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Science Lab: Cowboys 7-Round mock gets spicy


(Editor's note: The content provided is based on opinions and/or perspective of the editorial staff and not the Cowboys football staff or organization.)

FRISCO, Texas — It goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway, and with a megaphone glued to my mouth like I'm Joe Clark and this is Eastside High: the Dallas Cowboys need to be the proud owners of one of the best hauls in franchise history when the 2024 NFL Draft is in the books.

No pressure, amirite?

It's one thing to put nearly a year of effort into having a fantastic draft — the goal of each and every one of the 32 teams — but this offseason presents a unique level of pressure. For one, the team has suffered internal hemorrhaging in free agency by way of a mass exodus of talent that mostly made its way to Dan Quinn and the Washington Commanders, with a sprinkling in of other destinations — e.g., the New York Jets, Tennessee Titans and Seattle Seahawks.

These losses include future Hall of Fame left tackle Tyron Smith, starting center Tyler Biadasz, starting running back Tony Pollard, starting nose tackle Johnathan Hankins and impact pass rushers Dorance Armstrong and Dante Fowler, not to mention a rotational defensive talent in Neville Gallimore.


Draft needs (unranked): OT, C, LB, RB, DT, WR, CB

To make matters infinitely more cumbersome, the Cowboys have also signed only two outside free agents, namely Eric Kendricks and Royce Freeman, the former being the needle-mover as it relates to what he still brings to the table in combination with Dallas' dire need at linebacker.

Yes, the 2023 draft class will need to step up big as well, and also the 2022 draft class that flew out of the gate in that respective season, but let's not sugarcoat the fertilizer here: this year's draft class won't have much time, if any, to hit the ground running for head coach Mike McCarthy in the final year of his contract (and, as it stands, he's not the only one in that situation).

Welcome to my one-and-only annual seven-mock draft for the Cowboys, folks. And no time was wasted in wheeling and dealing my way into more picks — in the top 100 (top 110, really), no less.

Shall we draft?

Dallas Cowboys, you're officially on the clock.

Day 1


  • Cowboys receive: 29th-overall pick (first round) + 73rd-overall pick (third round)
  • Lions receive: 24th-overall pick (first round)

*ring, ring*

"Hey Jerry, it's Brad…"

I stood pat at 24th-overall and hoped a team would call for a falling talent, and that's thankfully what happened. Three called, actually, but it was Detroit declaring as eligible to make an offer, but the Lions don't have a 2024 fourth-round pick, and a 2024 fifth-round pick wasn't going to do it for me here — so I made them throw extra chips on the table. They found the deal palatable considering who they wanted and, after the fact, I understood why, after they selected former Crimson Tide offensive tackle JC Latham.

A win-win scenario, considering a couple of other blue chip prospects that I was eyeing were still very much in play for the 29th-overall pick.


  • Cowboys receive: 31st-overall pick (first round) + 94th-overall (third round)
  • 49ers receive: 29th-overall pick (first round)

*iMessage dings*

"[text] Jerry, it's John. Give me a call before you make your pick…"

Once again, I was prepared to make my selection and the phone rang, but this time it was John Lynch and the San Francisco 49ers with a proposition. They're eyeing an electric WR threat they feel might be stolen away from them by the Baltimore Ravens with the goal of combining him with Zay Flowers for Lamar Jackson.

The 49ers have three fourth-rounders in 2024, making them comfortable going a little rich in accepting my counteroffer — risking losing the deal altogether in waving off their initial offer of a fourth-round pick packaged with the 31st-overall pick — in giving me the third-round pick to select who they did.

They grabbed Troy Franklin out of Oregon, an explosive offensive talent (by the way, this is eerily self-aware for an algorithm that clearly is in tune with the situation regarding Brandon Aiyuk, to the point I'm wondering if I was dealing with SkyNet)..

If you're keeping track, the Cowboys entered this mock with no pick in the fourth round but now have three in the third round and, as it turned out, my gambits paid off because one of the top offensive lineman I had circled was still on the board at No. 31.

