Mazi Smith, DT
When the Cowboys drafted Smith in the first round of the 2023 draft, draftniks were shocked. Not only was a DT selection extremely uncommon for the Cowboys in the first round, but Dallas was in “win-now mode” and selecting a project player seemed like a missed opportunity for a team trying to seize the moment.
Smith was both strong and athletic, well deserving of an early selection. But DTs traditionally take time to develop and Smith’s pass-rushing technique was as raw a plate of steak tartare. Patience would be key for the Cowboys rookie pick.
With that said, Smith was expected to contribute. Dallas didn’t have the luxury of stashing and grooming a first-round pick. He had to play, and in the opportunities he was given, he had to play well. The Cowboys were thin in the middle and after Johnathan Hankins, they didn’t have much girth at 1-tech.
Smith was expected to rotate with Hankins inside. He wasn’t expected to add much in the pass-rush department but he had to stand up against the run.
Expectations were modest, but by many accounts, he’s failed to meet them.
Smith has only logged 127 snaps for Dallas this season. Chauncey Golston, Osa Odighizuwa, Hankins, and even Neville Gallimore have earned more snaps than the rookie. In the snaps Smith has had, he’s performed poorly, logging the lowest grade of all Dallas defensive linemen this season.
Smith has been slow to react and all too often moved off the ball in short yardage situations. The Cowboys have moved him around, searching for a place for him to shine, without much luck.
Is he a bust?
Certainly not. As stated before, DTs take time and Smith is an especially raw prospect as a pass-rusher so he’ll need extra time. But even with modest expectations, the first rounder has disappointed this season. Hankins is carrying the full load of the position and that’s more than just a little concerning.