In the 2020s decade, the Dallas Cowboys have swooped up gold on the defensive side via the NFL Draft — as Trevon Diggs, Micah Parsons, and DaRon Bland have immediately established themselves as statistical leaders or Pro Bowlers. The latter defender from Fresno State, though, was the big surprise in leading the way in interceptions in 2022.
In the 2023 NFL Draft, Dallas went into Silicon Valley to bolster its defense through San Jose State EDGE Viliami Fehoko. Early signs indicate that the powerful and versatile Spartan can continue a rare trend in Dallas — plus further open up the Cowboys’ defense.
DL Coach Unveils Early Plan for Viliami Fehoko
Cowboys assistant DL coach Sharrif Floyd will get the opportunity to unlock Fehoko’s potential right away. Floyd shared with 105.3 FM The Fan in Dallas following the draft what the vision is for the 6’4″, 263-pounder: Sliding him inside as a 3-technique.
“He’s got the quickness, the get-off, and the power to do so,” Floyd said to the hosts. “So, we’ll probably get a little weight on him and get him to play inside and be disruptive for us.”
Right now, Fehoko has the frame for attacking offensive tackles and a quarterback’s blindside. He mastered both skillfully for SJSU, which saw him earn the Mountain West Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year nod in 2022.
“He displays a bunch of knockback ability. He displays a motor chasing the ball. He’s got a good get-off. So, it equates to a good pass rush and an array of moves that comes with it,” Floyd included. “I think this guy can easily get into our rotation this year, and then, within the next year or so, I see him moving inside to be a true three-technique.”
Fehoko certainly has the upper body violence to tangle with guards and centers moving forward. He pushed 24 reps at 225 pounds in the bench press at the NFL Combine. Strength at the point of attack is a non-issue for him.
What Dallas and Floyd will likely love about Fehoko is he immediately goes straight into brute force the moment the ball is snapped — using a bull rush to penetrate the line of scrimmage. He’s not someone who dances or keeps blockers guessing with which hand move he’s going to attack with. Fehoko’s a straight-line attacker…perfect for the interior.
Floyd and DL coach Aden Durde will likely have to teach Fehoko to play with better control of his pad level moving forward. There were instances where he relied on his strength and hand slaps to fill inside, but often came up too high and exposed an opening in his pads for offensive linemen to get underneath him, then drive him out of the play.
Fehoko Can Open up Cowboys’ Defense Further
Another reason to take Fehoko seriously is the run of success MWC talent has had with the Cowboys.
It began with DeMarcus Lawrence in 2014, who emerged as a three-time Pro Bowl EDGE out of Boise State. Leighton Vander Esch added to the BSU representation in 2018, becoming a Pro Bowler in his rookie season after starring for the Broncos. Last season, Bland went from helping lead the Bulldogs’ defense to becoming the surprise takeaway artist. Fehoko can keep that rare trend going for MWC talent.
But there’s more than just Fehoko continuing to get Mountain West guys playing “at the peak” in Dallas. His presence and addition to the edge can further unlock Lawrence and Parsons.
Fehoko’s strength can clear space for both players to knife through gaps. This approach can come in handy on plays where defensive coordinator Dan Quinn can consider plugging the rookie and one of the veteran defenders next to each other.
Another proposed trench look is aligning the massive 6’3″, 337-pound first-rounder Mazi Smith and Fehoko inside — which could become a contest of which IDL can push their blocker the furthest back. Smith’s presence and likelihood of occupying multiple linemen at nose tackle can free up Fehoko to use his strength/tenacity to blow through gaps and leave behind destruction.
Fehoko has a golden opportunity to continue some current trends in Dallas — from the MWC success streak to bringing a new nasty streak to create more openings for the Pro Bowl rushers lining up alongside him.