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High Low

High Low: Is DT role in Dallas still a draft need?


FRISCO, Texas — The exodus in free agency at several positions really put the Dallas Cowboys in a crunch as they finish building their board for the 2024 NFL Draft. From linebacker to offensive line to running back to their defensive front, and more, there are several positions that need addressing; but with only seven current picks to their name, they've got to be wise in their approach.

In looking at their defensive line, particularly the interior, it's impossible to ignore the loss of Johnathan Hankins to the Seattle Seahawks and Neville Gallimore to the Miami Dolphins, seeing as those two attritions thrust a brighter light on both the realm of starter and backup in Dallas.

But only one year after using a first-round pick on Mazi Smith and a fourth-round pick on Villiami "Junior" Fehoko, are the Cowboys interested in circling back to address the position yet again?

The brand-new series "High Low" dives into it, with each edition to follow focusing on a different position group leading up to draft week.

Odds: High

Mazi Smith: There is an immense amount of pressure on Smith to be a dynamic player in 2024, for a couple of reasons. The first is that he got the nod as the team's first-round pick in 2023, and marked only the second time the Cowboys have addressed the position that high in the NFL draft since the selection of Russell Maryland in 1991 — Maryland going on to have a decorated championship career. The other is because the safety net that was Johnathan Hankins is no longer present, and with Dallas also not adding a veteran nose tackle to replace Hankins in free agency, it's crystal-clear they're looking for Smith to bulk back up after losing major weight as a rookie to dominate the interior like he did at Michigan.

Osa Odighizuwa: In looking at the interior of the Cowboys' defensive line, Odighizuwa is, right now, the only player the team can truly point to and say "that's him". Never willing to settle for his most recent breakout season, the veteran, but still young 3-tech is often a gamechanger at his position. He can defend the run as well as regularly disrupt the backfield to take down the opposing quarterback, making him a perfect complement to what Micah Parsons and DeMarcus Lawrence achieve on the edges. But while I hate to be "that guy" here, you also need to be reminded that 2024 is a contract year for Odighizuwa, and that should make you uncomfortable when considering the current state of affairs at the position.

Chauncey Golston: Also entering a contract year is Golston, and he has much more to prove this season than does Odighizuwa, given the fact Golston has mostly been relegated to special teams and rotational duty on defense — to this point. He was able to earn three starts in 2023, the first three of his career, and he's flashed at times but only has a career-high mark of 1.5 sacks. With Gallimore and Hankins both gone, there will be ample opportunity for Golston, a former third-round pick (2021) to potentially break out this time around. The Cowboys certainly need him to, only to then try and figure out his future immediately thereafter.

Carl Davis: Returning for another go with the Cowboys is Davis, who was re-signed this offseason to a one-year deal, though not necessarily one that you'd treat as definitive insurance in the event that, for whatever reason, Mazi Smith doesn't take the leap forward. Davis feels like a quality depth piece who'll compete behind Smith this summer, but I wouldn't rule out the Cowboys also keeping an eye on the draft and continued free agency here. Davis, a 32-year-old journeyman who spent the last half of 2023 on the Cowboys' practice squad, will do his best to stick around.

As you can see, there are too many question marks at the defensive tackle position for Dallas to entirely ignore the position(s) in this year's draft. It's possible they could try and utilize Junior Fehoko on the interior at times to bolster their depth but, entering his second season after having not earned snaps as a rookie, there's also a lot to be determined there as well.

I don't see a scenario in which the Cowboys' use a premium pick here, but don't rule anything out if a guy like Byron Murphy or T'Vondre Sweat falls into their lap.

Otherwise, a Day 3 pick feels like the right call.

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