The Cowboys have themselves a formidable quartet of defensive rookies.
Remember when the draft unfolded earlier in the year? Cowboys fans were eagerly waiting to see whether it would be Patrick Surtain II or Jaycee Horn wearing the star next. Then, calamity struck and both were gone. A quick trade-back yielded Micah Parsons, a pick that many were unhappy with. The second day’s picks for Dallas were similarly received, with many wondering who Osa Odighizuwa and Chauncey Golston even were.
Well, it’s officially time to eat crow. It’s only been four games so far this year, but it seems that the Cowboys have gotten themselves some really special pieces on defense. We have yet to see Kelvin Joseph and have barely glimpsed Nahshon Wright, Jabril Cox, and Israel Mukuamu. But the guys we have seen play thus far have given us plenty of reason to never doubt this team’s talent acquisition skills ever again, especially after the performances they had Sunday against the Panthers.
Micah Parsons, LB
Sunday’s game was probably a good indication of what Micah Parsons’ role will be going forward. After playing primarily at EDGE the last two weeks, Parsons saw a lot more usage as an off-ball linebacker, although he routinely kicked down to the line of scrimmage on third downs and obvious passing downs.
This was in part due to Chauncey Golston (more on him soon) seeing more action after making his NFL debut last week. And with Bradlee Anae likely coming back next week, as well as Dorance Armstrong and DeMarcus Lawrence eventually returning, there won’t be as much of a need for Parsons to play exclusively on the edge.
That’s likely for the best anyway. First of all, Parsons’ two-game stint as an edge rusher – during which time he was eighth among all edge rushers in pass rush win rate – has solidified his status as a versatile chess piece for Dan Quinn, so being able to alternate him between playing off the ball and up on the line of scrimmage opens things up more.
And, perhaps more importantly, it allows Parsons to play more. After playing less than two thirds of all defensive snaps the last two games, Parsons played on all but one snap Sunday. Unsurprisingly, the rookie continued to play well. Parsons finished with four tackles, a sack, a tackle for loss, and a hit on the quarterback. Again, it’s only four games so far, but it’s hard not to be wildly impressed with how the Cowboys’ top rookie has played.
Kelvin Joseph, CB
Kelvin Joseph is still on the injured reserve list, though he’s now eligible to be activated. There are whispers that Dallas could do so in the coming weeks, but for now that’s all we have to say about the rookie cornerback.
Osa Odighizuwa, iDL
If it weren’t for Micah Parsons, Osa Odighizuwa might be the guy on everyone’s lips. Coming into Sunday’s action, Odighizuwa trailed only Parsons in total pressures by a rookie this year. Then Odighizuwa went and had himself a game, routinely penetrating the backfield and making things difficult for Sam Darnold. He was credited with just a half sack, but also landed three hits on the quarterback, a continuing trend for him.
Osa Odighizuwa has seven quarterback hits through four games.
That’s three more than any Cowboys defensive tackle had in 2020.
— Bobby Belt (@BobbyBeltTX) October 3, 2021
Another aspect of Odighizuwa’s game that has continued to remain steady is his versatility. Quinn has been deploying him all over the line of scrimmage, and it’s clearly worked for the rookie. He’s quickly become a force up front, which is still a surprise considering Quinn had initially planned to utilize him solely on passing downs.
Whereas Parsons was pretty much counted on as a key starter from the beginning, Odighizuwa’s is a case of a player who was pushed into action much earlier than anticipated when Neville Gallimore went down. To see him respond so incredibly is a testament to the player and the coaches working with him. Odighizuwa looks to be a special building block for Dallas.
Chauncey Golston, EDGE
Chauncey Golston deserves some special recognition. After missing basically all of training camp, including every preseason game, he made his NFL debut last Monday. Before then, the last time he wore pads and actually competed was in college, nearly a whole year ago. In his debut, Golston had three tackles, two hurries, and two pressures.
In his second game as a professional, and coming just six days later, Golston notched five tackles, split a sack with Odighizuwa, and landed a hit on the quarterback. Like his fellow rookies, Golston seemed to be all over the field, constantly getting penetration and creating problems for Darnold. He’s another player who Quinn sees as versatile, having the ability to play both inside and out, and Golston’s performance Sunday was a solid step forward in his very young career.
Nahshon Wright, CB
Don’t look now, but John Fassel might have a new favorite special teams ace. Nahshon Wright logged 22 special teams snaps against the Panthers, second-most on the team. It’s a continuing trend for the rookie, who was always going to have to contribute on special teams early.
Most intriguing, though, is that Wright seems to be replacing C.J. Goodwin. Last year, Goodwin’s 324 special teams snaps (over 70% of all special teams snaps) easily led the team. So far this year, Wright leads the team with 74 snaps (just over 66%), while Goodwin’s in third place with 67 snaps (just under 60%). Goodwin did have an injury in the preseason, and this may just be a case of Fassel easing his ace back into things, but it could also be a sign of the times.
Jabril Cox, LB
So, Nahshon Wright leads the Cowboys in special teams snaps and C.J. Goodwin is third. Who’s between them? None other than Jabril Cox, of course. His 72 snaps on the year so far are just behind Wright, and his 19 special teams snaps on Sunday tied with Goodwin and Corey Clement for third-most in the game. The day will soon come when Cox gets to play by Parsons’ side on defense, but for now he’s making his presence felt on special teams.
Josh Ball, OT
Josh Ball is still on the injured reserve, though he can be activated at any time. With Terence Steele playing so well and La’el Collins’ return officially in sight, the Cowboys may be content to effectively just redshirt Ball for now.
Simi Fehoko, WR
After Malik Turner, a core special teamer for Dallas a year ago, returned from the injured reserve this week, Simi Fehoko was inactive for the game.
Quinton Bohanna, iDL
Quinton Bohanna may be getting overshadowed by the more splashy play of Parsons, Odighizuwa, and now Golston, but the massive nose tackle from Kentucky is continuing to fill his role well. It’s a thankless job, as Bohanna is often tasked with anchoring the defensive line on early run downs and redirecting runs. He won’t play too much – he had 17 snaps Sunday, only slightly below his regular numbers – and won’t register too many tackles, with zero in this game.
But the Cowboys run defense has yet to surrender 100 rushing yards to running backs this season. The Panthers were the first team to run for 100 total yards at all, and it was Sam Darnold’s 35 rushing yards that helped put them over. Bohanna has been an integral part of this revamped run defense, even if it doesn’t always show up in the stat sheet.
Israel Mukuamu, S
Israel Mukuamu was inactive for this game after seeing minimal special teams action the past few weeks.
Matt Farniok, OG
As has been the case for the last few games, Matt Farniok continues to work in kick protection for Greg Zuerlein. His five special teams snaps came on extra points and the lone field goal attempt. Farniok continues to get these snaps over Brandon Knight, which is a curious trend.
Even last season, when Knight was frequently starting on offense, he was third among offensive linemen in special teams snaps, routinely playing on kicks like Farniok is this season. But while Knight has been active in every game this year, his three offensive snaps at the end of the Eagles blowout win remain the only time he’s seen the field at all. Is Knight in the dog house, or is Farniok just proving that valuable to the Cowboys’ special teams?
Nick Ralston, FB
For the second week in a row, Nick Ralston was elevated from the practice squad for game day. And for the second week in a row, he was relegated to special teams work as we got to once again glimpse at the beauty of fullback Connor McGovern.
In total, Ralston was in on 16 special teams snaps, the fourth-highest amount for any Cowboy on Monday. The fact that Dallas has now brought him up in back-to-back games for special teams duties speaks to their opinion of him, and we might need to get accustomed to this for the rookie.