A titan approacheth. Warn the villagers.

1. Jackson Powers-Johnson, C

  • Pick: Round 1, 31st-overall (via 2024 trade with 49ers)
  • School: Oregon
  • Pre-draft interest: Official 30 visit
  • Honors: Rimington Trophy winner (2023), Unanimous All-American (2023), First-team All-Pac 12 (2023)

Yippee ki-yay (I'll let you say the other part of that phrase for me).

Powers-Johnson's film is enough to make zookeepers nervous, given just how much of an animal he becomes on the field.

Unless you think they pass out the Rimington Trophy — awarded to the best center in all of college football — to any and everybody, you understand exactly how relentlessly dominant this young man has been for Oregon. First, he's a building with appendages and, second, his athleticism is for his size and mass is felonious.

His demeanor invokes brutality, and he is as explosive in carving run lanes as he is in protecting his quarterback. Yes, he's had his share of medical concerns, but consider the fact the Cowboys need to find the next Travis Frederick-level talent, expeditiously, and with a run on offensive tackles causing me to lean more and more toward JPJ, I offer precisely zero apologies for pulling this trigger after trading back not once, but twice.

If you see this as problematic, argue with your dead hamster about it.

Day 2

2. T'Vondre Sweat, iDL

  • Pick: Round 2, 56th-overall
  • School: Texas
  • Pre-draft interest: NFL Combine - Formal
  • Honors: Outland Trophy winner (2023), Unanimous All-American (2023), Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year (2023), First-Team All-Big 12 (2023)

Um … wow?

I know there's a legal situation to be sorted out here by Sweat, but I was honestly shocked to see him still on the board when I went on the clock at No. 56. That's because outside of the aforementioned legal battle, there isn't some laundry list of reports of him being a consistent problem off of the field at Texas (the only other off-the-field knock being he's a college kid who goes to parties) but he's most certainly one on the field for opposing offenses.

And one I'm not willing to ignore in a round wherein the Cowboys usually take their biggest risk anyway.

We're talking about the Outland Trophy winner — awarded to the nation's best interior lineman — who also boasts a list of other elite honors, and who can literally terrify many a center or guard who lines up against him.

Sweat can't be stopped with only one blocker. That's a Lunchable to him. He'll devour double teams that will allow others on the Cowboys' defensive line to eat well, e.g., Mazi Smith, Osa Odighizuwa and especially Micah Parsons and DeMarcus Lawrence. But it's not simply that Sweat can't be moved, it's that he movesthose who are trying to move him.

My only real knock on his skill set is that he's not much for rushing the passer, but that's not what you're asking him to do. If the Cowboys want to continue to work on unlocking Smith's pass rush ability, that's fine, but only if a player of Sweat's caliber is here to allow that to be a thing.

Issues with stopping the run? Not anymore.

And considering I've added two extra top-100 picks, I'm more than fine rolling these dice. Also, to those pointing at his recent weight gain, I pose the following question: would you rather your nose tackle ... lose pounds??


Besides, I trust Zimmer in this situation, if you know what I mean.

3. Dominick Puni, OT/OL

  • Pick: Round 3, 73rd-overall
  • School: Kansas
  • Pre-draft interest: Official 30 visit
  • Honors: First-team All-Big 12 (2023)

Sure, I had eyes on going offensive tackle in the second round.

To do so, however, would've meant I completely ditched BPA (Best Player Available) and leaned almost completely into need; but the reason I was comfortable with flying full speed toward Sweat (the BPA at the time) in the second round was because the run on offensive lineman had all but halted and, remember, I acquired an early third-round pick in my Day 1 trade with the Lions.

Enter Puni, a former Jayhawk who not only makes a living being one of the most massive prospects in this year's draft, mass-wise, but also in his brawling demeanor and a level of athleticism that literally allows him to play at any of the five positions on the offensive line — a trait that is infinitely valuable when considering injuries on the offensive front.

