FRISCO, Texas – Nothing is guaranteed on draft weekend. Especially when predicting where certain prospects will slot in and how teams will react as the NFL Draft goes along. Conversely, one thing that can be calculated is the potential fit for specific position groups.
A tough task, particularly when evaluating the defensive unit, where there may not be a large "need" compared to the work that could be done offensively. But attacking the draft isn't just about the current roster situation, it's about building the future of the franchise.
As the Dallas Cowboys prepare to add new prospects to the roster, they'll have to measure out the value, need, and risks to accurately make their decisions for the draft class. Will the needs outweigh the value? Or will the value overshadow the needs at a particular moment in time? It's a balancing act that all teams go through, even if the answer is as simple as taking the best fit.
With all those factors in play, here is one 2023 NFL Draft prospect that fits the Dallas situation for each defensive position.
Edge Rusher: Will McDonald IV, Iowa State
If you think there are already an ideal number of edge rushers on the roster with the likes of Micah Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence, Dorance Armstrong and more? Add another one. McDonald fits the mold as a different style than the other rushers on the roster and brings a finesse game clad with speed and length. His constant production as a three-time All-Big 12 honoree in Ames gave just a glimpse of his next-level production. Teams will have to decide if he can add some power to his finesse game in the NFL. But for now, that gives Dallas a welcome change-of-pace.
Interior Defensive Line: Mazi Smith, Michigan
For a team that has excelled in rushing the passer but struggled to stop the run over the last few years, a big nose tackle could be the missing piece. Dallas secured that midway through last season with the addition of Jonathan Hankins. And while he re-signed with the Cowboys this offseason, even he isn't a long-term fix for the run defense. That's where Mazi Smith comes in. One of the best run defenders in all of college football last season, Smith tallied a team-high 25 pressures and 48 tackles. He plays with incredible strength and flashes some lateral quickness when shedding blocks. His addition to Dan Quinn's front seven could help free up multiple playmakers around him for years to come.
Linebacker: Daiyan Henley, Washington State
Other than retaining Leighton Vander Esch this offseason, there was a lack of addition at the linebacker spot through free agency. Anthony Barr is no longer in Dallas and there is a certain level of confidence in the current youth at the position with Damone Clark, Jabril Cox, and Devin Harper. However, outside of Clark and Vander Esch there isn't a clear plan for the linebacker spot moving forward. Dallas has done their research by interviewing top linebackers line Drew Sanders (Arkansas) and Trenton Simpson (Clemson), but Daiyan Henley continues to look like the right fit. Not only would it not take a first-round pick to grab him, but his sideline-to-sideline speed and natural instincts are both NFL ready traits with room to grow.
Cornerback: Emmanuel Forbes, Mississippi State
With the addition of Stephon Gilmore this offseason, paired with the outside shot of a top tier prospect falling, cornerback doesn't appear to be an option in the first round. Even with that, there is a proven track record for Dan Quinn when scouting the position and it all starts with length and athleticism. Emmanuel Forbes displays both in bunches with a 79-inch wingspan and 6-foot-1 frame. The ball-hawking cornerback tallied six career touchdowns during his college career including three pick-sixes in his six total interceptions in 2022. He does lack the ideal weight for the position at just 166-pounds, one of the lowest numbers for a cornerback in the history of the NFL Combine. Despite that hurdle, Forbes plays bigger than his frame and continued to add his long list, or 'Forbes List', whenever he was given the opportunity.
Safety: Jason Taylor II, Oklahoma State
Dallas is in a comfortable spot at safety, at least for now. Entering 2023, Donovan Wilson returns from free agency to complete a reliable starting trio with Malik Hooker and Jayron Kearse. Making the safety unit more secure than in years past and it won't be sitting at the top of the "early needs" list. Taylor could fit the mold that Dan Quinn wants to see from a developmental safety and the draft value for the position. He's built more like a linebacker, measuring a fraction under six feet tall and plays downhill with aggression like one too. His high-motor and special teams ability would make an impact early, even as a late-round selection. The potential is promising too, with one of the longest wingspans in the safety class and plenty of production in college. As a day three pick, which is where Dallas can really hunt safety, he'd be a great add.