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Why the Cowboys will need skill to navigate a particularly difficult draft in 2022

A different look at this year’s NFL draft class.

2021 NFL Draft
However, many thought he was overdrafted, so things sometimes work out fine.
Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

One thing that is generally to be avoided in the NFL Draft is overdrafting, or taking a player too high for his level of talent or other reasons, like injuries. We’ve certainly seen the Dallas Cowboys fall prey to that error in recent years with selections like Taco Charlton and Jaylon Smith. Fortunately they have had some great value picks as well, with CeeDee Lamb and Dak Prescott being the most evident. Given that he was seen by most as just a very good linebacker, Micah Parsons also can be included on the good side of the ledger.

However, 2022 will see the Cowboys overdraft in the premium rounds. But this is not another reason to decry the management, it is something that all teams face. This is a draft class with a dearth of clear first-round talent but a lot of second- and third-round level players. Normally that would set up an ideal situation for trading back and getting some extra day two ammunition. It is just how extreme things are this year that creates a problem.

The fact is that many of the first-round selections this year will be players that should be high-second-round picks. That will lead to mid-second-round talents going early on day two, and so on. At some point, things may well even out with this being seen as a deep class, but just exactly when that will begin to align with where players are taken is hard to predict.

This points to Dallas inevitably taking a player that in other years would be seen as a bit of a reach, particularly on the first two days of the draft. It also makes trading back a bit chancy. That leads to getting more selections from further down the list of talent. Some years that makes a lot of sense, but the rather amorphous nature of this year’s group seems to lessen the chances of making that pay off.

That uncertainty about where players should be ranked also could play a bit of havoc with the idea of taking the best player available. Mike McCarthy noted that there are more players that the team should have on their board this year.

That seems great, especially for a team with four picks in the fifth round, when the cupboard normally starts getting bare. But the talent curve this year seems to be flatter, which makes differentiating between players when you go on the clock harder. It is hard to go best player available when the options are basically level in value. Need, normally seen as a poor thing to base your choices on, may be more valid this year as a decider.

The first round is one where overdrafting seems almost a given for the Cowboys, even if they execute a small trade back to gain extra selections. While things are not nearly as obvious about which direction the team wants to go, there is a belief that it may come down to taking Zion Johnson or Kenyon Greene to bolster left guard. But either would be a player that is a bit overvalued at 24, with Johnson seem by many draft big boards as more worth a pick three or four spots later, while Greene is projected to be worth an early second-round slot. But there is a good chance that the first-round quality wide receivers will be wiped out by then. If they have an opportunity for a real impact player to fall to them, it would seem to be Jordan Davis. But he is a defensive tackle, and there is a longstanding aversion in Dallas to invest much draft capital in that position. We might salivate at the idea of someone who has that much talent and goes about 340 to man the nose position. Our appetites have little effect on the Cowboys’ brain trust.

The issue with wide receiver, generally seen as one of the big needs for the team, is not just confined to a run in the first before Dallas gets a crack. The same thing is thought to be possible in the second and third rounds as well. That could create pressure to make what would truly be a reach. It also could lead the team to try and package some of those day three picks to move up and get one, which might be a fairly wise course.

The cost of that is having fewer shots later on when the team expects there to still be some good players available this year. The more picks then, the better the chance of hitting on one or more. There is also a better chance for someone to have escaped the notice of other teams that is on the radar of Will McClay’s staff.

As mentioned, this is a universal concern for all franchises. Even the very top of the first round offers fewer sure-fire players. The lack of a truly outstanding quarterback is going to force some needy teams to take a shot on what is available. The rest will wind up with players that have less chance of living up to the value of the pick used on them.

Every sign points to this being an unusually difficult draft to successfully navigate. McClay has gained a reputation for being very good at charting a course. He will have to be very good at it this time around.