It won’t be long before the 2022 NFL Draft gets underway and we’ll have a chance to welcome new members to the Dallas Cowboys. With nine picks in the draft, Dallas has a good shot at adding several players who will help fill holes on the roster. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the roster as it stands now, before the draft and ensuing undrafted free agency period.
Dak Prescott is the unquestioned leader of this team, but it looks like we’ll once again get to witness a battle for the backup spot here. Cooper Rush led the team to a thrilling win in his lone career start last year against the Vikings, but that’s probably not enough to secure his place as QB2.
Ben DiNucci has stuck around this long, and the team obviously sees value in him. With his athletic traits, DiNucci could become a valuable backup if he can become a more consistent passer. Then there’s Will Grier, who the Cowboys picked up during preseason cuts last year. That means we haven’t seen him do much in a Cowboys uniform, but he is the highest drafted quarterback on the roster so he may be a dark horse for the top backup job.
Sewo Olonilua (FB)
Nick Ralston (FB)
Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard are one of the best running back tandems in the nation, even if Dallas occasionally forgets that. Rico Dowdle was a core special teamer in 2020 and a lock to be the third running back last year before suffering a season-ending injury in the preseason. Now, he’ll have to battle with JaQuan Hardy and recently signed Ryan Nall to keep that role. It’s a similar situation for Sewo Olonilua, who missed last year with injury and will now have to ward off Nick Ralston.
The biggest thing to watch here is Elliott’s contract; the Cowboys have a potential out after the 2022 season, and they’ll also have to decide what to do with Pollard’s rookie deal that also expires then. Do they use one of their Day 3 picks on the position to potentially replace one or both of their top rushers? It will be interesting to see how they handle this with other, more pressing needs elsewhere.
CeeDee Lamb is expected to be the top guy now with Amari Cooper gone. Michael Gallup is back, but it’s anyone’s guess as to when he’ll be able to play again after his injury. After those two, it’s a bunch of question marks.
James Washington had a mostly unremarkable time in Pittsburgh, and Noah Brown has hardly had a chance to show anything in his time here. Simi Fehoko was drafted out of Stanford last year with good potential, but he effectively took a redshirt year last season. T.J. Vasher and Brandon Smith are widely expected to be practice squad candidates again.
It’s easy to see why the Cowboys are prioritizing this position in the draft, and could even spend their first-round pick here. It’s a very deep receiver class, though, so don’t be surprised if Dallas opts to wait before drafting another receiver.
Dalton Schultz was franchise tagged with the intent to sign him to a long-term deal, but it doesn’t seem like any progress has been made since. Might the Cowboys look to draft a tight end to replace him in a year?
Either way, they’re likely to draft one anyway, as neither Jeremy Sprinkle nor Sean McKeon are a shoo-in for the TE2 role given how much 12 personnel Dallas likes to run.
Barring any surprises, Terence Steele is about to enter the season as the presumed starter at right tackle for the first time in his career. Couple that with Tyron Smith’s inability to play a full season, and it’s easy to get anxious about the depth here.
Josh Ball was considered a developmental tackle with high upside, but he sat on the injured reserve all of last year. Aviante Collins struggled to remain on the depth chart for some terrible Vikings offensive lines before several practice squad stints. At the very least, Dallas needs depth here. It would be a shock for them to not address this position with a pick.
Zack Martin is a future Hall of Famer, but the left guard spot is a big question mark. Dallas tried Connor McGovern there last year and it went so poorly they put Connor Williams back in before showing absolutely no interest in retaining him in free agency. Isaac Alarcon and Braylon Jones are depth pieces at best.
The guard spot is probably the most likely direction the Cowboys go with their first-round pick; even if they don’t, they’re virtually guaranteed to spend a high pick here. It wouldn’t be shocking if they doubled up at guard in the draft either, as depth is a concern as well.
