FRISCO, Texas — The anticipation leading into the NFL Draft on Thursday night, and the suspense building into selection No. 26, concluded with Dallas selecting the future of its run-stop strategy in certified large human, Michigan defensive tackle Mazi Smith.
While the selection seemed straightforward considering one of the only things that Dan Quinn's top-end defense lacked from a year ago (a consistent rush defense), the pick was something that couldn't have been forecasted in years past, especially by the Cowboys' front office itself that had a long history of keying in on aggressive pass-rushers in early rounds.
"The difference, philosophically, in what this defense is (now) and how we have it structured, (having) a key player with that much lead, base, that much strength, that much disruption as opposed to how many sacks he gets," Jerry Jones said in the post-first round presser. "That kind of thinking, you wouldn't have seen that from us ten years ago, nine years ago."
What's the easiest marker to indicate the difference between what the philosophy was roughly a decade ago compared to today? Enter Will McClay, who has expressed the need for having athletic run-stoppers that can get the Dallas defense ahead in early down situations, and Mike McCarthy who has been able to hammer home that line of thinking since his arrival.
"When Mike (McCarthy) came in here, he talked about building a bigger, faster, stronger football team," McClay said. "We've continued to do that and when you look at Mazi and the way teams run the football now – and the way things have changed when you look at our division – a guy that can stop that and add that value to our defense, he can be a disruptive force."
A disruptive force, indeed. At 6-foot-3, 323 pounds, Smith abuses interior offensive lines with his aggression off the ball, especially in getting into the pad level and forming a wall in that interior. The trait was so consistent that when the front office was heading for the exits on Wednesday night, McCarthy had a feeling that he knew who their guy would be on Thursday.
"We were walking out the door yesterday, and (McCarthy) goes 'Mazi,'" Jerry Jones said. "This was something that worked that way for us."
When draft night concluded, the Cowboys were able to officially pair Smith with the recent re-signing of Johnathan Hankins to complete the vision that had been in the works for years.
"It points directly into the vision that we have, and the acquisitions are right on time," McCarthy said. "We definitely hit the target."
What was once a vision that the front office had has now turned into a vision that they have going into training camp this summer. While it took a while to find the right guy for the role, it comes at a perfect time as Smith places himself as a puzzle piece into what could be an historic defensive composition in 2023.