The Dallas Cowboys don't need to be blowing up any other team's phone during the 2023 NFL Draft. They already made their two big trades, in wide receiver Brandin Cooks, an ideal No. 2 to CeeDee Lamb, and cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year who can solidify the Cowboys' secondary opposite Trevon Diggs. Thanks to their effectiveness in re-signing almost every defensive contributor from a season ago, Dallas' defense is essentially ready to roll for 2023.
The Cowboys' offseason moves acknowledge they have a window of contention over the next two seasons, the final two of quarterback Dak Prescott's four-year, $160 million contract. There are no-trade and no-tag clauses in his contract, so Dallas will have to pay up to keep him once again in a couple years. That will come on top of likely big-money extensions for linebacker Micah Parsons, Lamb and Diggs in the next few years.
That ticking clock means there's a lot riding on the Cowboys to continue their strong offseason by supplementing their current roster with inexpensive, impact contributors in this upcoming draft. Today, here's an approach the Cowboys should use if they opt to not make trades and simply pick players with their current collections of picks. Here is our seven-round 2023 Cowboys mock draft, where all Dallas has to do is select the best player available.
|Round (Overall Pick)||Prospect||College|
DT Calijah Kancey
DE Felix Anudike-Uzomah
RB Tank Bigsby
DT Kobie Turner
DE Viliami Fehoko
San Jose State
G Atonio Mafi
LB Drake Thomas
North Carolina State
Round 1 (No. 26): DT Calijah Kancey, Pittsburgh
Round 2 (No. 58): DE Felix Anudike-Uzomah, Kansas State
"You got to be in tune with the climate of the National Football League," Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said, via The Athletic, from the NFL Annual League Meeting in Phoenix. "I think we all recognize that the defensive line play, I know during my time in the league, I think it's at a historical high. The value that's put into the D-line play, as far as from the draft and free agency, that's a priority position. You've seen the good defensive lines that have the six- or seven-man rotation, they're getting it to eight to 10. Just look at our division alone. You have to pay close attention to that."
Thanks to running the fastest 40-yard dash,since at least 2003, Pittsburgh defensive tackle Calijah Kancey powered himself into the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft. He may be undersized in comparison to the prototypical NFL defensive tackle, but Kancey is a modern defensive tackle, built to disrupt the passing game. He's at his best when exploding off the line of scrimmage with his quickness and an ability to get lower than opposing offensive linemen. Measuring at 6-foot-1, 281 pounds at the combine, he has a similar athletic profile to another Pittsburgh Panther, the Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year (tied for the most in NFL history). It was Donald's record that Kancey broke with his 4.67 40-yard dash at this year's combine.
As for his fit with the Cowboys, Kancey would be a depth add this season, but following the expiration of 31-year-old defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins' one-year deal after the 2023 season, Kancey could slide in as the full-time starter. That doesn't mean he's going to be the next Donald, but he has all the traits to be a quality NFL starter.
NFL combine comparison
|CALIJAH KANCEY (2023)||AARON DONALD (2014)|
|40-yard dash time||4.67*||4.68|
* NFL combine record for defensive tackles
Given McCarthy's desire for defensive line depth plus the lack of depth at this draft's wide receiver position, Kansas State defensive end Felix Anudike-Uzomah going to Dallas in the second round is a result of another best player available pick. The 2022 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year is best as an edge player on the end of the line, and he could be a valuable piece in the Cowboys' defensive line rotation this season as well as DeMarcus Lawrence's eventual, long-term replacement. Anudike-Uzomah has the potential to become an excellent sack artist alongside Micah Parsons. He flashed the potential to be dominant in 2021, when he recorded a career-high four sacks against TCU's Max Duggan, the 2022 Heisman Trophy runner-up.
Round 3 (No. 90): RB Tank Bigsby, Auburn
Here's the Ezekiel Elliott replacement. Starting running back Tony Pollard should be good to go for Week 1 following his fractured fibula in the Cowboys' divisional round playoff loss at the San Francisco 49ers, but even if he didn't suffer this injury, the Cowboys needed to replace Elliott. He averaged an NFL-worst 3.9 yards per touch among players with more than 200 touches.
Tank Bigsby comes to the Cowboys built for NFL play immediately at 6 feet and 210 pounds. He has solid explosion off the line for a player his size, and one of Bigsby's best strengths is finding the hidden yards on a play: consistently falling forward for an extra 2-3 yards with regularity. He isn't the most refined receiving running back out there, but that's what Pollard is for.
Round 4 (No. 129): DT Kobie Turner, Wake Forest
Round 5 (No. 169): DE Viliami Fehoko, San Jose State
In order for the Cowboys' defensive line rotation to get to the eight to 10 range McCarthy was talking about above, they need to pluck players who are productive that have fallen through the cracks for various non-football production reasons. For Turner, that reason is size as he measured at 6-foot-2, 288 pounds at Wake Forest's Pro Day on March 29. However, he has a nice variety of pass-rushing moves in his toolbelt, plus he gets off the line of scrimmage about as well as any defensive tackle in this draft class.
Fehoko, the 2022 Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year, will likely fall down to the fifth round because of his label of being a "tweener," a little large to be a defensive end, but a little small to be a defensive tackle. He was also a redshirt-senior, so age comes into the equation also. Fehoko's 22 sacks across the last three seasons are tied for the seventh-most in college football. A solid add for Dan Quinn's deep defense that will become much more affordable long term after these moves.
Round 6 (No. 212): G Atonio Mafi, UCLA
Following the departure of guard Connor McGovern to the Buffalo Bills, the Cowboys have a hole at their left guard spot. Tyler Smith, the team's first-round pick a year ago, played so well at tackle with Tyron Smith out that it wouldn't make sense to move him back inside. The selection of Mafi, standing at a massive 6-foot-4, 339 pounds, allows for the Cowboys to plug in an NFL-caliber run blocker immediately. He isn't very agile, relatively speaking, but he can eat up power pass-rushing moves by simply dropping an anchor and consuming the space around him. McCarthy has been very clear about wanting to become more of a, and Mafi will allow him to do just that.
Round 7 (No. 244): LB Drake Thomas, North Carolina State
Drake Thomas is undersized, but what he lacks in explosion he makes up for in athleticism as his 36.5-inch vertical jump and 9-foot-8 broad jump from North Carolina State's Pro Day indicates. Thomas is a developmental prospect who will definitely have to play special teams, but with Leighton Vander Esch under contract for two more years, the pick works for the draft's final round. He's at his best in pass coverage, which bodes well for playing off-ball linebacker in the modern NFL.