FRISCO, Texas — The Dallas 2023 draft class was finalized with selection No. 244 on Saturday evening, and with all eight members in the fold, there seem to be a couple of themes jumping out about the class as a whole, but possibly none more than the recent emphasis on finding versatile players in all three phases.
The significance around finding players that can do multiple things has stemmed from Vice President of Player Personnel Will McClay's ideology of positional versatility, which is something that has been especially driven home since the arrival of Mike McCarthy in 2020.
"Coach McCarthy talks about it all the time – it is doing two things," McClay said. "When you can find a player that can do two things at a very high level, it is attractive. We are definitely looking at the different ways you can use a player, and the versatility is key."
The versatility especially began to stick out as the Cowboys went on a five-selection run of versatile playmakers that have experience at multiple positions.
It begins with tight end Luke Schoonmaker, who Mike McCarthy sees as someone that can play in all four positionings that he likes his tight ends to line up in. Whether it be in the receiving game or run block efforts, McCarthy sees Schoonmaker as a player that can step in and provide help in multiple areas.
"What I really liked about Luke [Schoonmaker] is that he was very well-rounded," McCarthy said. "We like everything about him with his physical traits, and he has the ability to play a lot of positions off the ball."
Former Texas linebacker DeMarvion Overshown, Dallas' third-round selection, came into college as a highly rated safety prospect before adding mass to his frame and spinning down to the linebacker position. As his career at Texas went on, Overshown even showed some presence off the edge as a pass rusher. That experience in all three levels of the defense was one of the major things that stood out to the Cowboys' front office during the draft process.
"In the NFL [as a linebacker], you have to cover running backs and you have to cover tight ends," McClay said. "You have to be able to blitz, and you have to play all over the field. You play with two linebackers mostly a lot now with the sub-defenses, and so you have to do a number of different things and then also have to contribute on fourth down and love to play the game. You watch this dude play; you turn on the tape, and it shows he loves to play the game of football."
In the fourth round, Dallas kept the trend alive by taking versatile pass rusher Viliami Fehoko Jr. from San Jose State. During his career as a Spartan, Fehoko moved around the entire defensive line, although mainly off the edge as an athletic presence. He found success in all areas in his senior season on his way to earning the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year award.
"We talk about getting after the quarterback, there are different people who know how to get edges and win consistently," McClay said. "[Fehoko's] ability to do that from multiple spots and do it at a high level, that's really what attracted us to him. You're gonna have to go through and figure out what is the best spot for him and how you use him. One of the things that is great about our defense and how we use them is the multiplicity and how we use them in different spots.
"You can have a mixture of spots like you do on offense, we have defensive packages that offenses have to prepare for because of the multiple skill sets of the guys we have."
Dallas experienced an unexpected need for positional versatility on the offensive line last season when Tyron Smith went down, and Tyler Smith was more than ready to step in at tackle to fill the hole. With almost as much uncertainty on the line going into 2023, landing a prospect like Asim Richards, who has ample experience at both tackle and guard, in the fifth round allows for that flexibility.
"They know that I'm a versatile player who can play multiple positions," Richards said. "I'm able to be that guy for them - whatever they need."
Lost in the feel-good story that Deuce Vaughn's selection in the sixth round ended up being is just how dangerous he makes the running back room immediately upon his arrival. Vaughn's experience out of the backfield both between the tackles, running outside, lining up in the slot, sneaking out into the flat and being a dangerous return specialist allows for Mike McCarthy to play around with his newest offensive toy in multiple ways.
"A reliable pass catcher out of the backfield," Vaughn said about what he adds to the running back room. "Somebody that's going to be able to run routes from the slot. Somebody that's going to be able to run the ball inside, outside and just bring a versatility to the offense as well. Then also special teams since I've been doing a lot in-game just because of my load on offense at Kansas State."
When the draft class arrives over the course of the next week, each will be able to bring a layer that was felt like a need from the Dallas front office, but with multiple guys bringing along multiple things, the potential to make both sides of the ball an increasingly flexible space only grows.
"We talk a lot about each player having the ability to do at least two things – position flex and special teams contribution," McCarthy said. "When we get to the end of this, we'll pick 53 and then primarily we'll try to pull all of our guys onto the practice squad, and then the challenge is always the 48 (game day roster). That's what it comes down to, just the versatility of those players down there at 46, 47, 48 on a Sunday roster."