The bold gamble the Dallas Cowboys took with their draft class

Dallas Cowboys Round 3, Pick 66 - Mazi Smith - DT/NT Michigan
Dallas Cowboys Round 3, Pick 66 - Mazi Smith - DT/NT Michigan /

Jerry Jones is an oil man. As such, he’s built his fortune on the back of gambles so it probably should be of no surprise the Dallas Cowboys embraced the risk/reward nature of their draft picks in 2023 and swung big.

Recent years the gambles in Dallas have dwindled. With Stephen Jones taking on the top day-to-day role, conservative nature has prevailed. Perhaps Jerry won a fight or perhaps Stephen unwittingly lost sight value and bet the farm. Whatever the cause, the Dallas Cowboys have taken a gamble with their top-3 draft picks.

The Dallas Cowboys are expecting all three of their top draft picks to be better professionals than they were college players.

Mazi Smith, Luke Schoonmaker and DeMarvion Overshown are all trait-guys, physically equipped for the NFL game.

Mazi Smith is a physical marvel at the 1-tech, showing quickness and athleticism rarely seen in the NFL. The only issue is he was (at least partially because of scheme) a fairly one-dimensional player at Michigan.

He was stout against the run and that’s about it. He didn’t prove his worth as pass-rusher making half of his game about projection. His floor as a run stopper is high, but if he never develops skills that provide pressure up the middle, he’ll go down as a waste of a first round pick.

One dimensional run-stuffers are important in the NFL but they aren’t valuable. 3-down DTs are valuable. Look around the NFL, versatile 3-down IOLs are making as much as any non-QB position in the NFL these days. While elite one-dimensional run-stoppers like Johnathan Hankins are roughly minimum wage players. There’s an enormous chasm between the two.

Smith’s first round value is almost completely based on his ability to pressure from the inside. His traits say he can but until he proves it, he’s an enormous risk.

Luke Schoonmaker is another player whose value is based on projection. Schoonmaker played in a run heavy scheme at Michigan that averaged less than 25 passing attempts per game. He didn’t get tested much as a pass-catcher and only had 35 receptions for 418 yards his final season as TE1.

The Dallas Cowboys are banking on his athletic ability winning out and untapped receiver traits bubbling just beneath the surface. If Schoonmaker can show that he’s be worth the second round pick. If he never develops that and remains just a run-blocking TE, he’ll go down as a poor pick because run-blocking TEs can be found well after the first two days. In fact, Dallas already has a good one in Sean McKeon (also from Michigan).

DeMarvion Overshown is the third traits player the Dallas Cowboys drafted in the top-100. He had an up and down college career and enters the NFL a little unfocused and undeveloped. If the Cowboys can aim his focus and make him a reliable player in that role, they could have a great player on their hands. But Overshown could land a couple of different ways depending on his development so the gamble is real because the possible outcomes have a wide variance.

All draft picks are inevitably gambles. But these three players are being asked to be something they weren’t in college and that’s noteworthy. Every once in a while a college player who’s been held back a bit in his program goes on to become a better pro. It’s not the norm, but it happens sometimes.

The Dallas Cowboys are banking on that with all three of their top picks.

It’s gambling time.