The Dallas Cowboys kicked off their run in the 2023 NFL Draft the right way, making one of their foundational star players happy immediately with the selection of Michigan defensive tackle Mazi Smith with their 26th overall pick. Dallas All-Pro linebacker Micah Parsons celebrated the Silver and Blue’s selection of Smith like he just won the lottery, knowing a space-eating, 6-foot-3 defensive tackle who weighs 323 pounds will make his life infinitely easier as both a run defender and a pass rusher.
Now, Jerry Jones and the Cowboys front office turn their attention to Day 2 of the draft — Rounds 2-3 — where they should be looking to make quarterback Dak Prescott similarly pump his fist in celebration just like Parsons. They could do this by addressing two of their biggest remaining needs on offense: tight end and the interior offensive line.
Here’s a look at a few players at each of those positions that Dallas would be wise to look into ahead of utilizing its 58th overall selection (second round) and 90th overall selection (third round) on Friday.
* Note: Prospects listed below will be ones who may have a shot at being on the board when the Cowboys are on the clock.
The Dallas Cowboys offense has always possessed reliable pass-catchers at the tight end spot when it’s really been humming, whether it was Jay Novacek in the 1990s, Jason Witten in the 2000s and 2010s and Dalton Schultz in the 2020s. With Schultz’s departure to the Houston Texans on a one-year, $6.3 million deal in free agency, the Cowboys are left with 2022 fourth-round pick Jake Ferguson (19 catches, 174 receiving yards, and two receiving touchdowns in career), 2022 undrafted free agent Peyton Hendershot (11 catches, 103 receiving yards, and two receiving touchdowns in career), and 25-year-old Sean McKeon (two catches and 11 receiving yards in career) at the tight end position.
Since the 2023 NFL Draft has one of the deepest tight end classes in recent memory, here’s a look at a few prospects worth considering at the position.
Georgia tight end Darnell Washington, a behemoth who measured at 6-7, 264 pounds while running a 4.64 40-yard dash with a 31-inch vertical jump and a 10’2″ broad jump at the NFL Scouting Combine, would be a humongous add as a blocker and pass-catcher. He would translate immediately as a blocker while providing a massive target over the middle who could open up the rest of the field for Pro Bowler CeeDee Lamb, newly acquired Cowboy Brandin Cooks and Michael Gallup.
Pro Comparison: Marcedes Lewis
- 2022 Second-team All-SEC (28 receptions, 454 receiving yards
- Two-time CFP national champion
- Sheer size makes him an additional in-line blocker
- Big, strong hands to make contested catches
- Improved as a blocker
- Wide range to make receptions
- Below-average explosion
- Limited production as a pass-catcher
- Tracking the ball downfield
Iowa tight end Sam LaPorta won’t blow teams away with insane measurements (6-3, 245 pounds) or athletic testing (4.59 40-yard dash), but he runs like a bull in a china shop in the best way possible after the catch, rumbling down field and leaving the destruction of broken tackles in his wake. LaPorta is a decent blocker with an extensive route tree, primed to perform any task asked of him in the pros. His 153 career catches are the most by a tight end in program history, notable considering the Hawkeyes have also churned out established NFL starters in Pro Bowlers George Kittle and T.J. Hockenson as well as Noah Fant.
Pro Comparison: Foster Moreau
- 2022: First-team All-Big Ten
- 2022: Most receptions by tight end in Iowa history (153)
- YAC specialist, contact balance, cutting skills are impressive
- Gets the most out of his athleticism
- Ran plenty of routes in college
- Holds his own as a blocker
- Doesn’t have amazing athletic gifts
- Not going to win 50-50 balls on a consistent basis
Oregon State tight end Luke Musgrave has solid size for the position, measuring at 6-6, 253 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine, and he’s quick and fast moving downfield. He’s not super established as a blocker, but he has the frame to be coached up into becoming solid at that area of the game.
