Needless to say, the Dallas Cowboys now have a lot of talent at the linebacker position. That also means they now have more questions to answer, having now used their fourth-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft on linebacker Jabril Cox. The former LSU standout slid down the draft board farther than many anticipated he would, but that skid ended in North Texas. With the addition of Cox on the same weekend as former Penn State phenom Micah Parsons accelerates questions about the future of Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch -- the latter set to either have his fifth-year option picked up or declined by the Cowboys no later than Monday.
For Cox, it'll be about hitting the ground running with the chip that's now on his shoulder.
"[The Cowboys are] getting a high-character, versatile player," he said following the pick. "Someone who can do multiple things for them on the defense, be able to play special teams, coming in packages in all three downs; just being anything that the coach would want. I just want to help Dallas win and reach that high Super Bowl status that they've always been at."
Jabril Cox, LB. (LSU)— Patrik [No C] Walker (@VoiceOfTheStar) May 1, 2021
The #Cowboys pick at 115th-overall: pic.twitter.com/5hxD3XBpuE
The 23-year-old began his collegiate career at North Dakota State, where he earned honors as MVFC Freshman of the Year and Second-Team All-MVFC (2017), MVFC Defensive Player of the Year (2018), two-time All-MVFC (2018, 2019), two-time FCS All American and three-time FCS champion.
The 6-foot-3, 232-pound prospect went on to take his talents to the LSU Tigers in 2020 and continued to make plays in the SEC, showing off his elite coverage skills by finishing the year with three interceptions on the year -- along with five pass deflections in his 10 games played. Cox is also more than willing to get his hands dirty on special teams, and that's an added attribute the Cowboys will use in spades, given his ability to tackle and on-the-field speed. He'll also add to Parsons in possibly pushing flex defender Keanu Neal more to the safety role than one of linebacker, as previously planned. Or, if he begins at safety as projected at the moment, the inverse will occur.
Cox shouldn't take much time to ingratiate himself to a LB-needy Cowboys team, as he did at LSU and NDSU previously.
He's an athlete who settled into the linebacker position after operating in multiple positions in high school, and a multisport athlete who also starred in basketball. Look for him to be used more as a matchup nightmare for tight ends and slot corners, differing from what Parsons brings as a downhill punisher. You'd be hard-pressed to locate a linebacker with the coverage skills of a dominant defensive back, and that's the right medicine after seeing Smith struggle in space recently. The mixed signals from now-fired defensive coordinator Mike Nolan did Smith no favors, admittedly, but it's difficult to not see the addition of Cox as direct competition for him and now Neal, the latter signing a one-year deal to help salve the wound of losing Sean Lee to retirement.
"Just my patience and me having length," said Cox of his coverage abilities. "I take a lot of pride in winning my one-on-ones. That's something that I always want to do, and just the football smarts and all around. If you're competing and want to win your one on one, you're not going to lose many matchups."
And speaking of Lee, whom the team is open to carving out a coaching role for, the Cowboys can't help but work up a later when considering the possibility of Lee coaching up Parsons and Cox for the future -- whenever Lee is ready to take the job. The biggest knock to Cox's game is that he needs to consistently play through the contact, which could be exacerbated against stronger and more elusive NFL players than he's seen in college, but his upside combines with his current abilities to make this an A+ value pick.
138th overall: Josh Ball, OT - Marshall
It wouldn't be a Cowboys draft without some sort of controversy, and Ball adds the latest round of it.
It's a potent dose, too, considering his checkered past includes a pile of domestic-violence allegations -- 11, to be exact. Ball finished his collegiate career at Marshall after a stint at Butler Community College following dismissal from Florida State in 2018, after the university's judicial panel found him accountable for dating violence. Ball was never convicted of a crime, but it's impossible to overlook such a red flag. In deciding to select him on Day 3, the Cowboys feel comfortable adding him to the roster after having dug into his past, but he'll have a lot of repair work to do from a PR standpoint that must include a demonstration of growth and professional conduct that allows everyone to focus on what he brings as a football player; and with the Cowboys, he'll have plenty of opportunities to serve the community as well (should he so choose).
And speaking to his ability as a football player, there is certainly talent. The 6-foot-8, 308 pound prospect allowed only three sacks on 687 collegiate pass attempts and the Cowboys entered the draft needing help/depth on their offensive line. Don't anticipate him moving into the guard, though, because that would require a transition in what he's been able to do well. Ball has great lateral foot movement, frame and range to delete a lot of bend from a pass rusher, with a strong enough anchor to stall a bull rush.
Ravaged last year by injury, the unit became a turnstile for opposing defenses, and Ball will now have the chance to compete with Brandon Knight and newly signed Ty Nsekhe for the right to operate as a swing tackle. From there, he'll need to prove his value to be viewed as a possible option as starter should the Cowboys lose Tyron Smith or La'El Collins to injury, but his football foundation is promising enough to give him a shot. There's starter potential here, but not from Day 1.
179th overall: Simi Fehoko, WR - Stanford
Mike McCarthy harped on the fact he wants speed, speed and more speed added to the Cowboys roster.
