The 2021 NFL Draft starts on Thursday, April 29. As a lead-up to the draft, we’ll be giving a team-by-team breakdown for positional needs. For each team, we’ll give an overview of the current depth chart and how big of a need each position in the upcoming draft. You can find the rest of the team needs (as they’re updated) and the rest of our draft content in the 2021 NFL Draft hub.
Dallas Cowboys 2021 Draft Picks
Round 1 (10)
Round 2 (44)
Round 3 (75)
Round 3 (99)
Round 4 (115)
Round 4 (138)
Round 5 (179)
Round 6 (192)
Round 6 (227)
Round 7 (238)
Dallas Cowboys Offense
By Rich Hribar
After playing 2020 on the franchise tag, Dallas and Dak Prescott came to a four-year agreement this offseason. Through five games with Prescott last year, Dallas scored a touchdown on 32.8% of their offensive drives (10th in the league) and averaged 32.6 points per game. After Prescott was injured, the Cowboys scored a touchdown on 16.9% of their drives (31st) and averaged 21.1 points per game (24th). From a passing stance, Dallas had a 55% success rate through the air in Prescott’s starts compared to a 45% success rate afterward.
Behind Prescott, Dallas gave Cooper Rush another one-year contract this offseason. Rush has been with the Cowboys the previous three seasons, but has thrown just three career passes and did not see the field last season despite Dallas giving three other passers a look with Prescott out. The team did give both Garrett Gilbert and Ben DiNucci each a start. Gilbert remains under contract through this season, while DiNucci is under contract through 2023 after being selected in the seventh round a year ago. Dallas is unlikely to add a quarterback at any point in this draft outside of another dart throw in the range they selected DiNucci a year ago.
Dallas is still top-heavy and locked in Ezekiel Elliott as their workhorse back. The first realistic opening Dallas has to get out of Elliott’s contract comes after the 2022 season as he carries $36.9M and $23.2M dead cap hits over the next two seasons. Elliott averaged a career-low 4.4 yards per touch in 2020, but was still a workhorse, averaging 19.7 touches per game. The offensive line and overall offensive climate will be better for Dallas this season.
After Elliott, Tony Pollard still has two years remaining on his rookie contract and a more than capable backup/ancillary piece of the offense. If anything, Pollard is underused in the latter role. We did see the upside Pollard offers as a premier backup in Week 15 with Elliott sidelined when Pollard racked up 18 touches for 132 yards and a pair of scores.
Running back is far from a draft need in Dallas outside of late-round depth.
Dallas is in contention for one of the best WR1-WR3 depth charts in the league. Both Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb are under contract through 2024. Lamb is on his rookie contract, but Dallas could move on from Cooper at any point after this season as he carries dead cap hits of $6M, $4M, and $2M over the 2022-204 seasons. There is little reason to believe that is imminent at this stage as Cooper still remains well in the apex of his career (he turns 27 this June) and has been a steady player for Dallas. Cooper caught 92 passes for 1,114 yards and five touchdowns in 2020 and was the most reliable wideout post-Prescott on a weekly basis.
Things get interesting regarding Michael Gallup, who enters this season on the final season of his rookie contract. With big money allocated across multiple offensive players, Gallup could be tough for Dallas to retain next offseason if they are also keeping Cooper. After 66-1,107-6 in 2019, Gallup took a step back in 2020, catching 59-of-105 targets for 843 yards and five touchdowns. Gallup did close the season on a positive note, with seven or more targets in six of his final nine games and a touchdown three of his final five games.
With Gallup’s contract status and subpar depth beyond him, we should anticipate for Dallas to add receiver depth in this draft with as many picks as they have despite being currently loaded at the top of their roster at the position.
Last offseason, Dallas re-signed Blake Jarwin to a four-year, $22M contract. Unfortunately, Jarwin made it just 25 snaps into the season before suffering an ACL injury. Dallas can get out of Jarwin’s remaining two seasons after the 2021 season for just a $2M hit if he does not bounce back from injury.
With Jarwin absent a year ago, third-year tight end Dalton Schultz provided baseline production in relief, but enters 2021 in the final season of his rookie contract. Jeremy Sprinkle replaces Blaked Bell as the primary blocker here. Tight end is not a pressing need to force pursuit with significant capital, but is enough of a wide-open position for Dallas big picture that they would have a major decision should someone like Kyle Pitts make it to number 10 somehow.
LT: Tyron Smith/ Brandon Knight/William Sweet
LG: Connor Williams/Connor McGovern/Eric Smith
C: Tyler Biadasz
RG: Zack Martin/Mitch Hyatt/Adam Redmond
RT: La’El Collins/Ty Nsekhe*/Terence Steele/Isaac Alarcon
A calling card over previous seasons, the Dallas offensive line fell victim to an extremely injury-riddled 2020 season collectively that impacted the entire offense. Dallas played last season basically down both starting offensive tackles as Tyron Smith played in just two games due to a neck injury while La’El Collins missed the entire season dealing with hip and groin injuries in training camp.
With both tackles out, All-Pro right guard Zack Martin even played 117 snaps at right tackle a year ago, but to compound matters, Martin also missed six games himself in 2020. All in all, Dallas suffered the second-most adjusted games missed across their offensive line in 2020 at 46.4 per Football Outsiders.
Heading into 2021, both Smith and Martin will turn 31 years old in season, but both are locked up into huge contracts. Smith has now missed at least three games in each of the past five seasons, but still is under contract through 2024 with $17.7M and $12M dead cap hits over the next two seasons.
Martin has missed multiple games in two of the past three seasons, but also is locked up long-term through the 2024 season while he still graded out as the second-best guard in 2020 via Pro Football Focus.