He reminds me a lot of, wait for it, Tyler Smith in that aspect. Puni is a road grader in the run game who earned the role as a starting guard for Kansas in 2022 before being moved to full-time left tackle in 2023; and that's where he really showed what he can do.

He was named First-team All-Big 12 on the blindside, and allowed a total of zero sacks and only 8 pressures at left tackle last season, and that's despite needing to refine his hand placement and footwork on a snap-by-snap basis (so imagine when he gets those things down pat).

Play him on the same line as Tyler Smith, Jackson Powers-Johnson and Zack Martin and you could probably put a traffic cone at running back and it would average six yards per carry.

That, and the fact Prescott would rarely have his cologne sniffed by opposing pass rushers, leading to possibly another season of career-highs for the All-Pro quarterback and 2023 MVP runner-up.

Seriously, who the hell would want to line up against a front of bullies like this and get their lunch money taken for four consecutive quarters??

4. Cedric Gray, LB

  • Pick: Round 3, 87th-overall
  • School: North Carolina
  • Honors: Two-time First-team All-ACC (2022, 2023), Second-team All-American (2022)

One of the most pressing positions of need in Dallas, it was time to turn to the linebackers' pool with the Cowboys' static third-round pick. Already gone were some names I was hoping would slip down the board, e.g., Jeremiah Trotter Jr. out of Clemson, and Gray was easily the most complete LB on the board when I went on the clock with the 87th-overall pick, and there was no way I was going to risk losing him by waiting until my next pick, seeing as the only other player available that I deemed suitable for this pick would've been one running back in particular.

But there would've had to be a run (pun intended) on halfbacks for me to lose out on that prospect while, contrarily, I could've lose Gray on the very next selection.

So, why Gray, you ask? Put on the film, I say.

This is a player who has been a massive contributor to his program and helped lead the Tar Heels to emerging as no longer simply a basketball school.

Gray is a multi-role linebacker who is explosive and instinctual, and has three full years of experience as a starter to help prepare him for the next level. He can cover and blitz equally well, with his only real downside being in how he can be a bit too aggressive at times — leading to a poor angle every once in a while. But put a player with his existing abilities and future ceiling in a room to learn from Eric Kendricks and Mike Zimmer and hold onto your horses.

Oh, and there are no medical red flags, and that is kind of a big deal when discussing linebackers in Dallas nowadays.

5. Braelon Allen, RB

  • Pick: Round 3, 94th-overall
  • School: Wisconsin
  • Pre-draft interest: Official 30 visit
  • Honors: Three-time Second-team All-Big Ten (2021, 2022, 2023)

This is the running back I was referring to above, with Trey Benson having been taken not long before I selected Gray with my 87th-overall pick. With Benson gone, Allen became my target and I was glad to see he was still waiting for me at 94th-overall — using the Day 1 trade with the 49ers to fix my RB issue for the foreseeable future.

I can't love enough what Allen brings to the table, especially with a complementary back like Rico Dowdle/Malik Davis and upstart talent like Hunter Luepke; and if the Cowboys ever do figure out how to utilize Deuce Vaughn.

Allen was invited to The Star in Frisco for an Official 30 visit for obvious reasons. He's a workhorse that turboed to a 4.4-second 40-yard dash in pre-draft display, and his measurables were good enough to beat even Gray on Feldman's 'Freaks List'. When admiring his speed and quickness via his measurables in the spider graph above, also keep in mind that his bench reps were at a remarkable 406 lbs. … as a running back.

It also translates onto the field, if you were wondering, a true-blue dirty-work back who can and will plow through defenders and who makes a meal of attempted arm tackles.

His playing demeanor reminds me very much of the great Marshawn Lynch, sans Skittles, in that all he wants to do is "run through a m*er's face" time and again to beat them into submission over the course of a full contest.

