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Mailbag: Equipped To Defend Top TEs On Schedule?

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The Cowboys will have to match up against elite tight Ends Kyle Pitts, Travis Kelce and Darren Waller this year. (Yes, I called Pitts elite already, so sue me.) We also have to play really solid tight ends like Evan Engram twice, Irv Smith, Noah Fant, Dallas Goedert/Zach Ertz, Hunter Henry, Gronk/O.J. Howard. As of today, how do you feel Dan Quinn's defense is going to handle all of this firepower at tight end? — CAMERON HAMRICK / MINT HILL, NC

Rob: Great question and observation. We'll found out. On paper I guess you can argue they're better equipped to handle those matchups. The Cowboys think free agent signing Jayron Kearse has the frame and range to cover tight ends. Jabril Cox is as effective in coverage as any linebacker in the draft. So I think the club's focus on adding athletic defenders with length is a step in the right direction. But you're right, there are some really talented opponents on the schedule.

Jonny: I'm not sure, to be honest. As you went on listing players, there are certainly some that scare me less than others, but your point stands. Jaylon Smith didn't inspire much confidence last season to believe that he could handle Kelce and Waller (and yes, perhaps Pitts). Unfortunately, I'm not sure Micah Parsons is the solution either. He's a playmaker and an athlete, but I don't know that covering elite playmakers is something he looks capable of handling his rookie year. The guy I'm intrigued to see get a shot at covering tight ends is Jabril Cox. His coverage skills look tailored to today's NFL game. I just don't know how heavily he'll be in the rotation this season.

While much has been said regarding this year's draft and its grade, TBD is probably the fairest assessment at this time. But let's play what-if and think hypothetically. What if Micah Parsons and Kelvin Joseph both pan out and are first-year major contributors for the defense and possible starters? What grade would you then give this year's draft class? — JOHN WALKER / AUSTIN, TX

Rob: Probably an A or close to it, especially if at least one of the three third-round picks contributes early too. I agree that handing out grades now is beyond premature. Some say you need to wait 3-5 years to do that. But if Parsons and Joseph are impact players this season, then the early draft grade should be pretty strong, regardless of what the rest of the rookie class initially does.

Jonny: Well, if we are starting from the baseline hypothetical that their first two picks will be very good, then I'd probably give them an A. If the hypothetical is "good enough to warrant snaps on a bad defense, but ceiling is still unknown" then I'd probably go with a B-. They reached with a few players. They drafted players with off-the-field concerns and just said they "did their homework." And the most pessimistic version of me wonders if they used their first-round pick on a guy who they'll overpay in four years. But you're right, it's all TBD. And all these guys have evident talent. If Joseph looks as good as Trevon Diggs last year then the whole draft starts looking a lot better, and I certainly wouldn't rule that out.

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