Pro Comparison: Dallas Goedert
- Nephew of NFL quarterback Bill Musgrave
- 2022: 11 receptions, 169 yards, TD in two games
- Looks like an oversized but sleek WR. And plays like one
- Serious juice to threaten the seam
- Large catch radius
- Knack to make the difficult grab, even if he has to contort his body
- Not a majorly agile, YAC type
- Only played two games in 2022 before suffering season-ending injury
- Some drops on film on what should’ve been easy catches
- Minimal blocking expertise
Interior offensive line
The Cowboys in theory have a great starting five up front with left tackle Tyron Smith, left guard Tyler Smith, center Tyler Biadasz, right guard Zack Martin, and right tackle Terence Steele.
Upon closer examination, more depth is very much required. Eight-time Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith has missed a combined 33 games due to injury across the last three seasons, and he’ll turn 33 in December. Durability will only get harder for him, plus the long-term play is probably to move Tyler Smith, the Cowboys’ first-round pick at No. 24 overall overall a year ago, out to left tackle eventually. Steele is coming off of a torn ACL, so it’s unclear how he will look in his return this season. With all that in mind, grabbing some of the better remaining offensive line prospects on Day 2 would make a lot of sense.
Here’s a look at who may be available.
TCU offensive lineman Steve Avila, a consensus All-American in 2022, kept his quarterback — Heisman Trophy runner-up Max Duggan — clean and relaxed all season along, allowing only 10 pressures and no sacks on 515 pass-blocking snaps. Horned Frogs head coach Sonny Dykes even called Avila TCU’s “main guy” in terms of who the top locker room leader was for the 2022 national runner-ups. He also started at four of the five offensive line spots in college except for left tackle.
Avila demonstrated that versatility, dominating at the Senior Bowl while lining up at center and guard:
Avila also shut down the Cowboys’ 2023 first-round pick, Michigan defensive tackle Mazi Smith, in the Horned Frogs’ CFP semifinal win against the Wolverines on New Year’s Eve. TCU backup running back Emari Demercado ran for a career-high 150 yards on 17 carries against Smith and Michigan’s vaunted defensive front with Avila paving the way.
Pro Comparison: James Carpenter
- 2022: Consensus All-American
- 2022: Allowed 0 sacks in 515 pass blocking snaps
- Mauler in a phone booth; if he gets his hands on you, it’s over
- Balanced in pass sets, uses hands and feet well, anchors well in small areas
- Handles interior twists stunts; keeps head up, well balanced, doesn’t lunge, locks up DL types
- Consistently moves iDL type off spot to create creases in run game
- Can get walked back a bit when DL type wins high but does show ability to re-anchor
- Can get out in space on screens but is more plodding than smooth when in space
- Will consistently lock up iDL types with good initial punch but can sometimes struggle to stay engaged in run
Minnesota offensive lineman John Michael Schmitz’s top position is center, where the Cowboys already have Biadasz firmly entrenched, but he could probably make the switch to left guard in Dallas. Standing at 6-3, 301 pounds, he dominated the Big Ten, becoming the 2022 First-Team All-American center. He allowed only two sacks and six quarterback pressures on 288 pass-blocking snaps last season.
Pro Comparison: Ethan Pocic
- 2022: First-team AP All-American
- 2021-22: Started at center in 25 of 26 games
- Super experienced, played more than 2,500 snaps in college
- Nimble for being a thicker center
- Vital recovery skill is part of his game
- Accurate finding linebackers at the second level
- Quality anchoring ability in pass pro
- Doesn’t have high-caliber explosiveness
- At times gets caught lunging against good pass-rush moves
Wisconsin offensive lineman Joe Tippmann is the next strong Badgers’ offensive line prospect. He’s an agile giant, standing at 6-6, 313 pounds, who excels at stopping defenders in their tracks and pile-driving rush lanes open for his running backs. Tippmann only allowed one sack on 590 pass-blocking snaps across the last two college football seasons.
Pro Comparison: Mitch Morse
- 2021-22: Two-time honorable mention All-Big Ten
- 2021-22: Allowed one sack in 590 pass block snaps
- Does a great job of absorbing contact
- Does a good job of working angles and sealing run lanes
- Active eyes to pick up blitzes
- Below-average later agility
- Spends a lot of time on the ground
- Needs to do a better job of moving his feet to stay engaged