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Draft Central | 2023

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Mazi Smith 'Designed To Play Physical Football"


FRISCO, Texas - The Cowboys have their guy. Their big guy.

Dallas used the No. 26 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft on Thursday night on University of Michigan defensive tackle Mazi Smith, a position of need to help out their run defense that struggled a season ago in what was otherwise one of the strongest overall defenses in the league.

So, what exactly does Smith bring to the table? It can actually be summed up in one word.

"Dawg," Smith said. "Big dawg. Big fella. Big physical guy. Never been afraid of contact… A guy that's going to get into somebody's face. A guy who ain't going to make it easy." At 6'3 and 323 pounds, it's hard to disagree with Smith's own self-assessment.

There's no shortage of physicality (and personality) that Smith will inevitably bring to the table once he steps on the field for the first time as a member of the Cowboys alongside the likes of Micah Parsons, who was beyond ecstatic on television when the pick was announced. Fortunately, the feeling was mutual from one Cowboys' first round defensive draft pick to another.

"Micah… He's a dawg" Smith said. "I'm excited I have someone like that happy to have me on the way there and I'm happy to be there. Happy to help them and hopefully he helps me too."

Nearly every draft analyst has lauded Smith's natural athletic ability combined with his power and speed from the interior defensive line, and with good reason. The Michigan native was a four-star recruit out of Kentwood High School outside of Grand Rapids, Mich. while racking up multiple All-State and Under Armor All-America awards his senior year.

As a two-year starter with the Wolverines, in 2022 Smith posted 88 tackles, six of which came for a loss, along with four pass deflections, a forced fumble and a half sack. That earned him First-Team All-Big Ten honors as well as the team defensive player of the year, and now, a first-round selection of the Cowboys.

Smith's most outstanding traits begin and end with his ability to simply dominate and overwhelm opposing offensive linemen and thus shut down running games, something the Cowboys lacked a season ago. When asked what allows him to be so successful when it comes to stopping the run, Smith again let his calm but confident and matter of fact demeanor shine through.

"Man, I'm like 325 pounds," Smith said dryly. "And then I have real power in my hands. I've been strong my whole life. My mom says I came out of the womb looking like I did push-ups… I figured out how to use (my strength) on the field, figured out the right technique, figured out the right stance to get into and started striking blocks and making sure they went back."

The good news for Smith was that when he received the call from owner/general manager Jerry Jones, there was no confusion on what the Cowboys will be tasking him with in the future in terms of excelling at his strengths… And working on his weaknesses.

"They told me that first and foremost my job was to come in and be that elite run defender they need in the middle of that defense. And then after that, my second job is to show everybody that I can work at the edge and that I can affect the quarterback. That's something that I need to work on and hone in on."

Like most young players coming into the NFL, it's only natural that they look to try and find their own comps of players already in the league performing at a high level, and Smith is no exception, identifying Jeffery Simmons of the Titans and Daron Payne of the Commanders as guys he watched to learn from as bigger and physical players that "play the game the right way," Smith said.

But if there was anything to take away from Smith as he spoke to the media shortly after being selected it was this - there is no denying his love of football and more specifically - the physicality of it.

"I love the physicality man," Smith said passionately. "Football has been taking care of me my whole life. I've been playing since I was seven… So, I don't know what I would do if I couldn't put that helmet on to hit somebody. That's just my nature [and] in my blood.

"It's just something that I feel I was designed to do and forever thankful to God that I got this opportunity."

The Cowboys got their big guy - indeed.

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