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2022 NFL Draft: How a tiered big board can help clarify Cowboys draft strategy

We look at the Top 106 players in the 2022 NFL draft and group them into tiers to better understand the Cowboys’ options at each point in the draft.

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NFL: NFL Draft Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

A couple of weeks ago, ESPN’s Todd McShay proposed a ranking of the top 106 players in the draft, which covers the players he has a first-, second- or third-round grade on. Unique to McShay’s ranking is that he conveniently separates the prospects into different tiers, which can be helpful when predicting “where players will come off the board during the first three rounds of the draft.”

A tiered approach can be particularly helpful as we try to figure out what the Cowboys draft strategy could, or should, look like. Let’s start with the first round, which McShay has broken into three tiers. Tier one, which should be a starter from Day 1 and project as perennial Pro Bowl player is empty in this draft.

That brings us to Tier 2 prospects, players McShay calls plug-and-play starters.

TIER 2
Rank Player POS College Grade
1 Aidan Hutchinson DE Michigan 94
2 Ikem Ekwonu OT NC State 93
3 Evan Neal OT Alabama 93
4 Kyle Hamilton S Notre Dame 93
5 Ahmad Gardner CB Cincinnati 93
6 Garrett Wilson WR Ohio State 92
7 Kayvon Thibodeaux DE Oregon 92
8 Travon Walker DE Georgia 92
9 Drake London WR USC 92

It’s safe to assume the players in Tier 2 are completely out of reach for the Cowboys. None of these players will fall far enough for the Cowboys, and trading up for one of these top 10 prospects is simply too expensive. Note on the color code: Players who were invited for one of the 29 official pre-draft visits are marked in green in this and all following tables.

Where it gets more interesting are the Tier 3 players, prospects that carry late-first-round grades, as McShay explains.

TIER 3
Rank Player POS College Grade
10 Jermaine Johnson II DE Florida State 91
11 Derek Stingley Jr. CB LSU 91
12 Nakobe Dean ILB Georgia 91
13 Devin Lloyd ILB Utah 91
14 Trent McDuffie CB Washington 90
15 Charles Cross OT Mississippi State 90
16 Jordan Davis DT Georgia 90
17 Chris Olave WR Ohio State 90
18 Tyler Linderbaum C Iowa 90
19 Jameson Williams WR Alabama 90
20 Devonte Wyatt DT Georgia 90
21 Malik Willis QB Liberty 90
22 Kenny Pickett QB Pittsburgh 90
23 Daxton Hill S Michigan 90

I’m sure we’d have reason to quibble over a few names that should or should not be in Tier 3, but if we assume the Cowboys have around 20 players with a first-round grade on their board (as they’ve frequently had in the past), then the 23 names above could be at least a rough approximation of the top players the Cowboys have on their board.

Assuming the pre-draft visits carry some weight (which they have in the past), McShay’s ranking suggests Devin Lloyd, Charles Cross, Jordan Davis, or Chris Olave would be the picks at 24, assuming they fall that far.

Of course, not everybody agrees with McShay’s ranking. Take Devin Lloyd: Dane Brugler ranks him 7th overall, Gil Brandt ranks him 14th, PFF has him ranked 15th overall, and CBS Sports ranks Lloyd 20th.

But if we stick with McShay’s ranking, Tier 3 shows players that, if they were to fall all the way to No. 24, the Cowboys should draft irrespective of need, simply because they would be the only players left with a first-round grade.

If we discount the two QBs in the Tier 3 list, it’s particularly noteworthy that eight of the 12 Tier 3 players are defensive players. If the Cowboys are looking for an offensive lineman and Charles Cross is gone, the Cowboys could look to trade down for Kenyon Green or Zion Johnson at the bottom of the first round.

With a trade-down comes additional draft bounty. And that could open up a lot of interesting options for Tier 4 players, the meat-and-potatoes part of the draft for the Cowboys.

