FRISCO, Texas – The Cowboys entered this year's NFL Draft without "musts" in their mind, but they did have immediate position needs in the first three rounds -- among them, pass rusher
following Randy Gregory's free agent departure in March.
That's why Dallas didn't hesitate to select Ole Miss defensive end Sam Williams with the 56th overall pick on day two of three.
"In the NFL, the passing numbers are going up and you have to get pressure on the quarterback," vice president of player personnel Will McClay said. "Here, you have a guy that's got wide receiver speed, he's got length, strength and knows how to rush the passer as well as play the run."
Williams' draft stock jumped considerably this spring after he earned All-American honors with 10.5 sacks (tying Ole Miss' single-season record) and four forced fumbles in 2021, his additional year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pre-draft evaluation process included some off-the-field questions about Williams in addition to his on-field talents.
Ole Miss indefinitely suspended Williams in July 2020 after he reportedly was arrested on a sexual battery charge. The charge was dropped two months later and Williams returned to the team, posting four sacks and a team-high eight tackles for loss in the final 10 games that season.
"Obviously I didn't do anything, and now it's a new life, a whole new start ahead for me," Williams said. "That's what I'm looking forward to the most is a new start in a new area with great coaches, great teammates and my family. … Hey, I got another shot at life. That's not me. That's not going to determine the person I am. I pray to God that's not going to put a label on me."
Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said the team "thoroughly investigated" Williams' off-the-field matters.
"We've had a keen interest in him, and we spent a lot of time talking with a lot of people that know him real close and also from a distance," Jones said. "We're very satisfied that we're good with this pick."
Williams was one of the Cowboys' "Top 30" pre-draft visits at The Star and also went through workout drills with defensive coordinator Dan Quinn during the Ole Miss pro day.
Without Gregory, who had 6.0 sacks and 30 pressures in 12 games last season, the Cowboys are looking to replace his production through a rotation that includes Williams, Dorance Armstrong and free agent signing Dante Fowler Jr.
Two-time Pro Bowler DeMarcus Lawrence also signed a new three-year deal that helped the club create necessary salary cap space.
Williams is confident he can have a positive impact, too.
"I'm relentless, I'm a beast. I'm a dog. I love the game," he said. "I've studied the game. And they're gonna get a player that wants to play, wants to win, wants to do his job, wants to go over and beyond. I can talk about it, but I'm just ready to show it. I'm ready to get my cleats on and do what I have to do to show that I'm one of the best guys in this draft class."