Underrated Prospects Cowboys Must Prioritize in 2021 NFL Draft

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistApril 7, 2021

Underrated Prospects Cowboys Must Prioritize in 2021 NFL Draft

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    Matthew Hinton/Associated Press

    Coming off a 6-10 season, the 2021 NFL draft is going to be crucial for the Dallas Cowboys

    With Dak Prescott coming back healthy and on a new contract surrounded by weapons on offense, the Cowboys have a great chance to be one of the NFL's most improved teams in 2021. Adding additional support through the draft is going to be key to unlocking that potential. 

    After the 2020 season, the team's needs are clear. The defense has to be better. Bringing on Dan Quinn as the defensive coordinator was a step in the right direction, and they've made some moves in free agency to patch up some of the holes on the team last season. 

    But the team's best ticket to improvement over the long haul is still through the draft. The Cowboys own the No. 10 pick and should be able to get a difference-maker there, but the real key is uncovering some talent with their six picks that fall outside of the first two rounds. 

    Here's a look at a few players they should be targeting with those picks who could wind up playing a major role down the line. 

Jordan Smith, Edge-Rusher, UAB

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    Matthew Hinton/Associated Press

    The Cowboys pass-rush was pedestrian last season. Their 31 sacks and 22.8 percent pressure percentage were uninspiring and largely spearheaded by DeMarcus Lawrence and Aldon Smith. The duo combined for 11.5 sacks and 46 pressures

    Lawrence is 29 years old, while Ed Werder of ESPN reported the Cowboys have informed Smith he won't be returning. Bringing in Tarell Basham helps, but there's still work to do in building a rotation of pass-rushers. 

    It's a need that could be addressed sooner rather than later, but targeting a high-upside rusher like Jordan Smith would be a prudent move either way. 

    At 6'6" and 255 pounds, Smith has the length and frame to become an effective pass-rusher at the next level. Smith's college football journey was marked by several transitions as he went from Florida to junior college after a 2017 suspension, but he was highly productive in two seasons at UAB. 

    Smith posted 12.5 sacks and 23.5 tackles for a loss in his two years as a starter for the Blazers. Strength is the biggest concern for Smith, but if he can get stronger while maintaining his explosiveness, he could be a late-round steal. 

Spencer Brown, Offensive Tackle, Northern Iowa

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    Rusty Costanza/Associated Press

    Most of the Cowboys' needs reside on the defense, but what they plan to do at tackle is going to be interesting. Tyron Smith is coming off a major injury and is on the wrong side of 30. La'el Collins is also coming off an injury, although he's only 27 so there's a better chance he bounces back. 

    Signing Ty Nsehke as a veteran swing tackle guarantees they avoid the situation that happened last year where the offensive line plummets because of injury. But taking a developmental prospect who could be Smith's successor makes a lot of sense. 

    Spencer Brown fits that bill perfectly. 

    There are questions about how the FCS product will transition to the NFL, but the potential, like his frame, is massive. 

    At 6'8" and 311 pounds, Brown is still filling out his massive frame, and he didn't transition to the offensive line until college. Brown's relative athletic score of 10.0 is the highest an offensive lineman has posted going all the way back to 1987, tying with Taylor Lewan for a perfect score.

    Brown could sit behind Smith this season and give them a realistic out from the pricey veteran in 2022.

Tay Gowan, Cornerback, UCF

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Cornerback is such a pressing need for the Cowboys it seems likely they will use the 10th pick to address it. Whether it's Patrick Surtain II, Caleb Farley or Jaycee Horn, the Cowboys are likely going to find their second outside corner early in the draft. 

    That shouldn't stop them from looking to go back to the well for another corner later in the draft, either. 

    If there's one thing the Cowboys should have learned over the last few seasons it's that you can't have too many cornerbacks. The desperate need has been created by the loss of Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie in each of the last two free-agent cycles. 

    Gowan has good size (6'2", 185 pounds) and possesses good-not-great athleticism, which is likely why he isn't being considered with the top corners in the class. But when you consider his production at UCF, there's proof he knows how to make his traits work for him. 

    According to PFF data, Gowan allowed 25 yards or fewer in nine of his 12 games for the Knights. He's an optimal target if the Cowboys eschew picking a corner early, and he still makes sense even if they do given the importance of the position.