CLEVELAND (SILVER STAR NATION) — The NFL Draft is one of the most anticipated events in the NFL offseason every single year.
It represents the hope of unrecognized potential, the energy created by an influx of young players, and the possibility of seeing the players selected on Thursday night eventually making the game-changing plays on any given Sunday.
Especially when your team has a selection in the top 10 picks. That’s where the Dallas Cowboys find themselves ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft.
2020 was a bad year for just about everyone on the planet, and that includes the Dallas Cowboys. Dallas ended the year with a 6-10 record after QB Dak Prescott, who was on pace for a record-breaking statistical year, had his season cut short after a gruesome leg injury.
Prescott’s injury, paired with the revolving door at backup QB that ensued, a plethora of injuries along the offensive line, and some of the worst defensive football in the history of the Cowboys lead to a top-ten pick in the first round of the draft.
Where the Cowboys are picking
The Cowboys have ten picks in the 2021 Draft, four of which are in the top 100. This means they’re able to draft more players that play positions of need. This also means they have assets, so it may be possible for them to trade up if the situation arises.
- Round 1, Pick 10
- Round 2, Pick 44
- Round 3, Pick 75
- Round 3, Pick 99 (compensatory selection)
- Round 4, Pick 115
- Round 4, Pick 138 (compensatory selection)
- Round 5, Pick 179 (compensatory selection)
- Round 6, Pick 192 (from Detroit Lions)
- Round 6, Pick 227 (compensatory selection)
- Round 7, Pick 238
The 2021 NFL Draft will take place in Cleveland at the following times:
- Round 1 — Thursday, April 29 at 7 p.m.
- Rounds 2 & 3 — Friday, April 30 at 6 p.m.
- Rounds 4 thru 7 — Saturday, May 1 at 11 a.m.
Greatest need or best available?
Should the Cowboys take a player at a position of need, or the best player available?
NFL scouts and GM’s have been debating this question for decades, and strong cases can be made for both positions.
The Cowboys have plenty of holes to fill on their roster, especially on the defensive side of the football. In free agency this off-season, the Cowboys added depth to their defensive line by signing DT Carlos Watkins (HOU), DE Brent Urban (CHI), and DE Tarell Basham (NYJ). They also bolstered the safety position with the additions of Keanu Neal (ATL), Damontae Kazee (DET), and Jayron Kearse (DET).
However, S Xavier Woods went to the Vikings, CB Chidobe Awuzie went to the Bengals, LB Joe Thomas went to the Texans and DE Aldon Smith went to the Seahawks. Add to that the retirement of the long-time leader of the defense in LB Sean Lee, and you can see the defensive needs for the Cowboys pile up quickly.
Offensively, the Cowboys have a wealth of talent at the skill positions, including arguably the best three wide receiver tandem in the league. However, their offensive line, once the epitome of dependability, is a shadow of its former self. The 2020 season saw nearly a dozen different offensive lineman start as the season progressed.
LT Tyron Smith, RT La’El Collins, and G Zach Martin all missed significant time due to injuries. That paired with C Travis Fredrick’s retirement before the season began left voids in the once impenetrable Great Wall of Dallas.
So, there are needs on the offensive line, the defensive backfield, and at linebacker.
However, the Cowboys proved last year with their first-round pick of CeeDee Lamb they’re more than willing to pass on a good player at a position of need to draft a great player that falls into their lap. And with half of the teams in the top 10 likely taking a quarterback, some great talent may drop to No. 10 when the Cowboys are on the clock.
Top talents likely off the board
Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence is expected to go No. 1 overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars, followed by BYU QB Zach Wilson to the New York Jets at No. 2 and Alabama QB Mac Jones to the 49ers.
So, for all intents and purposes, the draft really starts at the 4th overall pick.
A name linked to the Cowboys over the past month has been standout Florida TE Kyle Pitts.
Pitts is widely considered the second-best athlete in the 2021 draft class, only behind Lawrence.
Pitts measures at 6 foot 5 inches and 245 pounds, yet runs a 4.4 second 40-yard-dash. He has rare athleticism for his size and is an elite pass catcher with great range.
In three seasons at Florida, Pitts caught 100 passes for 1,492 yards and 19 touchdowns. Pitts led the FBS in 2020 with 12 receiving TD’s and tied Florida’s single-game record for most receiving TD’s.
Pitts will likely be off the board when the Cowboys pick at No. 10. Then again, CeeDee Lamb was supposed to be off the board last year. Never say never.
The highest-rated offensive lineman in the draft, Oregon OT Penei Sewell, would immediately add depth to an offensive line that desperately needs it.
Sewell measures 6 foot 4 inches and 331 pounds, and for a player his size, he has exceptional athletic ability and footwork.
Sewell started two years at Oregon before sitting out the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He was named an All-American both years, awarded the Outland Trophy in 2020 as well as the Morris Trophy given to the best Pac-12 defensive lineman.
Yes. You read that right. Sewell also played on the defensive line.
Sewell was originally recruited as an offensive guard, giving him versatility as a plug-and-play option at multiple positions on the offensive line.
Much like Pitts, Sewell is projected to be off the board by the time the Cowboys are on the clock.
In theory, either player could fall to the Cowboys, at which point the choice becomes difficult at best. But, let’s assume what the experts are assuming and move forward assuming they’re off the board at 10. Who else is available at that spot for Dallas?
Luckily, the answer is quite a bit.
