It's difficult to fathom the Dallas Cowboys nailing the 2021 NFL Draft to the wall in a fashion as impressive as what was witnessed in 2020, but their goal is always to surpass what they achieved the previous April. There's admittedly still some development needed on some of the players added in last year's draft haul, but being able to grab a falling CeeDee Lamb wasn't simply the headline pick -- it was one that will help define the offense for years to come. And now, after seeing their 2020 derailed by a combination of the COVID-19 pandemic -- as it related to Mike McCarthy and his new coaching staff attempting to force installs -- and a list of injuries to key and cornerstone players that led to a disappointing 6-10 finish, the Cowboys own the No. 10 pick and will have a variety of primo talent to select from.
All eyes are justifiably on rebuilding what was statistically the worse defense in franchise history, which began with the firing of Mike Nolan and the hiring of Dan Quinn, but it's a plan that could be paused in the first round by a player like tight end Kyle Pitts.
Of course, that depends on how the chips fall from No. 4 through No. 9, presuming the first three picks are quarterbacks. So as I dive into my one and only 2021 mock draft for the Cowboys, it was about keeping a close eye on the nine clubs ahead of the Cowboys, and then building out the rest of the haul from there. As you can see below, things went swimmingly, to the point Michael Phelps should be jealous. If the Cowboys can pull this off, and with their offense returning to full power, the NFC East (and much more) is theirs for the taking.
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The complete, in-depth breakdown of each pick and the process behind the selection is below the table, so treat the table as a crosswalk and not a stop sign.
[Mock machine: The Draft Network]
|Round (Overall Pick)||Prospect||College|
Patrick Surtain, II, CB
Ar'Darius Washington, S
Tyler Shelvin, iDL
Dylan Moses, LB
Walker Little, OT
Patrick Jones, II, EDGE
Trey Hill, iOL
Shakur Brown, CB
Noah Gray, TE
Shawn Davis, S
*indicates compensatory pick
1. Patrick Surtain, II, CB
Pick: Round 1, 10th-overall
With both Kyle Pitts and Penei Sewell gone off the board ahead of this pick, to the Atlanta Falcons and the Cincinnati Bengals, respectively, the Cowboys find themselves in position to take one of the two best corners in the draft -- giving Surtain the nod here over an equally worthy Jaycee Horn. Count me out on taking a risk on Caleb Farley in the first round, considering he lacks the experience and pedigree of Surtain along with his continued battle with back issues. While both Surtain and Horn could likely do damage from Day One in Dallas, the Bama star already has chemistry with current CB1 and former second-round pick Trevon Diggs, stemming from their time on the field together in Tuscaloosa. He'd hit the ground running in that capacity, and literally -- his sub-4.5s speed combining with his size and ability to instantly fill the glaring hole opposite Diggs. The SEC Defensive Player of the Year (2020), First-Team All-SEC (2020) and Unanimous All-American (2020) talent has the potential to join his former Bama teammate in establishing framework for a Legion of Boom 2.0 under the tutelage of Dan Quinn, and both are drooling at the thought of reuniting after having won a national championship together. Reuniting them will give them a chance to do it again, but this time as professionals.
2. Ar'Darius Washington, S
Pick: Round 2, 44th-overall
Kudos to Dallas for suddenly valuing the safety position, thanks to Quinn, having signed both Keanu Neal and Damontae Kazee in the span of only one week to being 2021 free agency. As CBS Sports reported, however, the additions do nothing to change the Cowboys plans as it relates to taking a premium safety in April. And when you say the word "premium," an image of Washington should pop into your head alongside other worthy names like his TCU teammate, Trevon Moerhig. I graded Moerhig slightly higher than Washington, and apparently so did others, because he was taken 27th-overall by the Baltimore Ravens. Make no mistake about it, though, because Washington is far from a consolation prize. Some will knock him based on size, but the former Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year is a gamer (evidenced by five INTs in 2019), and there are some who graded him higher than Moerhig, which goes to my point that Washington is a Day One starter who readily plops into the role of FS on a team desperately in search of one for both now and later. Don't get too caught up on his size, or you'll lose out on a potential Honey Badger (like the Cowboys literally have before).
