Patrik [No C] Walker joined the Dallas Cowboys digital media group as a staff writer and media personality in July 2022, having professionally covered the NFL and, more specifically, the Cowboys since 2007.
He most recently did so for CBS Sports by way of 247Sports, where he also spent time delving into collegiate recruiting as well – ultimately becoming well-known for his level of unapologetic objectivity labeled by many as his own unique brand of football "science".
Welcome to "The Science Lab", a place where football facts and in-depth analysis always triumph over feelings.
FRISCO, Texas — Kick the tires and light the fires. We're right up against the start of the 2023 NFL Draft and, I know, you've been mock drafted into oblivion when it comes to who everyone thinks the Dallas Cowboys will select with their seven picks in Kansas City. There's a reason I only release one mock draft annually though, and it's because I'm waiting to get all of the information before trying to solve the football equation.
I mean, it is science, after all.
And so here we are, with the Cowboys coming off of a masterful offseason that did not lack for headlines — e.g., trading for Stephon Gilmore and Brandin Cooks — and their decision to part ways with Ezekiel Elliott kicked open the door for plenty of speculation at that position.
Oh, and Dalton Schultz no longer leads the tight ends.
With one pick in each of the seven rounds to start, but none in the front half of any round, the conversations inside their war room will be robust, especially if players they love start falling, or risk going sooner than anticipated. In 2022, they awarded five of their nine picks to defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, but will head coach Mike McCarthy look to fill his toybox in preparation to call the offensive plays in 2023?
Let's find out, shall we? My one-and-only annual Cowboys mock draft is here, and it's a barrel of dynamite.
(Mock generator: Draft Network)
1. Bijan Robinson, RB
- Pick: Round 1, 26th-overall
- School: Texas
- Honors: Doak Walker Award Winner, Unanimous All-American, 2x First-Team All-Big 12
You're not even remotely as stunned by this as I am, I assure you.
I literally cackled like The Joker once the mock generator got to the 20th-overall pick and this guy was still on the board. It was at that point that I considered trading up into the early 20s to grab him but I stood my ground, fully prepared for Robinson to be snatched up before the Cowboys went on the clock but, alas, there he was at No. 26 looking at me with eyes that housed a silent but fervent vow to destroy all of my football foes; and so I caved.
After all, while I've been very vocal about how Dallas doesn't need to take a running back in the first round, I've also made it clear my mother didn't raise a fool though, so with Robinson still in play, and with no need to give up a draft pick to go up and get him, I grabbed him (and I'm not sorry).
Five years of control over a player who is comparable to Jonathan Taylor, for pennies on the dollar, who'll mix his unbridled explosiveness with that of Tony Pollard in an offense that also saw Brandin Cooks added to a WR corps that also features CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup, along with a tight end room led by Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot?
Opposing defenses are going to press charges against the Cowboys, but Commissioner Gordon won't be able to save them.
2. Steve Avila, iOL
- Pick: Round 2, 58th-overall
- School: TCU
- Honors: Consensus All-American, 2x First-team All-Big 12
Spoiler alert: The NFL draft does not end on Day 1.
So while you were potentially upset I didn't pass on Robinson to take an offensive lineman, I was already plotting on how to get a plug-and-play left guard on the roster to help Pollard and Robinson devour souls. My patience and strategy again paid off when, much to my surprise, my top-rated interior offensive lineman was still there for the taking and, again, without the Cowboys having to move a muscle.
O'Cyrus Torrence (Florida) was scooped up at 39th-overall by the Panthers, with Darnell Wright (Tennessee) leaving at 33rd-overall to the Steelers, and that cleared the path for Avila — an Official 30 visit — to make the short commute from Fort Worth to Frisco to set up his new locker.
Avila is a road grader who gets the job done in both pass protection and as a path-clearing, girthy human being whose frame absorbs power punches with a sort of muffled laughter. Even when TCU was being run out of the building by Georgia in the National Championship Game, there was Avila still playing as if the score was tied at zero — a team captain with a perpetual motor who leads by example both on and off of the field. Now, are you OK with Robinson at 26?
