The closer and closer we get to the kickoff of the 2022 NFL Draft on Thursday, April 28, the more we should know about who the Dallas Cowboys could be targeting with the 24th overall pick in the first round. Names like Kenyon Green and Treylon Burks will likely continue to surface as the favorites, but there are some other prospects who could end up surprising us all.
Considering the Cowboys are selecting in the latter part in almost all of the six rounds in which they hold a draft pick, it’s difficult to know with any kind certainty which players will be available when they are on the clock. Then, a wrench could be thrown into the mechanics if/when Dallas makes any type of draft day trade. Knowing Jerry Jones, that’s always a possibility.
With all of that in mind, we will take a look at three players who are currently fringe 1st-rounders who could be surprise selections for the Dallas Cowboys whether it’s at No. 24 or in a slight trade-down scenario. All of the players mentioned below would not only be a significant boost to the Cowboys roster, but also help maximize the potential of their up-and-coming superstar Micah Parsons.
EDGE Arnold Ebiketie, Penn State
After Randy Gregory decided to take his talents to the Denver Broncos this offseason, the Cowboys don’t really have any long-term prospects at defensive end other than DeMarcus Lawrence. On paper they have the bodies and depth at the position, however, in a league where they are highly sought after and paid accordingly, finding one is more times than not easier said than done. In Arnold Ebiketie, the Cowboys could find such a player.
The 6’3”, 250-pound former Penn State pass rusher is probably in tier 2 at the position in the 2022 draft class, however, he should hear his name called in the latter part of the first round or in the early second. He’s still somewhat raw, but he possesses the desired athletic ability and length to develop into a high impact starter in the not-too-distant future. As a rookie, he could provide much-needed depth and be a pass rush specialist for the Cowboys.
Dane Brugler’s thoughts and grade:
A one-year starter at Penn State, Ebiketie lined up at right defensive end in former defensive coordinator Brent Pry’s multiple scheme. The Cameroon native has a soccer and basketball background and was late to football, but produced when he became a starter in college, leading the team in tackles for loss and sacks as a junior (at Temple) and senior (at Penn State). Ebiketie explodes off the edge and stresses blockers with his arc acceleration, active hands and relentless play personality (registered at least one tackle for loss in 11 of 12 games in 2021). While he uses his length well as a pass rusher, he struggles to consistently anchor, lock out and free himself to contain the run. Overall, Ebiketie needs to improve his refinement as a rusher and reliability vs. the run, but he is a long, twitched-up athlete with the motor and mentality to develop into a starting NFL pass rusher.
GRADE: 1st-2nd Round (No. 28 overall)
DT Travis Jones, UConn
The majority of the first-round talk surrounding the defensive tackle position has been between former Georgia Bulldogs teammates Jordan Davis and Devonte Wyatt, and rightfully so. Although both are fantastic players, Travis Jones should be right in the conversation with them. He is a fantastic player in his own right, so much so, he’s worked himself into the first-round conversation as well.
The 6’4”, 325-pound former UConn Huskies DT is exactly the kind of interior defensive lineman the Dallas Cowboys need to upgrade their defensive front. He possesses the skill set and versatility to play as a 3-technique or nose tackle in Dan Quinn’s defensive scheme and should be an immediate impact starter from Day 1. He could be the first DT Dallas has drafted in the first-round since Russell Maryland in 1991 when he was selected 1st overall.
Dane Brugler’s thoughts and grade:
A three-year starter at UConn, Jones played three-technique and nose tackle in defensive coordinator Lou Spanos’ four-man front. Recruited primarily as an offensive guard out of high school, he reshaped his body and developed into an impactful defensive tackle since joining the Huskies, despite a 21-month layoff between the 2019 and 2021 seasons and the program posting a 4-32 record (three of those wins vs. FCS teams) over his four years in college. A big-bodied athlete with strong legs and arms, Jones is quick off the ball and powerful through his hips to be disruptive vs. both the pass and the run. He uses quickness and forceful hand moves to get his nose in the gap, but he needs to harness his momentum and consistently use his secondary moves to shoot through. Overall, Jones’ pass rush technique is still a work-in-progress, but he creates problems for interior blockers with his athletic movements and explosive upper body to stack, shed and toss. He projects as an early NFL starter with two-gap potential.
GRADE: 1st-2nd Round (No. 34 overall)
LB Quay Walker, Georgia
There may or may not be another player in the entire 2022 draft class who has seen their draft stock rise more and still be somewhat under-the-radar than Georgia linebacker Quay Walker. His draft stock has risen so far in fact, he may not only have worked him into the first-round conversation.
The 6’4”, 241-pound LB possesses the prototypical size and length the Dallas Cowboys look for at the position. Although he still little raw and is still honing his craft, he has one of the highest ceilings of any LB in the 2022 draft class and could be a perfect pairing with Micah Parsons for the foreseeable future. The combination of these two would arguably give the Cowboys defense two of the most athletically gifted LBs in the entire NFL.
Dane Brugler’s thoughts and grade:
A one-year starter at Georgia, Walker played the “Money” linebacker position in former defensive coordinator Dan Lanning’s 3-4 base scheme. After playing outside linebacker and defensive end in high school, he moved inside when he arrived in Athens and struggled initially, but he showed improvement each season and was a key member of Georgia’s 2021 championship-winning defense. With his lateral twitch and movement skills, Walker has outstanding mirroring skills vs. the run and uses his long arms to punch himself off blocks or lasso ball carriers out of his reach. Although he doesn’t have the statistical résumé of a playmaker, he has a high batting average as a tackler, and his traits and trajectory suggest his best football is ahead of him. Overall, Walker is still developing his instincts, especially in coverage, but he aces the eye test with his exceptional combination of size, length and athleticism to dominate vs. the run. He has the potential to be a four-down impact linebacker in the NFL.
GRADE: 1st-2nd Round (No. 31 overall)