What Should Dallas Do at No. 10?
By Jason McIntyre
FOX Sports betting analyst
The Dallas Cowboys go into the 2021 NFL Draft at basically the same place they’ve been for two decades: a crossroads.
What are the Cowboys? They look like a pass-first team, with an elite fleet of receivers, but they also have the second-highest paid running back in the NFL in Ezekiel Elliott.
That’s a lot of mouths to feed.
The offensive line isn’t what it was in 2016, when they went 13-3, or even 2018, when they went 10-6, and injuries at both tackle positions (La’el Collins missed the entire season and Tyron Smith played two games) was a major factor in their dismal 2020 campaign.
The Cowboys defense was laughable in 2020, finishing 23rd in the Football Outsiders DVOA efficiency metric (21st against the pass and 23rd against the run). They're soft in the middle, and as a result, the linebacking corps went from a strength in 2018 to a disappointment in 2020.
The 10th pick has been an occasional goldmine over the last 50 years. Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes is on track to be the best No. 10 pick in the history of the sport, topping Hall of Fame running backs Marcus Allen (Raiders – 1982) and Jerome Bettis (Rams – 1993), cornerback Rod Woodson (Steelers – 1987), and legendary pass rusher Terrell Suggs (Baltimore – 2003).
Other recent big winners at No. 10 include former NFL Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore (Bills – 2012) and former NFL Offensive Player of the Year Todd Gurley (Rams – 2015).
In a division with three strong defensive lines, a smart move for Dallas is to target Northwestern offensive lineman Rashawn Slater. Slater opted out of the 2020 season, but he played right tackle as a freshman and left tackle as a sophomore. His size (6'4", 315 pounds) will likely kick him inside to guard, and the question then becomes whether or not he can play center for the Cowboys, who saw both Joe Looney and rookie Tyler Biadasz struggle.
Slater’s father was a college basketball star at Wyoming, spent a few years in the NBA, and played internationally as well. He’s a gifted, athletic lineman.
The defensive line has to be the other strong consideration at No. 10. The Cowboys grabbed Neville Gallimore in the third round out of Oklahoma in 2020, but he struggled as a rookie. Veteran Tyrone Crawford, 31, has hinted at retirement, and Antwaun Woods once again received poor grades from Pro Football Focus.
Dallas allowed five 100-yard rushers this season, and who can forget permitting a franchise-record 307 yards on the ground to the Cleveland Browns in Week 4.
The problem is that there isn’t a slam dunk defensive tackle that can be grabbed here without the potential of over-reaching.
The name to watch is Christian Barmore, who has shown flashes of being a star, but consistency is an issue. He was not a top 200 recruit nationally, and has only put up modest stats (seven sacks, 7.5 TFL) as a redshirt sophomore. Staying another year might help him, and going 10th overall is extremely ambitious.
If the Cowboys can slide down later in the first round, a target might be NC State’s space-eater Alim McNeill, who at 326 pounds has a vertical leap of 32 inches and can put up 445 on the bench press.
It would be remiss of me to not mention the quarterback quandary. Part II in this series explored the Dak Prescott situation, but in a draft with as many as seven teams in the top 10 looking at QBs – Jacksonville, the New York Jets, maybe Miami, maybe Detroit, Carolina, maybe the New York Giants and maybe Denver – there aren’t likely to be any of the top choices available when the Cowboys pick.
One name they might consider is Alabama`’s Mac Jones. He was not considered an early-round selection before this season, but he has thrown 36 touchdowns and just four interceptions, and was a Heisman Trophy finalist.
Jones' size (6'3") is promising and his stock has soared, but you’ll hear plenty about how every Nick Saban QB looks fantastic because they’re throwing to future NFL players in a tremendous system, yet none have translated into reliable NFL starters.
Jones almost certainly will be there in the 2nd round, as well as Florida’s Kyle Trask. And if you’re looking for a deep sleeper – similar to the way Dak Prescott fell to the fourth round – a name to watch is Iowa State QB Brock Purdy.