How good was the Dallas Cowboys' 2021 rookie class beyond Micah Parsons?

play
Cousins over Dak? Stephen A. can't believe this Mad Dog take (2:05)

Stephen A. Smith emphatically debates Chris Russo over Kirk Cousins and Dak Prescott. (2:05)

FRISCO, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys' 2021 draft became an instant success because of Micah Parsons.

The linebacker was the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year. He became the first rookie in franchise history to earn first-team All-Pro honors. He was named to the Pro Bowl. He put up a team-record 13 sacks and invigorated a defense that had a major turnaround from 2020.

But what about the rest of the 11-man class?

It was ... OK? It will need to be better in 2022.

Oftentimes last season, coach Mike McCarthy talked about the second-year jumps of the 2020 draft class.

None was more obvious than cornerback Trevon Diggs, who intercepted a league-high 11 passes and was named a first-team All-Pro like Parsons in his second season. Receiver CeeDee Lamb, the 2020 first-round pick, led the Cowboys in receptions and yards, and he was added to the Pro Bowl.

Defensive tackle Neville Gallimore's 2021 season was impacted by a hyperextended elbow in training camp, but the Cowboys believe the 2020 third-rounder will be a force. Fourth-round pick Tyler Biadasz started every game at center.

The Cowboys are going to need second-year jumps from 2021 picks Kelvin Joseph, Osa Odighizuwa, Chauncey Golston and some others if they are to be successful in 2022, because the team has already said it will not be able to keep all of its 21 unrestricted free agents or add significant players in free agency because of the salary cap.

Here's a look at the 2021 class beyond Parsons:

CB Kelvin Joseph, second round (No. 44 overall)

What he did: He played in only 10 games with two starts after an illness in the offseason and a groin injury during training camp. With Jourdan Lewis missing a game, Joseph moved to a starting role against Washington and performed well. He was credited with 13 tackles, one tackle for loss and two pass deflections.

What the hope is: He might be the key to the overall success of the draft class. Joseph has natural ability but never found a rhythm to his rookie season. If the Cowboys make fellow corner Anthony Brown ($6.5 million salary-cap number in 2022) a cap casualty, that tells you the coaches believe Joseph is ready to make the second-year jump. Diggs was able to play a lot more than Joseph in his rookie season so it would not be fair to expect Joseph to make a similar second-year jump, but there is hope he can be a major part of the defense in 2022.

DT Osa Odighizuwa, third round (No. 75 overall)

What he did: He made 12 starts after impressing the coaches when Gallimore injured an elbow in the preseason. Odighizuwa was credited with 34 tackles, two sacks, four tackles for loss, 12 pressures, a fumble recovery and a pass deflection in 645 snaps. Maybe his play tailed off down the stretch as part of hitting a rookie wall, but he showed he can be counted on in a big way.

What the hope is: They'd like him to become more disruptive in the run and pass games. He stepped in immediately and impressed the veteran offensive linemen with his strength. He knows how to deal with the rigors of a full season and has learned some tricks in dealing with savvy lineman. Teamed with Gallimore, the Cowboys could have some real quality on their interior defensive line.

DE Chauncey Golston, third round (No. 84 overall)

What he did: He missed all of training camp and the preseason because of a hamstring injury but ended up playing 414 snaps as part of the defensive line rotation. He had 33 tackles, one sack, eight pressures, one fumble recovery and a pass deflection. He also scored a touchdown off a blocked punt.

What the hope is: Can he replace Dorance Armstrong, who is set to be a free agent? The Cowboys would like to keep Armstrong, but Golston could move into a bigger role if Armstrong gets a bigger deal elsewhere. Golston has some natural pass-rush skills, and despite missing training camp, he was not out of place. A year in a full offseason program, plus a preseason in 2022, could earn him a bigger role in the D-line rotation, especially with the futures of Randy Gregory and maybe DeMarcus Lawrence unknown.