Tyler Biadasz got off to a bad start at center last year, but he quietly became one of the most consistent players on the team by the end of the year. Matt Farniok has center/guard flexibility and paid his dues on special teams last year. Lots of fans have interest in Iowa’s Tyler Linderbaum, but it seems unlikely Dallas addresses this position in the draft.
Reactions to how poorly the team bungled the Randy Gregory situation have over-inflated the need here at EDGE. It’s still an area that could use improvement, but it’s not a priority. DeMarcus Lawrence is still going strong and we saw solid rotational contributions from the trio of Dorance Armstrong, Tarell Basham, and Chauncey Golston last year.
The Dante Fowler signing could go one of two ways: either he’s the next Robert Quinn or the next Everson Griffen. Either way, he’s probably a temporary solution to the loss of Gregory, creating the possibility for Dallas to spend a mid-round pick on a developmental rusher with high upside. It’s a particularly deep class, after all.
Interior defensive line:
Neville Gallimore looked really, really good once he returned from injury, and Osa Odighizuwa was a pleasant surprise as a rookie. Trysten Hill, Quinton Bohanna, and Carlos Watkins all contributed well in their rotational roles. But does it feel like this position is still lacking?
The Cowboys haven’t spent a first-round pick on this position since 1991, and with more pressing needs at guard and receiver it seems unlikely that Jordan Davis or Devonte Wyatt could break that streak this year. It’s possible that Dallas may address this spot with one of their many Day 3 picks, but it’s not a given.
Leighton Vander Esch
Micah Parsons is the star, and Jabril Cox is expected to battle Leighton Vander Esch for the second spot. The loser of that competition will likely get some snaps when Parsons goes into pass rusher mode, or when Dallas goes to three linebacker sets. Luke Gifford is a core special teamer. Devante Bond was signed to the practice squad in December of this past season.
If nothing else, Dallas needs depth here. They should be looking for more than that, though. Vander Esch is only under contract for a year, and Cox is no sure thing after tearing his ACL last year. The Cowboys are likely to address this position with a later pick, and then likely add a few more in undrafted free agency.
Arguably the one position Dallas is truly set at right now, cornerback is a strength just a year after it was their biggest weakness. Kelvin Joseph’s legal status is still a bit unclear, but Anthony Brown played quality football last year and can do so again. Nahshon Wright could also be in line for more playing time after contributing mostly on special teams last year.
In the slot, Jourdan Lewis had a very nice year in 2021 and is under contract for two more seasons. Joseph has also seen some time in the slot in practices. It wouldn’t be completely shocking to see Dallas draft a corner, simply because you can never have too much depth in the secondary, but they definitely don’t need to spend a pick here.
For the first time in what feels like ages, Cowboys fans aren’t begging the team to draft a safety early. That’s because Dallas got really solid safety play from Malik Hooker, Jayron Kearse, and Donovan Wilson last year. All three are back, and second-year players Israel Mukuamu and Tyler Coyle provide solid depth and special teams capabilities.
That said, Hooker and Kearse are both on two-year deals and Wilson is entering the final year of his rookie contract. The Cowboys don’t need to draft a safety this year, but if there’s a developmental player they really like in the later rounds, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to take them and start preparing for the future.
Chris Naggar (K)
Bryan Anger (P)
Jake McQuaide (LS)
C.J. Goodwin (CB)
Bryan Anger’s job is pretty safe after being named to the Pro Bowl this past year, and Jake McQuaide was everything you want in a long snapper. C.J. Goodwin is the team’s special teams ace.
Kicker is the big need here, though. Chris Naggar has only attempted three kicks in his NFL career, so it would be surprising if the team doesn’t bring in another option. But the dilemma here is whether the Cowboys should spend a pick on the position or not. The Bengals had great success drafting Evan McPherson in the fifth round last year, but some of the best kickers in football - Justin Tucker, Adam Vinatieri, Matt Prater, and Dan Bailey, to name a few - have all been undrafted signings.
Regardless of whether Dallas drafts a kicker or targets someone who went undrafted, it would be pretty shocking to see them come out of this weekend without a new name in the kicking room.