As the Cowboys continue to create roster holes for the sake of cap space, the 2022 NFL Draft is shaping up as one with a lack of star power at the top. Nearly every discussion on which direction the Cowboys should go with the 24th overall pick is met with hesitancy that a similar player will be available in the second round or later.
The Cowboys need for rookies that can step in and make an immediate impact is clear, and they only truly came away from last year’s draft with one such player. If not for Micah Parsons, the optimism surrounding this April’s draft would be much lower.
With the NFL Combine now wrapped up, teams have a clearer picture of how this year’s athletes tested. Knowing which prospects backed up their tape with on-field drills and interviews is a big piece of the puzzle for teams like Dallas to make sense of this class.
Here is a position-by-position look at where the Cowboys could be looking for upgrades on offense in the first round.
We’ll start here to get it out of the way. In most drafts, it would at least be worth mentioning that if a top quarterback falls to the Cowboys pick, they can hold a QB-needy team to the fire and come away with a haul of picks. This year’s QB class lacks that big name, and the Cowboys aren’t drafting Dak Prescott’s replacement at 24. Moving on...
Ezekiel Elliott’s contract is at the center of the cap issues the Cowboys are currently facing, and to make matters worse most fans believe his role in the offense needs to be limited. The good news is the Cowboys have the running back to do this with already on the roster, with Tony Pollard deserving of more touches.
Breece Hall and Kenneth Walker are the top backs in this class, and both would be great scheme fits for the Cowboys, but like QB this is another position the team isn’t in the market for with any top-100 pick.
This is where things get much more interesting. The Cowboys appear to be heading towards relying on CeeDee Lamb as their next top receiver, and are working out a long term deal with Michael Gallup coming off ACL surgery to replace Amari Cooper. Cedrick Wilson and Malik Turner are also free agents the Cowboys can retain for depth, and Simi Fehoko will enter his second season having shown nothing as a fifth-round pick.
Mike McCarthy’s draft history suggests the second round may be the best spot for Dallas to find a new target for Dak Prescott. This is where the Packers found Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, and Davante Adams.
Wide receiver testing at the Combine nearly confirmed this. Garrett Wilson, Chis Olave, and Treylon Burks have been the names worth mentioning in the first round, but Skyy Moore, Jahan Dotson, and Drake London all become intriguing day two options.
Ohio State’s Olave may have tested out of the Cowboys range with his 4.39 second forty-yard dash, and smoothness through positional drills that back up his efficiency on tape. The opposite is true of Burks, the Arkansas receiver who didn’t test as the same explosive athlete, with serious concerns about his long speed. It’s hard to imagine any scenario where Burks is the Cowboys best player available at 24.
Dotson ran a 4.43 second forty, but disappointed in other drills to show he’s more than just a burner. There’s a lot to like about Dotson’s film however, and his stock falling slightly could only help the Cowboys land a developmental player with the traits they need at the position.
The growing buzz for Skyy Moore getting penciled into every Cowboys mock draft in the second round will only continue after the Combine. The Western Michigan product matched his tape with smoothness and precision in his routes, and measured with the largest hands of any WR in Indianapolis.
Drake London will have all eyes on him at USC’s pro day, as he did not test at the Combine. The physical traits could still put London in a tough spot for the Cowboys to grab at the value they’d like, but he’s another name to keep an eye on should he fall.
It’s somewhat unfortunate that receiver is in the conversation for any of the Cowboys premium picks, but this class is set up nicely for the Cowboys to look past the position in the first round and feel great about their second- and third-round options.
The Cowboys seemingly want to commit to Dalton Schultz, with the expectation before free agency that he’d draw top dollar on the open market. Dallas will need money to work on contracts for other internal free agents besides Schultz, but also have the franchise tag in play for a tight end that Prescott has worked well with.
Like most free agents who reach this point with the Cowboys, Schultz has all the leverage, as Blake Jarwin could reportedly miss most or all of the 2022 season. Even more so, mock draft consensus has no tight ends going in the first round.
It’s unlikely the Cowboys would pull the trigger on a first-round tight end anyway, but prospects like Texas A&M’s Jalen Wydermyer and Nevada’s Cole Turner put up some questionable testing numbers that put them in range for one of the Cowboys later picks.
If you’re noticing a trend here when it comes to the Cowboys getting value out of any skill position pick in the first round, all roads point to offensive line being the need worth addressing with this pick.
This is arguably the Cowboys biggest need on either side of the ball, and the draft boards are lining up nicely for the value to match the need at 24th overall. Iowa’s Tyler Linderbaum has been a favorite to replace Tyler Biadasz. Linderbaum was always going to be a scheme-specific pick, and one that fits the Cowboys, but his arm length drew concern at the Combine.
If this is the difference in one or two teams ahead of the Cowboys passing on Linderbaum, giving them a chance to trust the tape and take a true center with the power and run-blocking prowess they currently lack, the Cowboys shouldn’t think twice about doing so.
Another local prospect is Texas A&M’s Kenyon Green, who teams were hopeful would test well enough athletically to project as a swing tackle/guard. Green’s Combine performance may have locked him into being a guard, but he’s also exactly the type of interior player the Cowboys need. Green’s tenacity, play strength, and ability to block in space would be welcome additions on day one for the Cowboys front.
Boston College’s Zion Johnson is another plug-and-play starter that put together a strong Combine performance, projected nicely in the Cowboys range to come in and start at left guard.
This might not be the best draft to take an interior lineman in the top ten, but it’s a near perfect year to need a guard or center in the range Dallas is drafting in the first round.
The theme of this article is finding positions worth drafting for the Cowboys at the end of round one, and tackle falls somewhere in a grey area currently. There’s a long list of prospects the Cowboys would be thrilled to have, and several tackles projected to go before the 24th pick.
For a team looking to win now and draft to replace serious needs, the Cowboys best path here may be trusting a platoon of Tyron Smith, La’el Collins, and Terence Steele to get them through the season. Josh Ball is another second-year player the Cowboys didn’t get anything from as a rookie, but with another offseason of work could at least provide depth as a capable backup.
Charles Cross and Trevor Penning would be the tackle prospects that are hardest to pass on for the Cowboys if available, both rising up boards and slipping out of range for Dallas. The Cowboys have fallen into a bad pattern of waiting too long to replace key starters on the roster, and another year of passing on tackles in the first round puts them in danger of doing so to Tyron Smith.
If it wasn’t for the glaring need at left guard, this would be the perfect draft for the Cowboys to draft their tackle of the future with flexibility to start at guard. Coming out of the Combine, the options for true starters at interior OL are much more intriguing with any pick in the twenties.
The Cowboys remain committed to building primarily through the draft, and have put themselves in a position where they need a haul of multiple starters next month. Starting off with the 24th overall pick, after the rival Eagles pick three times, the Giants twice, and Commanders once, the Cowboys have a ton of directions this pick could go.
Offensive line has been the early favorite should the Cowboys go offense in the first round, and given their draft history here paired with the talent in the 2022 class, it continues to make sense with just under two months until the draft.
With little overall consensus on how these prospects will fall, the Cowboys need to prepare in free agency to take the best player available should a player at receiver, tight end, or tackle falls.