CB Nahshon Wright, third round (No. 99 overall)

What he did: In 13 games, including one start, Wright had seven tackles on defense. He had two tackles on special teams. He scored a touchdown off a blocked punt in the regular season. Seventy-four of his 91 defensive snaps came in the finale against the Philadelphia Eagles.

What the hope is: He was a surprising pick last spring but showed in the offseason and in training camp that he could make plays on the ball. He has the length coordinator Dan Quinn wants in defensive backs (6-foot-4, 190 pounds). He was a core special-teamer in 2021, but the hope is he could move into one of the sub packages in 2022. His size makes him an outside corner only, but he moves well even against shiftier receivers.

LB Jabril Cox, fourth round (No. 115 overall)

What he did: He was developing into a core special-teamer but tore an ACL after just seven games. He was credited with one tackle on defense, playing nine snaps. He also had one tackle on special teams.

What the hope is: He needs to get healthy first, but the belief is he will be ready for a full training camp and preseason. The Cowboys will need linebacker options to play alongside Parsons given that Leighton Vander Esch and Keanu Neal are set to become free agents. Can the Cowboys count on Cox for a major role on defense coming off the injury? That doesn’t seem likely, but they loved his production at LSU and North Dakota State and felt he was developing at a good rate before the injury.

OT Josh Ball, fourth round (No. 138 overall)

What he did: He was on injured reserve the entire season because of an ankle injury suffered in training camp. He was able to practice late in the regular season but was not added to the active roster. The Cowboys effectively had him on a redshirt season.

What the hope is: The Cowboys have signed veterans as the swing tackle in recent years, with Ty Nsekhe filling that role in 2021. Can Ball handle that spot if Terence Steele becomes the full-time starter at right tackle? From his early work last summer, it was obvious he needed to work on his strength. The time in the weight room last year could be a help as he looks to earn a spot this season.

WR Simi Fehoko, fifth round (No. 179 overall)

What he did: Not much, but some of that was due to the depth of the receiver group in 2020. He wasn’t going to take snaps away from backups Cedrick Wilson, Noah Brown or Malik Turner. All three are set to be free agents this offseason. Fehoko played just seven offensive snaps and did not catch a pass.

What the hope is: He needs to impress in the offseason program and through training camp and preseason. At Stanford, he showed the ability to make big plays, averaging 18.5 yards per catch. He had lapses with his hands when he saw action in the summer. Given the uncertain status of the whole group, the Cowboys should add a few more receivers to the mix in the draft, which would put him under the microscope to impress to re-earn a roster spot.

DT Quinton Bohanna, sixth round (No. 192 overall)

What he did: He made one start in the 14 games he played and was credited with 12 tackles and a quarterback pressure. He brought size (327 pounds) to the defensive line and had a good start to training camp and early in the season, but he played just 223 snaps.

What the hope is: He takes a bigger role as a nose tackle/run plugger. He has the physical skills to bring some pass rush. Carlos Watkins is ready to hit the market, as is Brent Urban. For years, the Cowboys have relied on undersized tackles to help slow the run. Bohanna has to be more consistent in his technique to earn the coaches’ trust in his second season.

S Israel Mukuamu, sixth round (No. 227 overall)

What he did: He played in just four games after moving from cornerback at South Carolina to safety with the Cowboys. He played just 20 defensive snaps and contributed on special teams but did not accrue any stats.

What the hope is: He needs to become a core special-teamer at the very least. The Cowboys have a decent history of late-round picks becoming good special-teamers. He has the length (6-foot-4) Quinn wants in defensive backs and can cover a wide range. With Jayron Kearse, Damontae Kazee and Malik Hooker heading to free agency, Mukuamu could work his way into a larger role in his second year.

OL Matt Farniok, seventh round (No. 238 overall)

What he did: He spent most of the season on the active list. He dressed for five games and played a total of 23 snaps. In training camp, he played all three interior offensive line spots.

What the hope is: Given the likelihood of Connor Williams' departure in free agency and the potential ascension of Connor McGovern to a starting role, the Cowboys would want Farniok to be a legitimate option as the top backup interior lineman on game days. He needs to get stronger, which is something that should happen given a full offseason program.