The Dallas Cowboys got through the bulk of free agency and the NFL Draft with a roster built to win but 2023 could represent a make or break season.
DALLAS — The Dallas Cowboys addressed one of their top needs in the 2023 NFL draft right off the bat when they made Michigan defensive tackle Mazi Smith their top pick.
The Cowboys took Smith No. 26 overall at the draft April 27. At 6’-3”, 337 pounds, Smith is expected to provide considerable bulk along the Cowboys’ interior defensive line. Although the Cowboys finished tied for the 10th-fewest yards per carry surrendered last season at 4.3, they did finish with the ninth-most rushing yards surrendered at 135.7.
There was no better game to demonstrate Dallas’ inconsistency defending the run than in the NFC divisional playoffs as the San Francisco 49ers imposed their will en route to a 19-12 win. The Cowboys allowed the 49ers to gain 113 yards on the ground with Christian McCaffrey also scoring on a 2-yard rushing touchdown.
Pairing Smith’s ability to anchor the middle of the defense with perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate Micah Parsons as he moves exclusively to defensive end could be a boon to Dan Quinn’s defense in his third year as the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator.
Meanwhile, Dallas still has a formidable offensive core with quarterback Dak Prescott, running back Tony Pollard, and receiver CeeDee Lamb. Second-year Tyler Smith gives stability along the left side of the offensive line as All-Pro Tyron Smith returns to left tackle. Future Hall of Famer Zack Martin maintains right guard. The pieces are still there for the Cowboys to be big players in the conference.
According to Peter King from Football Morning in America, who released his post-draft NFL power rankings, the Cowboys are the 10th-best team in the league.
“Know why this is a crucial year for the Cowboys? They’ve won 24 regular-season games in the last two years, then scored 36 points in eight quarters in two playoff losses to the Niners,” King writes. “Dak Prescott’s got to do something about that, now.”
The entire structure of the NFL is built around the quarterback. Despite the capital investments to the defensive line, if Dallas wins, credit will go to Prescott. If Prescott plays perfectly but the defense can’t protect leads, then the failures will be upon No. 4’s head.
Although the pressure is on in Dallas, one member of the team-building process who felt more enthusiasm than anxiety about the Cowboys’ 2023 campaign was vice president of player personnel Will McClay.
“I don’t know about you, but I feel better than I’ve felt in a long time about what’s around the corner for the Dallas Cowboys,” McClay said April 29. “All of these guys sitting up here, this is the best I’ve felt about things. I love this team I’m sitting up here with.”
The offseason program will give a better barometer as to where the Cowboys are truly at — power rankings notwithstanding.
Do you think the Cowboys enter the summer as one of the NFL’s top teams? Share your thoughts with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.
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