3. Tyler Shelvin, iDL
Pick: Round 3, 75th-overall
Pass me that kitchen sink so I can throw it at the defensive unit in this draft, please and thank you. With the cornerback and safety positions now addressed in a big way, it's time to turn attention to the defensive line. On its face, you have to love the signing of Brent Urban as a stellar run stopper, but it's a short-term deal and even if it weren't, you'd do well to drop Shelvin into the rotation -- that is if you truly want to elevate your run defense out of the Seventh Circle of Hell. Shelvin is simply monstrous physically, his 6-foot-3, 362 pound frame essentially daring opposing running backs to try and get through or around him, and his strength has made many a would-be blocker wish they opted out that day. He can eat up double teams consistently and eats a ton of space that will additionally serve to make it easier for the edge rushers to feast. His downside is he'll never be confused as a flex to 3-tech or a dominant pass rusher, and that's completely fine when considering how elite he is as what the one thing he's built to do: turn an opponent's run game into a non-factor. And if Antwaun Woods stays put in Dallas as expected and Neville Gallimore progresses in Year 2 as well -- even better.
4. Dylan Moses, LB
Pick: Round 3, 99th-overall
Inevitably, there will be a player or several who'll fall far below where many though they'd be selected. In this mock, it was apparently Moses suffering that fate, but far be it from me to look a gift horse in the veneers. I couldn't have run this card to the draft table any faster if I were Sonic the Hedgehog after having collected all of the Chaos Emeralds. Moses has been ranked by many as a first-round grade to rival the likes of Micah Parsons, and the Cowboys have a linebacker situation that leaves much to be desired -- i.e., the durability issues on Leighton Vander Esch and inconsistency of Jaylon Smith. They're also unclear on if Sean Lee will retire and even if he doesn't, and despite Neal being tasked with taking on some linebacker reps as well, sliding Moses into the second level of the defense with a reworked defensive line in front of him and a massively upgraded secondary behind him is probably outlawed in all 50 states and U.S. territories. A First-Team All-SEC (2020) talent who can operate in any of the three LB roles, Moses in the late third round is armed robbery, to the point I nearly called the cops on myself.
5. Walker Little, OT
Pick: Round 4, 115th-overall
Let's switch gears a bit, considering how well the board fell defensively to this point. It's time to take a glimpse at the all-powerful offensive side of the ball, one that isn't without its concerns heading into the draft. For while both starting tackles Tyron Smith and La'El Collins are on schedule to return in 2021 from season-ending injuries, the fact remains the Cowboys saw how poverty-stricken they are should they lose one or both again this coming season, for any amount of time. Being a big fan of the Tyler Nsekhe signing, and liking the progress of Brandon Knight, I'd still be remiss to see Little on the board in the fourth round and pass on adding the Stanford bull to the mix. Unlike Knight (thus far) and Nsekhe (short contract), Little has the potential to be a long-term starter in the NFL, which makes him a scintillating option to eventually succeed Smith down the road. Having likely found the successor at center to Travis Frederick in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft (Tyler Biadasz), why not add a First-Team All-Pac 12 body in Little to guarantee Dak Prescott remains upright for the next half decade or more? Little is big, strong, athletic, has range and fits perfectly into a vertical passing attack (ahem).
6. Patrick Jones, II, EDGE
Pick: Round 4, 138th-overall
And now back to defense we go, because I never said I was done there, and the Cowboys shouldn't be, either. Having now addressed the interior by dropping a human building at 1-tech (Shelvin), the edges need to be bolstered behind DeMarcus Lawrence and a soon-to-be unleashed Randy Gregory, and particularly with the team expected to move on from Aldon Smith (Tarell Basham joining the club doesn't change my thoughts on grabbing Jones). I'm still of the believe former fifth-round pick Bradlee Anae will impress when given the chance but, even assuming he does, the Cowboys need more. Enter Jones, a First-Team All-ACC (2020) and Consensus First-Team All American (2020) talent that isn't discussed nearly as much as he should be. But hey, if him being overlooked by some allows him to drop to the late fourth round as it did in this mock, he better pack warm for North Texas summers. Jones got better year after year at Pittsburgh, and I don't see that trend suddenly coming to a screeching halt in Dallas. His 17.5 sacks and 24 tackles for loss in his last 22 games as a Panther, and is perfect for a 4-3 scheme as a defensive end. He won't offer Quinn much in a LEO role, but as a hand-in-the-dirt quarterback bully who pins his ears back and launches into the opposing backfield, he's who you want. Add the value of him being around with the 138th-overall selection, and there's nothing more to do other than to make the call.