His skill set is one the Cowboys desperately lacked in 2023, but no longer. He won't give you much as a receiver out of the backfield, but in a league dominated nowadays by tandems and much less by a single franchise back, Allen can be the medicine for what ailed Dallas last season in the post-Ezekiel Elliott era.

Every run defense has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.

Day 3


  • Cowboys receive: 108th-overall (fourth round)
  • Vikings receive: 174th-overall (DAL fifth-round compensatory) + 2025 fourth round + 2025 5th-rounder

*WhatsApp notification alert*

"Kwesi? You there? Hear me out … "

You didn't think I was done dealing, did you? Shame on you.

I got back to the wheeling to end Day 2, basically giving up free money (this year's compensatory pick) and an inevitable 2025 compensatory pick (more free money), and threw in next year's fourth so that I could use Vikings' 2024 fourth-round pick. I'm banking on still having a default/static fifth-round pick in 2025, and I will worry about flipping switches for another fourth-round pick next April down the road; and confident that I can whenever the time comes.

I wanted to go on the clock early on Day 3, and for good reason. I was targeting someone in particular here.

Thankfully, the Vikings don't want to upset Justin Jefferson as they sort out contract talks, and having used a first-round pick on Jordan Addison in 2023, Minnesota was open to adding two picks in next year's draft to grant me access to the top-10 table in the fourth round so that I could give Prescott another weapon … with a last name that rings bells.

6. Brenden Rice, WR

  • Pick: Round 4, 108th-overall
  • School: USC
  • Honors: Second-team All-Pac 12 (2023)

We'll never get to see Jerry Rice in a Cowboys' uniform, but his son might do nicely.

With Michael Gallup no longer in Dallas, there's promise in what Jalen Tolbert might be able to do in elevating to the role, but it's also true that I can't shake my read on Rice when looking at the draft value of grabbing him in the fourth round. There are plenty who have him with a third-round grade so the chances of him making out of the first 10 picks or so to start Day 3 are slim-to-none, let alone all the way to the fifth round.

Rice is a prototypical outside X receiver, as Gallup was, who can use his length, size and sticky grasp to high point catches in traffic with defenders glued to his hip.

He's experienced as well, a transfer to USC from Colorado (pre-Coach Prime) and was a touchdown machine for the Trojans in 2023; and his body control is exceptional, leading to a plethora of outstanding grabs that others simply can't make (including having plenty of toe-drag swag, like Gallup).

His combined collegiate career average of 16.4 demonstrates how much of a torture rack he can be to the opposing secondary — an imposing talent with both the pedigree and the alpha dog mentality it takes to make plays at the next level, and one who was ranked 53rd on Bruce Feldman's Freaks List.

​​"The biggest Freak of the [WR] bunch is the one with the heftiest football bloodlines, Brenden Rice, son of the greatest receiver ever, Jerry Rice," wrote Feldman. "The younger Rice, who had 39 catches for 611 yards (15.7-yard average) and four touchdowns in 2022, is 6-3, 215 pounds and hit 23 MPH on the GPS and had an impressive 1.43 10-yard split. This offseason, Rice also vertical-jumped 38 inches, did 17 reps of 225 on the bench and squatted 525 for three reps."

Rolling all of this into thoughts of pairing him with CeeDee Lamb for the next several years, and with Jake Ferguson torching the seams, is enough to make you grab a bib.

Also, Rice never, and I mean never, stops running to try and get open. He is a quarterback's dream because if they're forced out of the pocket, and to buy time to make a throw, Rice will always find a way to get open — never giving up on the play.

Just ask Heisman Trophy-winner Caleb Williams.

If this generation's Rice can refine his footwork to his father's levels — the former being good at routes but not elite, yet — to avoid wasted movement pre-route, he'll be a machine for Dallas.

I want the Rice to boil.

The added bonus here is obvious, in that his father would have to cheer for the Cowboys.