He wasn't simply speaking about the defensive side of the ball, although he's definitely been rewarded there as well with the Parsons, Cox and Joseph picks. This time, one selection after ending their run of defensive grabs in the draft (six in a row) by grabbing Bell, they pick up Fehoko -- a First-Team All-Pac-12 talent that is a specimen at the position. Standing still, you'll see his 6-foot-4, 222-pound frame and assume he's not the fastest guy around. You'd be very, very wrong, however, because Fehoko has gears most don't and they allow him to pop the clutch and unleash a 40-yard dash that's been measured as low as the sub-4.3s. He also has tremendous hand size that allows him to wrestle away the ball from defenders.
A self-proclaimed "raw" and "undeveloped" talent, Fehoko averaged 15.1 yards per scrimmage in 2020 and 23.6 yards from scrimmage the season prior, combining for nine touchdowns in those 15 games. Having finished No. 1 in receiving yards and in receiving yards per reception for the Cardinal, Fehoko now joins tight end Dalton Schultz as two former Stanford players suiting up in Dak Prescott's war chest.
Simi Fehoko, WR. #ReverseFlash— Patrik [No C] Walker (@VoiceOfTheStar) May 1, 2021
The #Cowboys pick at 179 in the #2021NFLDraft: pic.twitter.com/flycsW7CXC
His presence will also likely remove the return duties away from former first-round pick CeeDee Lamb, who very nearly suffered a devastating knee injury at one point last season when operating in that role. Considering how valuable Lamb has already proven to be, it would only make sense the Cowboys would consider this move, and Fehoko could also help with some of the return struggles seen when running back Tony Pollard fields the ball. When he gets his snaps on offense, be ready for the potential big play downfield -- something he's known well for.
And being raised a Dallas fan will only help his motivation going forward.
"I'm speechless," he told media following the pick. "I'm absolutely speechless. I grew up a Cowboys fan. That was actually my first costume as a child -- my first Halloween. I was in a Cowboys helmet and Cowboy jersey. It's such a surreal moment.
"I've worked really hard for this moment, and I'm really happy to be a Cowboy. I'm proud, and I'm ready to roll."
A well-rounded receiver that is as physically aggressive as he is stealthy and fast, any opposing defender better both eat their Wheaties and strap on their jet pack before they line up against him. Fehoko must improve in seeing the ball all the way in, suffering from drops at times, which explains why he was still available when the Cowboys went on the clock at No. 179.
That said, it's another great value grab for Dallas, who have been trying to locate a turbo-powered wideout for several seasons now, and to find one with Fehoko's size and competitive demeanor truly does set this pick apart. It's a stacked room of wideouts in North Texas, though, so Fehoko better bring the smoke if he wants to be a part of the fire.
But when you have physical frame comps to Larry Fitzgerald, Demaryius Thomas and Kenny Golladay -- with more speed -- you're in a good spot to light things up as a potentially dynamic rotational receiver and return ace in Dallas.
192nd overall: Quinton Bohanna, DL - Kentucky
Spoiler: The Cowboys are trying to fix their defense, and especially the interior defensive line.
Enter Bohanna, who now reunites with fellow former Wildcat Joseph, the cornerback having been selected in the second round of the draft. As Joseph can attest, Bohana is a big-bodied 1-tech that simply devours blocks. This is the perfect medicine for stopping a porous run game, and he'll join Antwaun Woods, Brent Urban and others in trying to make that a reality. Standing at 6-foot-4, 327 pounds, his physical frame is nearly as imposing as former LSU standout Tyler Shelvin. Considering I mocked Shelvin to the Cowboys ahead of the draft, it goes without saying grabbing Bohanna in the sixth round deserves a salute (at least from a physical standpoint). What's more is how productive he was at Kentucky, grading out as the fourth-best run defender among defensive tackles in 2020, per PFF.
Bohanna wakes up daily and chooses violence on the football field, unafraid to make his punches felt from nearly 11-inch hands (96th percentile) that are attached to 34-inch arms to combine for an 81-inch wingspan.
Be not misled, though, because Bohanna isn't flexing anywhere on the line in Dallas.
"I'm a plug," he told Dallas media. " ... Just to come in and be the one technique, the zero technique and the nose tackle that they needed. And that I'm a great fit for the scheme that they want to run. It's what I do.
"I take pride in stopping the run and letting those guys behind me run free and make plays. They know that's what I love to do. My physicality just fits well with the system that Coach Quinn wants to run on defense."
He's a true 1-tech that aims to be the best at one thing and one thing only: making you think twice about running the ball. He's old-school in his demeanor and attack (one that probably feels like a shotgun blast to the chest when he truly lays into his would-be blocker) and that'll endear him to Quinn, McCarthy, Durde and star players like DeMarcus Lawrence, but he has his struggles as well. For one, he'll need to do a better job of maintaining leverage consistently and without sacrificing his anchor to do so. He could begin making an impact in Dallas as early as his first season, but his lack of flexibility will also limit how often he gets on the field.
That's a tradeoff he's likely fine with and the Cowboys could be OK with as well, assuming they have everything else figured out to the left and right of him -- Lawrence and Randy Gregory notwithstanding. As a sixth-round pick, Bohanna has an uphill battle to make the roster, but a solid foundation to help him at the outset, and using him in rotation with Urban and Woods is my prescription.