I forgive you, now hug me and sit back down at the table, because I'm not done cooking.
DAY 2 TRADE:
- Cowboys receive 80th-overall (2023)
- Steelers receive 90th-overall + 212th-overall (2023)
3. Sam LaPorta, TE
- Pick: Round 3, 80th-overall
- School: Iowa
- Honors: Kwalick–Clark Tight End of the Year, First-team All-Big Ten
Much to my chagrin, Darnell Washington (Georgia) became the newest New York Jet with the 45th-overall pick, and I knew that would impact what I did in this round. With Michael Mayer (Notre Dame) the first off of the board at No. 21 to the Chargers and Dalton Kincaid going next at No. 24 to the Jaguars, there was a bit of a run on TEs — drawing an audible growl from me.
I kept my eyes glued to LaPorta, though, and when he was still on the table at 79th-overall, I had seen enough. Not willing to risk losing out on such a stout talent at the last second, and truly going for a hat trick in my first three picks, I got on the phone and sent my third-round pick and my sixth-rounder to the Steelers to acquire their third-rounder.
And, with that, the former Hawkeye joins Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot to form one of the most dangerous TE rooms in all of football, with neither of them being over the age of 24.
LaPorta runs the complete route tree and with the crispness and agility to separate like a WR. His hands are softer than whale blubber and passes settle into them with ease, LaPorta rarely ever dropping a target.
He's also super athletic, a YAC provider who tortures linebackers and DBs after the reception and one who landed a RAS (Relative Athletic Score) of 9.02 out of a possible 10 — his direct physical comp (Evan Engram) landing a 9.11 in 2017. For perspective, in 2022, Ferguson’s was 6.80 and Hendershot landed at 8.40. He'll need polish as a blocker, but he's a playmaker right out of the box in the receiving game, often reminding me of Tyler Higbee on film.
4. DeMarvion Overshown, LB
- Pick: Round 4, 129th-overall
- School: Texas
- Honors: First-Team All-Big 12, 2x Butkus Award semifinalist, Alamo Bowl Defensive MVP
It's time to give Dan Quinn a new toy, yes it is. That comes by way of Overshown, one of the Cowboys' Official 30 visits whom I also drew a gold circle around at the NFL Combine as a target to watch. Seeing him available late in the fourth round felt great to my value equation, to say the least, and I'm sure Longhorns fans won't mind my double dip into their cabinet of talent.
The situation at linebacker in Dallas isn't pretty, but you can thank Leighton Vander Esch from throwing it into dire straits this offseason — re-signing to keep the top two spots intact and ready for impact (along with Damone Clark). But the release of Devante Bond this week highlights issues on the depth chart that include existing question marks on Jabril Cox in conjunction with Luke Gifford leaving in free agency, meaning the Cowboys only have practice squad talent competing with Cox for the right to play as LB3.
Overshown solves that problem for me, and in a big way. There are some projections that saw him going as high as the third round (a few had him gone in the second round), and for good reason. This is a former safety turned linebacker whose development into the latter jumped leaps and bounds last season in Burnt Orange attire.
His knowledge as a safety is often deployed as a LB in that he's arguably the best coverage linebacker in the entire class, and that fits magnificently with what Quinn should tandem with the skill sets of Vander Esch and Clark. His presence will make it difficult for passing offenses to attack the center of the defense, and he can also get after the QB quite effectively on an occasional blitz package; but count on Overshown to produce PBUs and generate INTs.
5. Tyler Scott, WR
- Pick: Round 5, 169th-overall
- School: Cincinnati
- Honors: Second-Team All-AAC
Meep meep, pyurn! My original plan was to stick to the defensive side of the ball in the fifth round, likely eyeing an interior defensive lineman, but then the Roadrunner burst out of Cincinnati and right into my lap. I admittedly slid my scale closer to BPA here, and I make no apology for it when considering Scott's ability, but it's a selection that also solves the post-Cooks equation, seeing as the veteran isn't on a long-term deal at the moment.
