The Dallas Cowboys selected defensive tackle Mazi Smith with the No. 26 overall selection in the 2023 NFL draft but fans may need to temper expectations for the former Michigan standout. The Athletic’s Saad Yousuf and Jon Machota reported that Smith is not expected to start but should be a key part of the team’s defensive line rotation.
“The expectations are always high with a first-round pick. Dallas drafted Smith to help shut down the run but also provide pass rush up the middle,” Yousuf and Machota wrote on September 4, 2023. “He’s not ready to start yet, but the plan is for him to be a factor in their DT rotation.”
Smith signed a four-year, $13.2 million rookie contract and has a $750,000 base salary for 2023. The Cowboys are expected to lean on veteran Johnathan Hankins at defensive tackle who the team traded for at last season’s deadline. Dallas re-signed the veteran to a one-year, $1.3 million deal this offseason.
Voch Lombardi on Dallas Cowboys Rookie: ‘That’s the Best Part About Mazi, He Ain’t Got to Start Right Now’
In an ideal world, Smith would have thrived in training camp and forced his way into the starting rotation. It is not that Smith struggled during the preseason, but there were times when the rookie did not make his presence felt when on the field. Analyst Voch Lombardi is attempting to calm the Cowboys fan base down noting that Smith does not need to start to be able to make an impact this season.
“That just lets you know like the Doom and Gloom nature of this fan base right,” Lombardi noted on an August 24 edition of 105.3 The Fan’s “The Get Right.” “Like, we’re having outrage about a dude that’s not even starting.
“That’s the best part about Mazi, he ain’t got to start right now. He doesn’t have to come in and be the guy right now, like Hankins is here for that and just indicates that, hey Mazi has to play three tech.”
Mazi Smith on Role With the Dallas Cowboys: ‘Whatever They Ask Me to Do, I’m Gonna Do It’
Smith appears to be taking his role in stride while admitting he is capable of playing a lot of snaps. The Cowboys rookie is leaving his usage up to the team’s coaching staff.
“My coaches know best, so listen, whatever they ask me to do, I’m gonna do it,” Smith explained to reporters on August 13. “If they ask me to play the whole game, every snap, you know [I’ll do it].
“Now at Michigan, I played the whole game a lot, but I played a lot of snaps versus [Ohio] State, and I was happy, it felt good. So I’m like, okay, it don’t matter. I didn’t think I could play as many snaps. I played like 61 snaps that game, so I didn’t know I could reach that. So like now I’m trying to see what else I can do.”
Smith’s status coming off the bench is not set in stone as the rookie could earn his way into the starting lineup at some point during the season. For now, the Cowboys coaching staff looks to be easing Smith into the NFL.