There may well be 31 sets of fans all thinking the same thing, but no NFL team faces a more pivotal 2021 NFL Draft than the Dallas Cowboys.
At the start of the 2020 season, things were looking promising for head coach Mike McCarthy's offense: QB Dak Prescott was on course for a record-breaking year for yards thrown, and the much-talked-about WR trio of Michael Gallup, Amari Cooper, and CeeDee Lamb were clicking into gear ahead of him.
Of course, we all know what happened: Prescott suffered a compound fracture to his right ankle and spent the rest of 2020 on IR, which put a serious dent in the Cowboys' title aspirations.
Even before Prescott's injury, it wasn't all a bed of roses for Cowboys fans anyway: there were issues along the offensive line with the secondary:
Dallas has an exceptionally talented OL that was simply derailed by injuries last year; indeed their three best offensive linemen - Zack Martin, Tyron Smith, and La’el Collins all had their struggles. So, with regards to the 2021 NFL Draft and beyond, there's not much of a pressing need for the Cowboys to acquire new talent along the OL (some never hurts, mind!); more important, in my opinion then, that Dallas looks to make significant additions to a secondary that just wasn't up to scratch at times.
Rookie CB Trevon Diggs started the year off slow but began to pick up form at the midway point of the season -- he'll play a prominent role come autumn as he bids to make that CB spot his own for the long term.
Besides that decent half-season from Diggs, Dallas' secondary was poor, ranked 28th in the NFL via PFF, having managed to give up 16 passing touchdowns of +15-yards. In fact, when opposing QBs targeted their receivers +10 yards downfield, the weak Dallas secondary surrendered the second-worst passer rating (123.6) in the entire NFL.
In short, the secondary needs a lot of work in this year's draft, so that's where I focused most of my attention on the mock.
2021 NFL Draft: Top five NFL draft prospects the Dallas Cowboys should pursue in rounds one to five.
Dallas currently owns five picks in the top 115 at the 2021 NFL Draft: first-round: No. 10; second-round: No.44; third-round: No.75 & No.99, and fourth-round: No.115.
Take a look at the first five potential picks for the Dallas Cowboys in this year's draft.
#1 - Patrick Surtain ll, CB, Alabama
As mentioned, the Dallas Cowboys need to fix the secondary in time for the autumn: the pass coverage department was the chink in Mike McCarthy's defensive armor last season. Others might insist the Cowboys take an offensive lineman with their first pick, but with so many key linemen simply absent/out of form through injury last season, I'd be willing to risk better luck on a fit OL in 2021 and then cough up this first pick to fix the secondary.
Patrick Surtain II, son of former Miami Dolphin Patrick Surtain, is the highest rated CB in this year's draft.
In 2020, Surtain II was named a pre-season All-American. His in-season form did little to detract from that title: Surtain ll chalked up 116 total tackles and four interceptions for the Crimson Tide; he was also named the Defensive MVP in Alabama’s 31-14 defeat of Notre Dame at the Rose Bowl.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban recently spoke with The Dallas Morning News about Surtain ll:
"The guy’s got really good skills to play the position. He’s very instinctive. He’s got great length. He’s got great size. He’s a good cover guy. He’s got really good feet. He’s smart. He understands the game. He understands the offense and what they’re trying to do. He’s always really well prepared."
Dallas had already drafted a CB from Alabama in 2020: Trevon Diggs, whose all-round play in the second half of last season was a beacon of hope for the Cowboys' secondary.
Judging by the tweet below, Patrick Surtain II certainly likes the idea of reuniting with his former Alabama teammate Diggs in Dallas:
For me, Surtain ll is the best available player on the board to upgrade the Cowboys' weakest position, so this one should be a no-brainer, assuming he's still on the board. Then again, it's a draft, so who knows?
#2 - Patt Freiermuth, TE, Penn State
Dallas TE Dalton Schultz is a decent football player, but with the TE position taking on increased significance in the modern game, and with Schultz lacking the power and hands of someone like Travis Kelce, or the pace of Darren Waller, I'm just not sure he has the athleticism required to be elite. So, in my humble opinion, Dallas needs to upgrade the TE position.
If for some reason Kyle Pitts (Florida) drops right the way down to No.44, which is almost certain not to happen, you'd take him.
Failing that, Kwalick-Clark Big Ten Tight End of the Year Pat Freiermuth is a decent second-option at the position.
During his junior and sophomore years at college (2018 & 2019), Freiermuth tallied up a combined 875-yards and 15 TDs, as he was named to the PFF All-Big Ten first team.
Sure, Freiermuth made just four starts last season before missing the remaining of 2020 with a shoulder injury that required corrective surgery. But before that, he was the team captain; third on the team in receptions (23) and yards (310), and was the two-time Coaching Staff Player of the Week for games vs. Indiana and Nebraska -- he's a talent!
Assuming Freiermuth's shoulder heals, the Penn State product is the consensus agreed second best TE in the 2021 NFL Draft, so he's more than likely in the Cowboys' crosshairs already.
#3 - Cameron Sample, Edge, Tulane
The simple truth is that I had intended to pluck for an OL with the Cowboys' third-pick, but Cameron Sample was still on the board, so I took the best player available to help sure up a misfiring Cowboys defense.
Sample started every game for Tulane in 2019 and finished his junior campaign with 44 tackles. He also chalked up 1.5 sacks.
In 2020, the improvements continued: 52 tackles, 5 sacks, and 1 fumble recovered.
Sample is also a highly versatile defensive piece: with the Green Wave he lined up at DE and LB, proving himself effective at stopping the rush and hitting the passer in both positions.
The Cowboys defense gave up 5-yards per carry to opposing running backs in 2020 (29th in NFL) -- Sample could be the player to fix that.
#4 - Jamar Johnson, S, Indiana
A potential nickel-safety hybrid coming out of Indiana, Jamar Johnson ranks in most analysts' top five safeties in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Stepping in for Marcelino Ball, the then-starting Indiana safety who suffered an ACL tear during preseason training, Johnson ended up leading the Hoosiers with four interceptions in 2020 (8th). The athletic safety also chalked up 43 tackles in eight starts. Such a form saw Johnson receive All-Big Ten honors.
If Dallas is serious about upgrading the secondary, Jamar Johnson is the best player available on my board (at least) for the Cowboys at pick No. 75.
#5 - Jamin Davis, LB, Kentucky
If you check out our Saints mock draft, you'll have noticed that Kentucky linebacker Jamin Davis keeps dropping down the board, appearing as high as a late first-round pick in some mocks, but as low as a late fourth-round pick in others.
Here, he dropped to the early fourth-round, meaning the Cowboys could steal in.
Davis made 48 solo tackles and hit 1.5 sacks from linebacker position for the Kentucky Wildcats during 2020.
The former Wildcat would add some real athleticism to their defense and provide valuable competition for the likes of Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch.
For the record, I took OL in rounds six and seven.
What do you make of our picks for the Cowboys in the 2021 NFL Draft? Sound off in the comments section below: