One has to hope the Cowboys have good air conditioning in their draft war room, because Jerry and Stephen Jones must have been sweating throughout much of the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft Thursday night. They watched a lightning fast run on wide receivers occur earlier than expected before Kenyon Green and Zion Johnson, the two guards they were connected to the most, both came off the board well ahead of pick 24.
In the end, the Cowboys stood pat at 24 - neither trading up or down - and selected Tulsa offensive lineman Tyler Smith. While not many expected Smith to be a first-round pick, his name did begin picking up steam as a player the Cowboys were interested in within the final 24 hours before the draft.
Smith’s ascension to this point has definitely been unconventional. A native of Fort Worth, Texas, Smith committed to Tulsa after receiving zero Power 5 scholarship offers. He redshirted his first season before debuting at left tackle in 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Tulsa only played nine games that year, but Smith played well enough to be named to the first team All-AAC. He followed that up with a similarly strong 2021 season, being named to the second team All-AAC before deciding to enter the draft.
Smith stands at 6’4” and 324 pounds, offering great size for a lineman. He also tested very well at the combine and his pro day, posting especially good numbers in the 40-yard dash and showcasing the kind of speed that made him a dangerous downhill blocking presence.
As a player, Smith became known for his tenacious effort. He fits the stereotype of a mauler who loves the physical nature of the sport, frequently seeking out contact and trying to set the tone. The caveat, of course, was that Smith was playing against non-Power 5 competition. More than that, Smith is still very raw, as you’d expect from someone who’s played just 22 college games. He needs to become more technically refined as a blocker, as well as tone down his tenacity; Smith drew 12 penalties in 12 games this past year.
While he spent both seasons with the Golden Hurricanes at left tackle, Smith was projected by most to transition inside to guard at the next level. That explains Dallas’ interest even more, as they let Connor Williams walk in free agency and saw enough from Connor McGovern during the 2020 season to know he’s not the answer at left guard.
Moving Smith inside will allow him to hone his technique, especially in pass protection, without being left on an island out on the edge. His experience at left tackle also creates the potential to be groomed as a replacement for Tyron Smith, who will turn 32 this year. Still, Smith’s selection in the first round is considered a reach by many, and the pick is already drawing some heat from fans and analysts alike.
There is a bit of irony in how similar this draft night is to last year’s draft. Of course, everyone remembers the Cowboys being strongly tied to the top two cornerbacks, only for both to be selected before Dallas could pick. The Cowboys ended up drafting Micah Parsons, a pick that was panned at the time but very much worked out in the end. Here’s hoping Smith’s time in Dallas can follow a similar route.