of the draft was a bit uninspiring.”
NBC Sports: A-
“The Cowboys went heavy on defense in this draft, which was an excellent choice after last season’s struggles on that side of the ball. First-round pick Micah Parsons was the top linebacker in this class and the former Penn State star has all the talent to be an impact player early in his pro career.”
The Washington Post: B-
”The Cowboys used their first six picks, five of them in the top three rounds, to attempt to rebuild their defense. That was understandable. Being able to get LB Micah Parsons, perhaps the top defender in the draft, after trading down two spots from 10th to 12th, was fortunate. Adding two CBs in the top three rounds, Kelvin Joseph and Nahshon Wright, addressed a major need. But it’s questionable whether the Cowboys chose wisely on their CBs and got the most out of their Day 2 selections. Perhaps one of those picks on the first two days should have been devoted to the offensive line.”
Sporting News: C-
“The Cowboys deserved points for addressing defense early and often and they also didn’t forget to get some depth for wide receiver and offensive line along the way. The problem is, Parsons and Cox were the two best picks for a team that’s already invested a ton in linebacker, for better or for worse. There are plenty of lingering questions about the defensive backs and front four for Jerry Jones and Mike McCarthy after making some reaches and not getting good value, starting in the first round.”
The Ringer: C-
“The Cowboys took a defense-first approach to this draft, and were able to land Parsons even after trading back in the first round. But many of their picks come with concerning background issues. Parsons was named in a federal lawsuit about a hazing incident at Penn State; Joseph transferred away from LSU after being suspended for a violation of team rules; and Josh Ball was dismissed at Florida State after his ex-girlfriend said he was a “violent person” and described multiple accounts of domestic violence.”
Yahoo Sports: A-
Link ”The Cowboys went heavy on defense in this draft, which was an excellent choice after last season's struggles on that side of the ball. First-round pick Micah Parsons was the top linebacker in this class, and the former Penn State star has all the talent to be an impact player early in his pro career.“
Sports Illustrated: B
“I like when there is a need as deliberate as what the Cowboys have on defense right now that their personnel department doesn’t waste any time throwing all of their draft resources at the problem. Admittedly, a Dan Quinn personnel set is different than whatever the Cowboys called their defense last season, but it was still a little surprising to see them go defense with their first six picks and then another two in the sixth round.”