'The NFL is Darwinism' -- Which Cowboys have been put on notice?

Offseason moves by the Cowboys have put pressure on 2021 second-round cornerback Kelvin Joseph. Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

FRISCO, Texas -- The NFL draft has come and gone, and the Dallas Cowboys feel good about their additions. If they didn’t, then something would be seriously wrong.

Those picks have created some in-house winners and losers.

ESPN's Bill Barnwell named Tony Pollard as a “winner” in the draft because the Cowboys didn’t select a running back until the sixth round in Deuce Vaughn, believing it could lead to a multiyear agreement with the franchise player before the July 17 deadline.

Pollard wasn’t the only winner for the Cowboys, and a few players drafted in recent seasons could qualify as “losers" because of how the Cowboys approached the draft, especially when you consider legendary Dallas coach Tom Landry’s three-year rule -- a player has to show he can contribute after his third season -- isn’t really in vogue anymore.

“You really have to think quicker about these players, and developmental time is different than it was before,” said Will McClay, the Cowboys' vice president of player personnel. “They don’t have two-a-days [practice], they’re coming from college football that’s played differently than the NFL. ... So they have to have that indoctrination period, but that period better come fast and it better be in a hurry because we need the young guys to play because that’s the only way you can have a team with 53 players and survive.”

One member of the Class of 2020 (defensive tackle Neville Gallimore) and three from the Class of 2021 (cornerbacks Kelvin Joseph and Nahshon Wright and defensive tackle Quinton Bohanna) have been put on notice by what the Cowboys have done this offseason.

“What it says about those guys is ‘Hey, the NFL is Darwinism. It’s a dog-eat-dog world. The strong survive,’” McClay said. “So what it means for those guys, there’s somebody coming to take your job. It’s your job and opportunity to hold that.”

Joseph is one of the Cowboys’ best special-teamers, but that’s not enough as a former second-round pick, who has not taken advantage of his opportunities at cornerback. In Week 15, he gave up two touchdowns in the loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars and was benched in favor of Wright. After playing 37 defensive snaps in that game, he played just two in the final three contests. He is, at best, CB5 if not CB6 behind Wright.

The Cowboys traded for Stephon Gilmore to add to a core of Trevon Diggs, DaRon Bland, Jourdan Lewis, who is coming off a serious foot injury, and they gave up a 2024 fifth-round pick to move up and take Eric Scott Jr. in the sixth round.

Wright has also struggled in his opportunities, especially with penalties. By the end of last season, the Cowboys went with waiver-wire pickup Trayvon Mullen, since released, and Israel Mukuamu, a safety, for meaningful snaps.

Gallimore had a difficult time in the defensive line rotation in 2022. He was inactive for the wild-card playoff win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Bohanna was inactive for both playoff games and two more regular season games, while missing two more due to injury.

The addition of Mazi Smith and the re-signing of Johnathan Hankins puts Bohanna as the third nose tackle at the moment. Gallimore, who is entering the final year of his contract, saw the Cowboys draft Viliami Fehoko in the fourth round -- and several members of the organization say defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is a huge fan of the San Jose State rookie.

While the draft could be good news for Pollard, it was also good for backfield mate Ronald Jones, whom the Cowboys signed as a free agent after he spent last season with the Kansas City Chiefs. While owner and general manager Jerry Jones has not closed the door on a potential return of Ezekiel Elliott, it is considered unlikely. When the Buccaneers won the Super Bowl in 2020, Jones was their leading rusher.

“He’s an NFL quality back,” McClay said. “His run style fits what we do. He’s young enough to continue to grow and add something to us. And, again, we’re adding an experienced back that knows what it’s like in the NFL, that fits the system well, and he’s got some upside to be able to be a three-down back and some of those things.”

Before the draft, the Cowboys had some of the top wide receivers (Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Zay Flowers, Jalin Hyatt and Jonathan Mingo) visit The Star, but they did not take one until Jalen Brooks in the seventh round. That’s good for the likes of Jalen Tolbert, last year’s third-round pick, and Simi Fehoko, a 2021 fifth-rounder.

Tolbert caught only two passes for 12 yards in eight games as a rookie. He needs to make the “second-year jump,” coach Mike McCarthy often talks about, as the Cowboys look for their fourth receiver behind CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup and Brandin Cooks. Fehoko caught three passes for 24 yards before having his season end due to shoulder surgery.

Tolbert and Fehoko have been regulars at quarterback Dak Prescott’s backyard field for throwing sessions this offseason.

“If there’s an opportunity to do something in free agency, I’m sure we’ll look at it, but we feel good about the group because they’ve been here,” McClay said. “They’ve been in the system. They’re learning … We’ve got to speed up that curve, but we feel good about the depth we have there.”

Before selecting Smith at No. 26, the Cowboys debated taking Syracuse offensive lineman Matthew Bergeron. Had he been the pick, he might be penciled in as the Day 1 starter at left guard. The Cowboys didn't add an offensive lineman (Asim Richards) until the fifth round, so that was good news for free agent pickup Chuma Edoga, Aviante Collins, Matt Farniok and Josh Ball, who could be competing for the spot.