Patrick Surtain II , CB, Alabama
Patrick Surtain II is the son of three-time Pro-Bowl cornerback and coach Patrick Surtain. He was practically born to play in the NFL. So, naturally, he played his college football at Alabama.
As a freshman, Surtain recorded 37 tackles, 8 passes defended and 1 interception, earning him recognition as a Freshman All-American and SEC All-Freshman.
Surtain ended his college career with 117 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, 4 forced fumbles, 31 passes defended and 4 interceptions, one for a touchdown.
Surtain was named a Unanimous First-Team All-American, First-Team All SEC, and the SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 2020.
The 6-foot 2-inch, 208-pound Surtain runs a 4.41 40-yard dash. His height and speed will allow him to keep up with NFL wide receivers well. He’s calm and patient with sharp instincts and the ability to make adjustments on the fly.
Surtain has a knack for finding the ball, as evidenced by the four interceptions and forced fumbles. He’s a sharp defender, allowing less than half of passes thrown his way to be completed. He only allowed four touchdowns his entire collegiate career.
Surtain may lack elite ball-hawking abilities, but his natural instincts and mental toughness allow the game to happen slower for him. He has Pro-Bowl potential, just like his father.
Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
Jaycee Horn is the other highly rated cornerback in this draft. Some even put Horn ahead of Patrick Surtain II, depending on what exactly they’re looking for in an NFL cornerback.
Horn measures at 6-foot tall and 205 pounds and runs a 4.40 40-yard dash.
Horn has already drawn comparisons to the likes of Aqib Talib. He’s a driven competitor that is willing to sacrifice his body to make the play. His college coach, Will Muschamp, said of Horn: “He wants to be on the best matchup every week.”
At South Carolina, he totaled 101 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 25 passes defended and 2 interceptions in his career.
Like Surtain, Horn’s father Joe Horn played in the NFL. Joe Horn made four Pro-Bowls as a wide receiver in his 12 year career with the Chiefs, Saints, and Falcons.
Horn has an alpha mentality, and isn’t scared or panicked when the ball is in the air. He considers himself tenacious on the field and quiet off the field.
Horn’s issue isn’t ability or intelligence, as he was named to the All SEC Academic Honor Roll multiple times in his career. The issue with Horn is discipline and finishing skills. He can be overly aggressive at the top of routes and grabby, leading to pass interference flags. He was flagged 10 times in his college career.
Those issues can be fixed, however, and if a coach is able to refine Horn, his instincts, athleticism and tenacity forecast him as a starting corner in the NFL.
Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
Who better to fill the void left by Sean Lee, a Penn State linebacker, than one Micah Parsons, also a Penn State linebacker?
Parsons is one of the best talents in the 2021 draft class. At 6 foot 3 inches tall and weighing in at 245 pounds, he clocked a 4.36 second 40-yard dash time, faster than many defensive backs.
Parsons has a lethal combination of size, speed and strength with outstanding change of direction and pursuit skills. He’s able to effectively chase the ball or correct his path if needed. His athleticism allows defensive coordinators to put him up against tight ends and running backs in the passing game.
Parsons is a smart football player and has excellent backfield vision. He can diagnose and fill gaps effectively and has a mind for the game.
As skilled of an athlete as he is, one of his college coaches said of Parsons, “The scary part about him is he hasn’t even scratched the surface.”
As a freshman at Penn State, he was named an All-American and led the team in tackles, the first freshman in school history to do so. During his sophomore season, he was credited for 109 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and 5 sacks. He was named an All-American, First Team All-Big Ten, and won the Butkus-Fitzgerald Big Ten LB of the Year, the first sophomore to do so.
Parsons looks like a certified three-down starting linebacker almost immediately.
Alijah Vera-Tucker, OG, USC
Alijah Vera-Tucker was recruited as a four-star offensive tackle out of high school. He played college football at USC.
Vera-Tucker is a balanced and agile blocker with starting experience at both guard and tackle, which could make him a versatile asset to the Dallas offensive line.
He has average size and length by NFL standards for a tackle, but will fit into the guard spot nicely.
Vera-Tucker shows patience, strength, alertness and awareness, allowing him to easily pick up stunts that would normally cause linemen to miss their blocks. He’s able to generate movement in the running game, something Dallas needs in order to help return Ezekiel Elliott back to form.
His combination of balance, strength and quick processing project him to be a starting guard in the NFL with a Pro-Bowl ceiling, according to The Athletic’s Dane Brugler.
Devonta Smith, WR, Alabama
Devonta Smith has all the credentials. He’s a Heisman Trophy winner. He’s a Biletnikoff Award winner. He was a unanimous first-team All-American in 2020. He was named the SEC Offensive Player of the Year in 2020. He caught 117 passes for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2020. He holds the Alabama school record for touchdowns in a single game.
And yet, he’s still considered by many the third best receiver in this draft class.
Smith has elite talent, great instincts, incredible body control, and an incredible work ethic that will make him a coaches dream.
The Cowboys are already overflowing with talent at the wide receiver position, with Amari Cooper (also from Alabama), Michael Gallup, and CeeDee Lamb forming arguably the most lethal receiving group in the league.
However, with Gallup in a contract year, drafting Smith would give Dallas another elite receiver to take his place, if the Cowboys elected not to resign him. Drafting Smith could also open the door for trade opportunities for Gallup.
It’s unlikely they take a wide receiver at this spot, especially if other defensive names are on the board. But don’t call it impossible.
The first round of the 2021 NFL Draft kicks off from Cleveland at 7:00 p.m. CDT.