7. Trey Hill, iOL
Pick: Round 5, 179th-overall
It would wise for the Cowboys to try and retain Joe Looney for another season, but that still wouldn't change my mind of grabbing Hill. Physically, the former Bulldog is an absolute specimen in how he uses his 6-foot-4, 331 pound frame to affect change in both the run and pass game. At first glance, considering he played center at Georgia, you'll probably wonder why draft another at the position one year after adding Biadasz; but you'd be missing the forest for the trees. Hill actually used to play guard in high school and, as such, can operate as a swing interior lineman, or you could square him off against Connor Williams at left guard for the right to start at that position. Either way, Hill is a tremendous value in the fifth-round and both solves the future of an interior swingman need while immediately being an option to overtake a capable Williams at LG1, in additional competition with Connor McGovern, while often challenging IHOP with his own version of endless pancakes. When it comes to the offensive line in Dallas -- the heart and soul of their success or failure -- it's all about putting the five best on the field at all times. The addition of Hill helps guarantee that's a thing again in Dallas, it having often not been in the post-Ronald Leary days.
8. Shakur Brown, CB
Pick: Round 6, 192nd-overall
School: Michigan State
This is where we get into flyer territory, but it doesn't feel like Brown is one at all. We're talking about a First-Team All-Big Ten (2020) cornerback who reeled in five interceptions for the Spartans last season. That said, there are reasons he'd still be available here, such as his size and, more importantly, an unimpressive 4.65s 40-yard dash speed. For the Cowboys, this would be a great get if he's utilized for his versatility with an emphasis on spelling Jourdan Lewis as nickel corner (Lewis having signed a three-year deal this offseason). Brown needs more refinement in his technique, something fueled by his small sample size as a starter at Michigan State, but his upside is intriguing; and should especially be for a defense that might see an option to land a late-round pick in exchange for Anthony Brown ahead of the trade deadline -- a capable starter in his own right but who has durability concerns and will hit the Cowboys 2021 salary cap for $5.75 million. With the right coaching, I'm a fan of Brown's potential as a fiery depth corner (same demeanor as Lewis) who can be moved around within reason and who isn't afraid to get physical with slot corners and tight ends.
9. Noah Gray, TE
Pick: Round 6, 227th-overall
That sound you hear is probably Dak Prescott imagining getting another offensive weapon in this draft, and Gray would serve the added duty of ensuring the tight end unit doesn't take a big hit due to injury. In 2020, the team lost starting tight end Blake Jarwin to a torn ACL and, in his absence, it was Dalton Schultz stepping up to have a breakout season. Jarwin's playmaking ability was still missed sorely, though, which isn't a knock to Schultz -- instead being a credit to how the former can stretch the field for Prescott and the offense (along with his YAC ability). Gray feels like a bit of a hybrid between Jarwin and Schultz, which means if either miss time in 2021 due to an injury, Gray could step in and be a bit of a doppleganger for either, and the fact his route-running invokes heart eye emojis makes him that much more attractive to me. If he can learn how to better challenge for the catch downfield, and assuming he adds a bit more mass without sacrificing foot speed, he'll be a very attractive option for a sixth-round flyer. The Cowboys lost Blake Bell to a reunion with the Kansas City Chiefs this offseason and then cut Cole Hikutini, so there's definitely room for the Blue Devil to become the Cowboys newest devil in blue.
10. Shawn Davis, S
Pick: Round 7, 238th-overall
Yes, I'm throwing MORE talent at the safety position, and you love it if you're a Cowboys fan. As stated, the team desperately needs help there and none of their free agent additions are under contract beyond 2021, leaving the door open for me to use my final pick on a versatile talent like Davis -- who has shown he can play the back end however he's asked to. Single-high, double-high, drop down and provide run support, you name it, Davis is as fluid and flexible as he is physically rabid. He grabbed five interceptions for the Gators in his final 19 games, along with 90 combined tackles. He'll go for the pass break up but, more often, he's trying to catch the ball and garner a takeaway, marrying well with the fact Diggs, Wilson, Lewis and Kazee also look to do, in that respect. I'd let Davis get run on special teams (he's no stranger to it) as well to increase the chances of him making the final roster, then continue to develop him defensively while knowing he could, at minimum, be sticky-handed rotational piece from Day One. Oh, and by the way, his fastest 40-yard dash time clocked in the low 4.4s -- in case you needed another reason to believe he's worth closing out the draft with.