How good was the Dallas Cowboys’ rookie class in 2021 beyond Micah Parsons?

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FRISCO, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys’ 2021 draft was an instant success due to Micah Parsons.

The linebacker was the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year. He became the first rookie in franchise history to achieve first-team All-Pro honors. He was named the Pro Bowl. He set a team record with 13 sacks and strengthened a defense that had a big turnaround since 2020.

But what about the rest of the 11-man class?

It was okay? It should be better by 2022.

Last season, coach Mike McCarthy often talked about the second-year jumps in the 2020 draft class.

No one was more obvious than cornerback Trevon Diggs, who intercepted 11 passes in the league and was named a first-team All-Pro as Parsons in his second season. Receiver CeeDee Lamb, the first-round pick of 2020, led the Cowboys in receptions and yards, and he was added to the Pro Bowl.

Defensive tackle Neville Gallimore’s 2021 season was affected by a hyper-elongated elbow in training camp, but the Cowboys believe the 2020 third round will be a force. Tyler Biadasz in the fourth round started every match at the center.

The Cowboys will need second-year jumps from the 2021 picks Kelvin Joseph, Osa Odighizuwa, Chauncey Golston and some others if they are to succeed in 2022, because the team has already said it will not be able to keep all of its 21 unlimited free agents or add significant players in free agency because of the salary cap.

Here’s a look at the 2021 class beyond Parsons:

CB Kelvin Joseph, Second Round (No. 44 overall)

What did I say: I have only played in 10 matches with two starts after illness in the offseason and a groin injury during training camp. When Jourdan Lewis was missing a match, Joseph switched to a starting role against Washington and performed well. He was credited with 13 tackles, one tackle for loss and two passes.

What is the hope: He can be the key to the overall success of the draft class. Joseph has natural abilities, but never found a rhythm for his rookie season. If the Cowboys make colleague Anthony Brown ($ 6.5 million in salary cap in 2022) a loss, it tells you the coaches think Joseph is ready to take the leap into the second year. Diggs was able to play much more than Joseph in his rookie season, so it would not be reasonable to expect Joseph to make a similar leap in the second year, but there is hope that he can be a big part of the defense in 2022

DT Osa Odighizuwa, third round (No. 75 overall)

What did I say: He made 12 starts after impressing the coaches when Gallimore injured an elbow in the preseason. Odighizuwa was credited with 34 tackles, two sacks, four tackles for loss, 12 pressures, a fumble refund and a passing shot in 645 snaps. Maybe his game fell down the stretch as part of hitting a novice wall, but he showed he can count on it to a great extent.

What is the hope: They want him to be more disruptive in the running and passing games. He stepped in immediately and impressed the veteran offensive linemen with his strength. He knows how to handle the hardships of an entire season and has learned some tricks in dealing with skilled line players. Together with Gallimore, the Cowboys could have some real quality on their inner defensive line.

DE Chauncey Golston, third round (No. 84 overall)

What did I say: He missed the entire training camp and preseason due to a hamstring injury, but ended up playing 414 snaps as part of the defensive line rotation. He had 33 tackles, a sack, eight pressure, a fumble recovery and a pass. He also scored a touchdown from a blocked punt.

What is the hope: Can he replace Dorance Armstrong, who is to be a free agent? The Cowboys would like to keep Armstrong, but Golston could move into a bigger role if Armstrong gets a bigger deal elsewhere. Golston has some natural pass-rush skills, and despite a lack of training camp, he was not out of place. A year in an entire offseason program plus a preseason in 2022 could give him a bigger role in the D-line rotation, especially with the future of Randy Gregory and perhaps DeMarcus Lawrence unknown.

CB Nahshon Wright, Third Round (No. 99 overall)

What did I say: In 13 games, including one start, Wright had seven tackles in defense. He had two tackles on special teams. He scored a touchdown from a blocked punt in the regular season. 74 of his 91 defensive snaps came in the final against the Philadelphia Eagles.