Scott isn't entirely unlike Cooks in either speed or size, a turbo-charged talent who is an absolute nightmare for every Wile E. Coyote hoping to play defensive back against him. The former Bearcat comes off of a season that saw him rank 19th in the entire nation in receiving touchdowns and averaged … wait for it… 16.95 yards per catch in his past two seasons.
Scott is a vapor on a go route and equally lethal with the ball in open space, providing the exact complement to CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup that Cooks does, but for the next four years on a rookie contract (I never take off my GM hat, folks). Adding him gives him the ability to spell Cooks in 2023 and learn from him as well, while also providing insurance as a kick returner behind KaVontae Turpin.
Scott clocked a 4.44s 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine but had been recorded at a 4.29s burst previously, just to give you an idea of what he truly is, and he's also an athletic freak who wildly outplays his size. If he can trust his hands a little more often, he'll be a nuclear weapon.
7. Dante Stills, iDL/FLEX
- Pick: Round 7, 244th-overall
- School: West Virginia
- Honors: 2× Second team All-Big 12, 2× First team All-Big 12
Thankfully, I was still able to squeeze in interior defensive line addition and with it being Stills getting the handshake, all the better. I wasn't willing to risk Stills to undrafted free agency knowing how many teams would be after him, considering he's a technician with his hands and has the ability to flex to multiple positions across the defensive line.
No, he's not going to be your definitive nose tackle behind Johnathan Hankins, and I had my eyes on a few of those to this point but that's simply not how my draft unfolded, and the reason I'm fine with that is because Hankins gives me another year to figure it out; and I'd task Quinton Bohanna to take a leap this offseason to show me if I actually still need to have the discussion in 2024.
As for Stills, his hands are master class and they're violent, also attached to long arms that extend with ferocity in the chestplate of opposing linemen. His motor is relentless, his size is ready for NFL action and though he's not the flashiest in the bunch, you'll notice him instantly once he puts an OL in the blender with a spin move that is already better than some NFL pass rushers.
Of course, there's a reason Stills was still around in the seventh round, and it's because he needs to learn secondary and tertiary pass rush moves along with countermoves. I can think of no better place for him to grow in that regard than with Quinn in Dallas, which also affords him the ability to learn from both DeMarcus Lawrence and Hall of Fame pass rushers DeMarcus Ware and Charles Haley — resources that helped Micah Parsons become what he is today.
Stills isn't Parsons, but he can be an impact rotational player with a ceiling to be more in the future if he glues himself to what the legends in Dallas have to teach him.
To me, this is a possible low-risk, high-reward grab at No. 244.
First UDFA Signing: Chad Ryland, K (Maryland)
With both Jake Moody and Jack Podlesny taken in the sixth round, I opted to roll the dice on Ryland being available in undrafted free agency versus using my final selection on him. Turns out, I was right, because there he was waiting for the negotiation.
Ryland isn't as decorated as Podlesny or Moody, but what Ryland lacks in those arenas he makes up for with potential.
A transfer from Eastern Michigan, where he spent four seasons before heading to Maryland, Ryland finished his collegiate career with an extra point accuracy rate of 97.3% and after a slow start as a freshman in FG attempts, improved every year to average higher than 85% in his last three seasons — making him worth a late-round grab (or undrafted free agency).
He'll need to work on his consistency, but his right foot has gunpowder in it and the ball explodes off of it at long distances. I'd like to believe that, with his skill set, he'd be ripe for John "Bones" Fassel to turn him into what Greg Zuerlein was in his prime.
"From Thursday's First-Round party to Friday's Live Music and a Saturday 5K run, celebrate the NFL Draft with us. Join us for Draft Weekend presented by Miller Lite, April 27-29, at The Star in Frisco"