Cowboys select Mazi Smith with No. 26 pick in NFL draft

Mazi Smith's NFL draft profile (0:34)

Check out the highlights that contributed to Mazi Smith's career at Michigan. (0:34)

The Dallas Cowboys did something in the NFL draft's first round Thursday they have not done since early in Jerry Jones' tenure as owner and general manager -- select a defensive tackle.

With the 26th overall pick, the Cowboys selected Michigan run stopper Mazi Smith, the first defensive tackle Dallas has taken in the first round since Russell Maryland went No. 1 overall in 1991.

Jones admitted there has been a change in philosophy in being more willing to accept a run-centric defensive tackle than in the past, when the Cowboys wanted more proven pass-rush ability in an early selection.

"This defense, the way we've got it structured, a key player with that much lead, that much base, that much strength, that much disruption just from that standpoint as opposed to, let's say, the number of sacks he gets -- that kind of thinking you wouldn't have seen ... from us 10 years ago, nine years ago," Jones said. "But this isn't something we thought of on the draft board tonight. It's something that has been in the making for frankly a couple years.

"So because of the structure of this defense, [coach Mike McCarthy's] philosophy with how we want to handle our complementary football, as he says -- this pick, the player in the style play and the way he plays became more valuable."

Smith was asked what the Cowboys will get from him.

"A dog. A big dog," Smith said. "A big fella, a big physical guy. A guy that's never been afraid of contact, never been afraid of ball -- a guy that's going to get in somebody's face. A guy who ain't going to make it easy."

The Cowboys hope Smith can help shore up a run defense that was ranked 22nd in the NFL in 2022, giving up 129.3 yards per game. In McCarthy's three years as Cowboys coach, the Cowboys have ranked 23rd, 19th and 20th in run defense.

"Clearly the focus when you go through evaluation in the postseason, it was clear that we wanted to improve our run defense," McCarthy said. "So it was a focal point. And I think this clearly, clearly does that. I mean we love everything about Mazi."

Smith, who was among the Cowboys' top 30 visitors to The Star prior to the draft, started his final 28 games at Michigan and was named a first-team All-Big Ten last season with 48 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and a half sack.

The Cowboys allowed more than 136 yards rushing in eight regular-season games last year, including three games in which they gave up at least 192 yards.

At last year's trade deadline, the Cowboys acquired veteran Johnathan Hankins in a trade from the Las Vegas Raiders but he missed the final month with an injury before returning for the playoffs. Hankins re-signed with the Cowboys on a one-year deal in free agency.

With Smith, Hankins and Quinton Bohanna, a sixth-round pick in 2021, the Cowboys now have three defensive tackles weighing more than 320 pounds.

"When [McCarthy's] come in here, he's talked about building a bigger, stronger, faster football team," Cowboys vice president of player personnel Will McClay said. "We continue to do that and when you look at Mazi, with teams running the football now as you see things changing, you look at our division, [he's] a guy that can stop there, a guy that can add that value to our defense as well as I think there's ability for him to be able to rush the passer."

Jones said Dallas had multiple trade-down opportunities while on the clock for the 26th pick and the Cowboys had three or four players they were considering taking. Jones said Smith was ranked 14th on the Cowboys' draft board, and executive vice president Stephen Jones indicated the team had just 11 players with first-round grades this year.

Jerry Jones did not sweat giving out that type of information regarding their draft board.

"Who gives a s---?" he crackled. "We got him."