TIER 4
Rank Player POS College Grade Rank Player POS College Grade
24 George Karlaftis DE Purdue 89 35 Quay Walker ILB Georgia 87
25 Trevor Penning OT Northern Iowa 89 36 Desmond Ridder QB Cincinnati 87
26 Treylon Burks WR Arkansas 89 37 Christian Harris ILB Alabama 86
27 Kenyon Green G Texas A&M 89 38 Arnold Ebiketie DE Penn State 86
28 Jahan Dotson WR Penn State 89 39 Travis Jones DT Connecticut 86
29 Andrew Booth. CB Clemson 89 40 Logan Hall DE Houston 86
30 David Ojabo OLB Michigan 88 41 Jalen Pitre S Baylor 86
31 Kyler Gordon CB Washington 88 42 Skyy Moore WR W. Michigan 85
32 Boye Mafe OLB Minnesota 88 43 Bernhard Raimann OT C. Michigan 85
33 Zion Johnson G Boston College 88 44 Kenneth Walker RB Michigan St. 85
34 Matt Corral QB Mississippi 88 45 Christian Watson WR N. Dakota St. 85

Barring a dropping Tier 3 player, Tier 4 is where the Cowboys’ first-round pick is going to come from. Five of the Cowboys’ pre-draft visitors show up in this tier, and with a little bit of luck, the Cowboys might still be able to snag a Tier 4 player with their 56th pick. If not, there will be further options for the Cowboys in Tier 5 where the Cowboys will find what McShay calls “middle- or late-second-round prospects.”

TIER 5
Rank Player POS College Grade Rank Player POS College Grade
46 Breece Hall RB Iowa State 84 57 George Pickens WR Georgia 83
47 Kaiir Elam CB Florida 84 58 Tyler Smith OT Tulsa 82
48 Leo Chenal ILB Wisconsin 84 59 Trey McBride TE Colorado St. 82
49 Phidarian Mathis DT Alabama 84 60 Daniel Faalele OT Minnesota 82
50 Sam Howell QB North Carolina 84 61 Drake Jackson OLB USC 81
51 Perrion Winfrey DT Oklahoma 84 62 DeMarvin Leal DE Texas A&M 81
52 Lewis Cine S Georgia 84 63 John Metchie WR Alabama 81
53 Nick Cross S Maryland 83 64 DeAngelo Malone OLB W. Kentucky 80
54 Roger McCreary CB Auburn 83 65 Chad Muma ILB Wyoming 80
55 Abraham Lucas OT Washington St. 83 66 Jaquan Brisker S Penn State 80
56 Nik Bonitto OLB Oklahoma 83

If you take the Cowboys’ pre-draft visit list as an indicator of their interest in a prospect, there’s no reason why the Cowboys shouldn’t be able to select their top two picks from that pool.

I’m not going to bother listing all the Tier 6 names (you can look at them here), and instead only list the three players on the list the Cowboys brought in for a visit.

TIER 6
Rank Player POS College Grade
76 Myjai Sanders DE Cincinnati 77
91 Cameron Jurgens C Nebraska 73
103 Jelani Woods TE Virginia 70

You may have noticed that only 15 pre-Draft visitors show up on McShay’s Top 106. This may have something to do with what Peter King calls a “Mysterious Year” for the 2022 draft.

It’s going to be a bad year for mock drafts.

Great line from a top GM Saturday night: “You can take the top 20 most plugged-in guys in your business. Ask them to pick the top 10 guys in this draft. I would bet a lot of money no two guys have the same top 10. When you don’t know who’s going one or two or three at this point of the year, you’ve got a mysterious year.”

In short, rankings are all over the place, any many players the Cowboys consider top 100 prospects may not be on Brugler’s list, and vice versa.

At the same time, the Cowboys, for whatever reason, included more late-round picks or even UDFAs in their Top 30 visitors list.

Remember the surprise picks in last year’s draft (“Nahshon who?!?”); get ready for more of that this year.

If you don’t like Todd McShay’s ranking, you can do the same exercise with any other draft board. None of the others are as neatly divided into tiers, but they’ll give you a good idea of who’ll be available where as well.

There’s not much time left until the draft starts, and as you start thinking about a big board, or as you look at other people’s boards, see if you can identify any tiers. They’ll be a good starting point as you whittle down the names to arrive at a more manageable shortlist.