227th overall: Israel Mukuamu, S - South Carolina
That's the collective thought when hearing the Cowboys took a safety off of the board, and while it wasn't one of the more heralded prospects still available in the sixth round, Mukuamu has some juice. You can't pigeonhole him as a safety, though, even though he has that ability and took snaps there with the Gamecocks, because he can also drop down and give you a lot of reps at cornerback -- where he does damage in the takeaway category.
Israel Mukuamu, DB.— Patrik [No C] Walker (@VoiceOfTheStar) May 1, 2021
The #Cowboys pick at 227 in the #2021NFLDraft: pic.twitter.com/hecOGcsBxT
This is the kind of flex Quinn loves and so does McCarthy, giving Whitt Jr. the ability to move pieces around in the secondary if and as needed. And standing at a solid 6-foot-4, 212 pounds, his length adds to a defensive backfield suddenly teeming with it. And when I say length, I'm not speaking about it casually. Peep his measurables web below, and the accompanying percentiles. Mukuamu is basically Groot playing defense.
"I'm gonna get in where I fit in," he told Dallas media after getting the call from Jerry Jones on Day 3.
Physical? Check. Long? Obviously. Rangy? You bet.
This isn't the first time the Cowboys held off on grabbing a "safety" until the sixth round, and it worked out well for them in seasons past. Since scouting guru Will McClay became Assistant Director of Player Personnel for the club in 2014 (eventually promoted to VP of Player Personnel), Mukuamu becomes the fourth to get the nod in the sixth round -- preceded by Donovan Wilson (2019), Xavier Woods (2017) and Kavon Frazier (2016). Considering all three have been starters at some point, as Wilson is currently, that's a great batting average for McClay and the Cowboys when swinging for the position in the sixth. As for Mukuamu, he has the traits to make it a perfect 4/4 in Dallas, a former Second-Team All-SEC talent in 2019.
He can operate on the back end, on the outside or in the slot, and effectively.
He's expected to make some noise in training camp and while it might not be immediately as a starter, expect waves. For whether it's his plug-and-play ability on defense or his contributions to special teams, there's a lot of value here. He needs to improve on how transitions in routes, however, making him more ideal at the moment in zone coverage and not man; but he's not shy if asked to press at the LOS and has the aggressive drive to win at the point of attack when his technique is sound. Overall, view him as a subtractor of tight ends and ballhawk to boot, as he leaves South Carolina with seven career interceptions in 22 games and six combined in the previous two seasons. A takeaway-thirsty defense needs what he brings in that arena.
As flyer picks go, the Cowboys definitely could've done worse than a player who'll likely make the roster in 2021 -- as Wilson, Woods and Frazier did before him.
238th overall: Matt Farniok, G - Nebraska
More help for the Cowboys O-line is on the way.
Farniok leaves the Cornhuskers and heads south to Texas with the hopes of finding a way onto the Cowboys roster this coming season and, at minimum, he has the frame to do it. Farniok stands at 6-foot-5, 311 pounds, plenty of mass to make it difficult for an opposing interior defensive lineman to have his way. There's good mobility in his size as well, and he doesn't get sideways -- i.e., skinny up -- when he's met with force. He consistently remains anchored and drives into the chest of defenders, versus waiting to be driven into. The added beauty of Farniok is his versatility (there's that word again), seeing as he's spent plenty of time as a guard at both sides of center and center itself.
"Not really sure where they want me, but whatever they tell me to play, I'm more than happy to play," he said on Saturday.
Also, athletically, he tested far above his eventual pick and more comparable to one who might've been taken several rounds prior.
Matt Farniok is a OG prospect in the 2021 draft class. He scored a 9.91 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 11 out of 1124 OG from 1987 to 2021.— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) March 24, 2021
20 split projected, times unofficial.https://t.co/33pA3vjQJB #RAS pic.twitter.com/3PM0OVGeW6
And mirroring his game after perennial Cowboys All-Pro guard Zack Martin can only help his progression.
"He's an all-time competitor," Farniok said. "He's one of the best in the game right now. He competes every single down. He wants to not only win the rep, but dominate it.
"Those are key components to being great."
As far as needs for improvement go, mark Farniok down for improving balance on angled blocks and in the use of his hands -- particularly at the NFL level where offensive lineman can quickly be exposed if their handwork is average or below. Unlike Ball, though, there are no character concerns here, with the former Husker having been named team captain on two occasions, a rare feat that's occurred at Nebraska only 12 other times in the history of the program. The 24-year-old also excels in academics, a nod to his overall ability to process information, and has the pedigree of being surrounded by three brothers who play offensive line as well.
A three-year starter at Nebraska, Farniok is far from inexperienced and could do well if given the chance (as he will be), and considering veteran interior offensive lineman Joe Looney remains a free agent, there's a vacant seat for Farniok to slide into. And even if Looney does re-sign in Dallas, he'll now do so with more competition than just Connor McGovern and Tyler Biadasz.
And Connor Williams should keep the pedal to the floor as well.