The Mike Zimmer influence is already apparent from the Cowboys 2024 draft class

The Dallas Cowboys went into this draft needing help along the offensive line, and sure enough, they got it. They were able to trade the 24th overall pick and get two picks, both used to address the offensive line with players who are expected to be eventual starters, Tyler Guyton and Cooper Beebe. As @CowboysNation so cleverly put it, “you could say we got a FreeBeebe.”

These two young linemen will be added to a group already featuring a slew of talent. Dak Prescott, CeeDee Lamb, Brandin Cooks, Jake Ferguson, Zack Martin, and Tyler Smith are all great players for this offense. And with two early draft resources to help rebuild this offensive line, you have to feel good about what the team has on offense.

But equally impressive is what the Cowboys landed in the defense department. To the surprise of many, they spent their second-round draft pick on a defensive end, Marshawn Kneeland. Then, when it looked like the linebacker position had been washed out, they found the player they wanted in their round with Marist Liufau. And finally, after a long wait on Day 3, the Cowboys’ first selection of the afternoon was cornerback Caelan Carson.

In a draft where we expected the Cowboys to go offense-heavy, the team used three of their first five draft resources on defensive players. What is even more interesting is that these three players possess a similar quality and that is they are all Mike Zimmer guys.

If you don’t remember what Zimmer guys consist of, you can check out or own David Howman’s scheme breakdown as he covered both the defensive front and coverage traits that the team’s new defensive coordinator loves to employ. In summary, it centers around the following characteristics:

  • Big bodied on run defense
  • Simulated pressures
  • Man coverage ability

It’s not by accident that all four of the Cowboys’ defensive draft picks fall into one of these categories. Today, we’ll focus on those first three and see how closely they match the traits Zimmer looks for in his players.

He who sheds, gets tackles

Marshawn Kneeland guy was ranked 32nd on Dane Brugler’s big board despite never reaching five sacks in any of his years in college. What does that tell you? It tells you he’s a constant disruptor starting with being an elite run defender. Everyone is making DeMarcus Lawrence comparisons because similar to Kneeland, he doesn’t light up the stat sheet and his contributions are not always appreciated, but they have different playing styles. While Tank has some bend in his game, Kneeland relies on power. He pushes forward to shed blocks and then attacks the creases, clogging running lanes. He’s got great awareness to follow where the play goes and the guy is a relentless pursuer. While slightly different, the Cowboys have added a very good run-defending player to their roster.

Strike hard, strike fast, no mercy

Maybe it’s the hair, but it’s hard to watch the tape of Marist Liuafau and not see an oversized version of Talanoa Hufana, the San Francisco 49ers All-Pro safety. Liufau is a missile to the ball. Like Hufanga, he doesn’t possess elite athletic traits, but he’s solid in most categories and plays with such tenacity that he’s all over the field. His dynamic ability will allow him to hit those running lanes with force. Once he gets locked on, he’s dangerous. Liufau is always looking to hit someone and he’s the perfect style of linebacker to use interchangeably as a run-stopper/pass rusher as he shows great blitzing ability. If you’re looking for a good double-A-gap blitzer, Liufau is your guy.

Smother them with goodness

The Cowboys forego the instinctive pterodactyl type of corner for one that mirrors what Zimmer wants in his players. Despite not being extra lengthy, Caelen Carson is the ideal size for the position. Starting with his football savvy, Carson does a good job reading all the window dressing pre-snap. He shows good awareness of where the play goes. But more than that, this guy absolutely smothers. He’s a physical player who presses at the line of scrimmage and has good change of direction to stay with his man throughout the route. He closes well on passes and closes well on ball carriers, showing good tackling ability. For a Day 3 selection, the Cowboys found the perfect Zimmer guy who has a great chance to work himself into the starting unit alongside Trevon Diggs and DaRon Bland.


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