  • Cowboys receive: 178th-overall (fifth-round)
  • Steelers receive: 216th-overall (DAL compensatory) + 2025 sixth-round pick

*raven lands softly, Omar Khan unrolls note, curiously*

"Dearest Pittsburgh, I bid thee grand tidings…"

Having given this year's fifth-round pick to the Vikings to move to the early fourth-round and select Rice, I wasn't exactly comfortable waiting until the sixth round to make another selection, so I didn't. Instead, I packaged this year's sixth-round compensatory pick with the default/static 2025 sixth-round pick and sent to the Pittsburgh Steelers on the first thing smoking — moving back into this year's fifth round at 178th-overall.

I'm completely fine foregoing a sixth-round pick under these circumstances, especially one that was a compensatory pick to begin with, because free money. As for next year's, well, it won't exactly take an Act of Congress to get back into that round next year.

Now, let's guarantee this LB issue is put to bed once and for all, shall we?

7. Ty'Ron Hopper, LB

  • Pick: Round 5, 178th-overall (compensatory)
  • School: Missouri
  • Pre-draft interest: Official 30 visit
  • Honors: Two-time Second-team All-SEC (2022, 2023)

I was fully prepared to double down at linebacker if things shook out that way, and they did, though I had to put some effort into making sure they did. Having grabbed Gray in the third round — a multi-faceted linebacker — and seeing Hopper fall had me grinning ear-to-ear.

I envisioned pairing Gray's ability with that of Damone Clark, DeMarvion Overshown, Eric Kendricks (for 2024) and Hopper, and felt great about the future of the position, and without question marks regarding injuries.

Hopper has done great work against other NFL-ready talent in the SEC, earning him an Official 30 visit in Dallas and putting him on my radar long ago. He has the speed and agility to contain/go after running backs in the flats and gaps but to also carry tight ends up the seam.

And I do mean speed, folks, with his 4.5-second 40-yard dash being good enough for the 94th percentile among this year's linebacker prospects. So why is he still around in the fifth-round?

Likely because he isn't as prepackaged as others like Gray, Trotter, Cooper or Wilson, to name a few examples, but using him as a draft double down to help pour concrete over the LB position is a no-brainer for me.

He's a similar build to Overshown, so Zimmer wouldn't suffer a physical drop-off when spelling the former third-round pick who is also working his way back from a torn ACL.

8. Ro Torrence, CB

  • Pick: Round 7, 233rd-overall
  • School: Arizona State

I didn't see a reason to jump back into the sixth round, in looking at those still available, confident I could address my quiet need at cornerback late on Day 3. I was rewarded for my patience by being able to use a flier on a talent like Torrence, who intrigues me in several ways. The former Sun Devil is a boundary corner who specializes in press man coverage, as opposed to being afraid of the contact and preferring zone.

Torrence excels at disrupting the timing of receivers at the line of scrimmage, especially those who don't match up with his build, and it's that very 6-foot-3, 208 lb. frame that also allows him to go toe-to-toe with bigger wideouts (ahem… AJ Brown).

He needs to improve his ability to take the ball away, but it's not for lack of being in the right place at the right time. He routinely is, as film readily shows, and that's how he was able to lead Arizona State last season with eight pass break ups and 26 tackles.

A few other key notes about the redshirt junior, per the University:

  • Allowed only 20 receptions in coverage last season — the lowest tally among Pac-12 corners with at least 300 snaps played in coverage in the regular season and the 14th-lowest tally among all FBS corners
  • Allowed only 225 yards to receivers in coverage in 2023 — the lowest in the Pac-12 regular season and the 16th-lowest tally in the FBS.
  • Allowed only 0.72 yards per coverage snap — fourth in the Pac-12 and 31st in the FBS
  • Allowed only four plays of more than 15 yards — t-6th lowest in FBS regular season
  • In Cover 0 or Cover 1: Allowed only five catches on 101 coverage snaps — the lowest tally among FBS corners in the regular season.
  • Allowed only a 31.3 percent completion rate in man coverage in 2023 — 6th-lowest in the FBS.
  • Allowed only 50 yards in Cover 0 or Cover 1 — 4th-lowest in the FBS and his forced incompletion rate of 31.3 percent was 11th among FBS corners (min. 100 snaps)

As you can imagine, however, his size is both a gift and a curse. It gives him a lot of range and his length is disruptive, along with the fact he's often a sticky cover guy. The downside is in going against smaller wideouts who win at the line of scrimmage with their release.