What is the hope: He was a surprising choice last spring, but showed in the offseason and in training camp that he could play on the ball. He has the length coordinator Dan Quinn wants in defensive backs (6-foot-4, 190 pounds). He was a core special-team in 2021, but the hope is that he could move into one of the sub-packages in 2022. His size only makes him an outside corner, but he moves well even towards shifting receivers.

LB Jabril Cox, Fourth Round (No. 115 overall)

What did I say: He was evolving into a core specialty team, but tore an ACL after just seven games. He was credited with one tackle in defense, where he played nine snaps. He also had a tackle on special teams.

What is the hope: He needs to get well first, but the belief is that he will be ready for a full training camp and preseason. The Cowboys will need linebacker opportunities to play alongside the Parsons as Leighton Vander Esch and Keanu Neal are poised to become free agents. Can the Cowboys count on Cox getting a big role in the defense that comes from the injury? It does not seem likely, but they loved his production in LSU and North Dakota State and felt he was developing at a good rate before the injury.

OT Josh Ball, Fourth Round (No. 138 overall)

What did I say: He was on injured reserve all season due to an ankle injury at training camp. He was able to practice late in the regular season but was not added to the active roster. The Cowboys actually had him on a red shirt season.

What is the hope: The Cowboys have signed contracts with veterans like the swing tackle in recent years, with Ty Nsekhe filling that role in 2021. Can Ball handle the spot if Terence Steele becomes a full-time starter at right tackle? From his early work last summer, it was clear he needed to work on his strength. The time in the weight room last year could be a help as he looks to earn a spot this season.

WR Simi Fehoko, fifth round (No. 179 overall)

What did I say: Not much, but some of it was due to the depth of the receiver group in 2020. He would not take snaps away from the backups Cedrick Wilson, Noah Brown or Malik Turner. All three are set to be free agents this offseason. Fehoko only played seven offensive snaps and did not catch a pass.

What is the hope: He needs to impress in the offseason program and through training camp and preseason. At Stanford, he showed the ability to make great plays, averaging 18.5 yards per game. He had laps with his hands when he saw action in the summer. Given the uncertain status of the entire group, the Cowboys should add a few more receivers to the mix in the draft, which would put him under the microscope to impress to regain a guard spot.

DT Quinton Bohanna, sixth round (No. 192 overall)

What did I say: He started once in the 14 games he played and was credited with 12 tackles and a quarterback pressure. He brought size (327 pounds) to the defensive line and had a good start to training camp and early in the season, but he only played 223 snaps.

What is the hope: He takes on a bigger role as nose tackle / run plugger. He has the physical skills to bring some pass rush. Carlos Watkins is ready to hit the market, as is Brent Urban. For years, the Cowboys have relied on undersized tackles to help slow down the run. Bohanna needs to be more consistent in her technique to win the coaches’ trust in her second season.

S Israel Mukuamu, sixth round (No. 227 overall)

What did I say: I’ve played in just four games after moving from cornerback in South Carolina to safety with the Cowboys. I have only played 20 defensive snaps and contributed on special teams, but I have not achieved any statistics.

What is the hope: He should at least become a core special teams. The Cowboys have a decent history with late rounds that have become good special-teamers. He has the length (6-foot-4) Quinn wants in defensive backs and can cover a wide range. With Jayron Kearse, Damontae Kazee and Malik Hooker on their way to free agent, Mukuamu was able to work his way into a bigger role in his second year.

Olympics Matt Farniok, seventh round (No. 238 overall)

What did I say: I have spent most of the season on the active list. I have dressed for five games and played a total of 23 snaps. In training camp, I have played all three inside offensive lineouts.

What is the hope: Given the likelihood of Connor Williams’ departure to free agency and the potential rise of Connor McGovern to a starting role, the Cowboys would wish Farniok a legitimate option as the top backup interior lineman on game days. He needs to get stronger, which is something that should happen given a full offseason program.

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