Collins is locked up through the 2024 seasons as well, so having all three star linemen back on the field together is already a big bonus for the Dallas offense.
Starting left guard Connor Williams enters the final season of his rookie contract, but the team already has a potential replacement in place in 2019 third-round pick Connor McGovern, who logged 606 snaps a year ago at right guard with Martin absent and moonlighting at tackle.
Dallas added veteran Ty Nsekhe this offseason as tackle depth to go along with Brandon Knight and Terence Steele, who both struggled heavily when forced into action a year ago.
The Cowboys selected Tyler Biadasz at pick 146 overall a year ago coming off the retirement of Travis Frederick. Biadasz appeared in 12 games and closed his rookie season ranking 45th out of 55 qualifying centers per Pro Football Focus.
Dallas does not have to press for offensive linemen early in April, but after being exposed a year ago in terms of depth, they may have more incentive to do so. Either way, the Cowboys should be looking at interior line depth while potentially adding another tackle on a rookie contract since both Knight and Steele struggled so heavily in 2020 and have low monetary commitments.
Dallas Cowboys Defense
by Dan Pizzuta
Interior Defensive Line
Injuries decimated the Cowboys’ interior before it really got going last season. Free agent signing Gerald McCoy tore his quad in August and was released shortly thereafter. After a lackluster rookie season, Trysten Hill tore his ACL in Week 5 against the New York Giants, the same game Prescott was lost for the season. Dontari Poe, another free agent addition, was released in October. The problem with the Dallas interior last season was there was little to no pass rush and that hasn’t changed with this current group. Gallimore is the best returner and ranked 63rd in pressure rate among 102 defensive tackles with at least 100 pass snaps.
With a lack of pass rush in the interior, the Cowboys also matched that with not being able to stop the run. Dallas ranked 31st in Run Stop Win Rate, according to ESPN. The McCoy and Poe signings last offseason were an attempt to remake the interior, but neither worked out and no such attempt to improve yet this offseason.
Lawrence was again one of the better pass rushers in the league, ranked 10th in ESPN’s Pass Rush Win Rate. But as a team, the Cowboys only ranked 28th. Aldon Smith returned from his four-year suspension to start all 16 games for 14 quarterback hits and five sacks, but the 31-year-old was not re-signed. Randy Gregory was after only playing 25% of the defensive snaps. Among 124 edge rushers with at least 150 pass rushes, Gregory ranked 11th in pressure rate. Lawrence ranked 13th.
Dallas added Tarrell Basham and Carlos Watkins in free agency, but they shouldn’t provide much more than rotational depth. Watkins had one of the lowest pressure rates among edge rushers last season. Basham’s role could be interesting as he rushed on 82% of his pass snaps and he could drop into coverage more often to help in the second level.
Leighton Vander Esch
Vander Esch only played 10 games in 2020 after nine games played in 2019. Even when on the field, lingering injury issues slowed him down a bit and he hasn’t been able to match the promise of his rookie season over the past two years. Jaylon Smith has been able to stay healthy with all 16 games played over the past two seasons but there have been some inconsistencies in his game, especially when Vander Esch is not also on the field. A hope of Smith getting to blitz more was erased without Vander Esch on the field (10.8% rush rate in 2019 and 10.5% in 2020) and his pressure rate on those pass rushes dropped from 27.1% in 2019 to 19.6% in 2020.
With coverage and health questions in the middle of the defense, the Cowboys signed Keanu Neal, who played under new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn with the Falcons, and the expectation is he’ll start the season moving from safety to linebacker. This could potentially be a more hybrid role like other safeties have started to play in more modern defenses. Neal, though, comes with his own injury issues with four games played between 2018 and 2019.
Last year’s Falcons played 75% of their defensive snaps in nickel, the fourth-highest rate in the league, with no snaps in dime or lighter personnel. The Cowboys played 70% nickel (fifth-most) but split the remaining snaps with 18% base and 9% dime.
The Cowboys took some swings at cornerback in last year’s draft, but it’s tough to ask rookie cornerbacks to immediately jump in and be productive.
Among 148 cornerbacks with at least 100 coverage snaps in 2020, Trevon Diggs ranked 127th in adjusted yards allowed per coverage snap, which adjusts for touchdowns and interceptions. Diggs was also one of the most targeted corners when he was on the field, ranked 138th in targets per coverage snap among that same group. There were a number of rookies in the same area as Diggs in both targets and adjusted yards allowed. To Diggs’s credit, he had the best completion percentage allowed of that group at 55.4%.
Corner remains a need for the Cowboys, but the problem is even if that is where they go in the first round, they’ll be relying on another rookie to step in and contribute. Though the bigger problem could be if there is not a rookie to step in and contribute with few pieces of note in a secondary that ranked 21st against the pass by DVOA in 2020.
Reggie Robinson II
Dallas has some work to do at safety. This is a defense that ranked 30th in DVOA against deep passes last season. Xavier Woods played nearly 90% of the Dallas defensive snaps at safety but after some poor play in 2020, he was allowed to leave in free agency. Donovan Wilson played well as he split his time between playing deep and in the box. After him, there are some questions, especially given Quinn’s history in Cover 3.
Wilson might not be a great single-high fit consistently. Kazee has played that role for Quinn, but is coming off a torn Achilles in Week 4. Jayron Kearse has been mostly a rotational defensive back and special teamer. He played over 40% of the defensive snaps for the first time in his career last season with Detroit, but spent most of that time in the box.
The league could be moving to more two-high looks but Quinn’s background leans toward a more traditional use of a single-high deep safety and that type of player isn’t currently on the roster.