If that happens, Torrence will need to have linebackers and/or safeties who can sometimes come to the rescue on breaking routes.

He reminds me of a Nahshon Wright's height and length, but with more mass, and considering it's Wright's contract year, and the future is eternally unknown, it's smart business to see what Hopper can be as a depth piece on defense, a rabbit in the hat for bigger receiver matchups and a special teams contributor.

9. Khalid Duke, EDGE

  • Pick: Round 7, 244th-overall
  • School: Kansas State
  • Honors: Second-team All-Big 12 (2023), 2023 Honorable Mention Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year (2023), 2022 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week (2022 vs. Texas Tech)

As we come to the conclusion of a harrowing mock draft that addressed all of the Cowboys' needs, and with a lot of firepower, there was still one area that wasn't addressed that I believe should be: edge rusher. After all, as I mentioned in the intro to the mock draft, the Cowboys lost both Armstrong and Fowler to free agency, and while they can at least hope for a solid leap forward from a very-capable Williams, they don't know what they have behind him.

Junior Fehoko enters Year 2 with no game film from Year 1, Durrell Johnson is just as young and unproven, and Chancey Golston is more of an interior player who, admittedly, might see some reps on the edge but, again, there's no way to know how much he contributes there.

This is where Duke comes in for me.

He started in 34 games for Kansas State, 26 starts since 2022, and finished his 2023 season with a career-high in sacks (6) and tackles for loss (8). He's built similarly to Armstrong, also a former Big 12 standout, and is a true defensive end that bests Armstrong in wingspan, arm length, broad jump and bench press — though their measurables are eerily similar in many other areas.

In looking for a possible replacement for Armstrong both defensively and on special teams, I could see Duke having a solid chance of making the team and wasn't confident I could guarantee myself he'd end up on my roster in undrafted free agency (where money starts to come into play).

Duke has a fiery motor that goes to the whistle and his spin move doesn't look collegiate at all. It looks like you could dry clothes with it. If he can add to his arsenal with other moves and countermoves and work on using his strength (and improving his anchor) to drive through would-be blockers with the same efficiency that he usually runs around them, his upside could be one to watch.

A developmental talent, for sure, but one I'm not risking to UDFA status.

And, with that, the Cowboys turn seven draft picks into nine with this mock draft, and carry an impressive haul into the summer that could at least reinvigorate a fanbase that is profoundly melancholy following free agency.

It's a draft class that can help to win right now, and not just later.

And, now, we march onward to the real thing this coming Thursday in Detroit, and cheers to the Cowboys hopefully having as much fun with that one as I did with this. Otherwise, what's the point?


Fair Eastsiiiiidddeeee….

Pre-draft selection spots (7):

  • Round 1, 24th-overall
  • Round 2, 56th-overall
  • Round 3, 87th-overall
  • Round 5, 174th-overall (compensatory)
  • Round 6, 216th-overall (compensatory)
  • Round 7, 233rd-overall (from 2022 Raiders — Johnathan Hankins)
  • Round 7, 244th-overall

Final draft selection spots (9):

  • Round 1, 31st-overall (from 49ers)
  • Round 2, 56th-overall
  • Round 3, 73rd-overall (from Lions)
  • Round 3, 87th-overall
  • Round 3, 94th-overall (from 49ers)
  • Round 4, 108th-overall (from Vikings)
  • Round 6, 178th-overall (from Steelers)
  • Round 7, 233rd-overall
  • Round 7, 244th-overall

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