As I write this, the 2023 NFL draft kicks off in 17 days. Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys front office shocked the world by “participating” in free agency by trading for two big names, Brandin Cooks and Stephon Gilmore. Both played for the New England Patriots in 2017 and then faced each other in Super Bowl 53.
Both were acquired for cheap with Cooks costing a 2023 fifth-round pick and a 2024 sixth-round pick while Dallas exchanged only a 2023 fifth-round pick for Gilmore. The addition of these two stars fills two separate needs for the Dallas Cowboys roster heading into the 2023 season.
The Dallas Cowboys now have greater maneuverability with their first-round draft pick with the arrival of Brandin Cooks and Stephon Gilmore.
With wide receiver and cornerback being addressed via trade, the Cowboys can now use the best player available strategy mixed with team needs. In my previous mock drafts, Dallas was pigeonholed into leaning on their team needs when drafting rounds one and two.
Throughout my last mock draft before this year’s draft, we will be using more of the best player available mixed with team needs. When completing this mock draft I ran over one hundred mock drafts and/or pulled information from The Draft Network, PFF, NFL Draft Buzz, and Dane Brugler’s 2023 NFL Draft Guide, “The Beast.” Also, I did not use trades in this scenario as they are more difficult to predict after the first couple of rounds.
Dallas Cowboys Round 1 – Wilbert “Will” McDonald IV – Edge – Iowa St.
Height: 6'4" Weight: 240lbs. Forty: 4.62 Wingspan:82.25"
If there’s one thing Dan Quinn loves in his defenders, it’s pure athleticism and Will McDonald IV embodies the word athleticism. Without first looking at his football characteristics, this young man can do a backflip standing still (6’4″ and 240lbs.), has made videos jumping over cars, and didn’t start playing football until his junior year at Waukesha North High School in Milwaukee.
McDonald may not be the most polished defensive end in the draft behind guys like Will Anderson Jr., Tyree Wilson, Lukas Van Ness, Nolan Smith, and Myles Murphy, but there is an argument to be made that he has room for the most growth/upside and could be the best pure pass rusher in the draft.
Among the top pass-rushing prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft, Will McDonald leads the pack in sack-per-pass rush snaps over the last three seasons (shout out to Matt Owens @ProfessorO_NFL).
- Will McDonald IV – 1 per 27 snaps
- Will Anderson – 1 per 33 snaps
- Nolan Smith – 1 per 36 snaps
- Lukas Van Ness – 1 per 43 snaps
- Myles Murphy – 1 per 45 snaps
- Tyree Wilson – 1 per 51 snaps
As previously mentioned, Will McDonald is an athletic freak who predicates his game on speed and pure athleticism. He would instantly become a threat when Dallas needs to get after the quarterback with his speed rush and deadly spin move. McDonald’s greatest strength is his natural ability to get into the backfield and sack opposing quarterbacks. He holds the Iowa State record for career sacks and shares the record for most sacks in Big 12 history.
Although I believe Will McDonald is the best pure pass rusher in this draft, he is a bit unpolished overall. As a speed rusher, he often has tunnel vision trying to penetrate the backfield and will often be taken out of run plays by over-pursuing. McDonald can be limited by opposing offensive linemen due to his leaner frame and limited lower body strength. He was often asked to take on double teams in college but could struggle early in his career against bigger tackles and guards if his initial step fails him.
Where he fits for Dallas: Overall, Will McDonald is a fringe starter on day one due to his lack of size at the position and weakness in the run game. With Dan Quinn and this current roster, he would not be asked to start day one as Dallas currently has Micah Parsons, Sam Williams, Dorance Armstrong, Dante Fowler, and DeMarcus Lawrence under contract for 2023. This would allow McDonald to learn under Parsons and D-Law and put on some weight before obtaining the starting position in the future. He would be a rotational piece and pass rush specialist as a rookie and eventual 3-down starter.