The Dallas Cowboys’ roster needs that fans expected to be addressed in the draft were spot on with how the team drafted, hitting their biggest need at offensive line twice. First-round pick Tyler Smith will be a heavily scrutinized pick, with a long wait until he can practice in pads at training camp and show off any play strength or run-blocking ability. The rest of the draft showed the Cowboys made the right value move taking Smith over other interior OL like Luke Goedeke (57th overall to Tampa Bay) or Bernhard Raimann, who fell all the way to the Colts in the third round.
When the Cowboys lock in on a prospect that’s a clear fit, it’s been a safe bet they’re going to take him regardless of the value at that pick. This may have been the case for Smith, but also Sam Williams, the EDGE rusher from Ole Miss that Dallas couldn’t let get away at 56th overall.
Day three may have been when the Cowboys made the most picks, positioned nicely to take advantage of the great depth in this draft, but they ended day two on another positive note by drafting Jalen Tolbert in the third. Waiting this long to add a receiver was a risk for the Cowboys, but Tolbert has the speed and route running skill to see the field as a rookie.
JE Jake Ferguson, OT Matt Waletzko, CB Daron Bland, LB Damone Clark, DT John Ridgeway, and LB Devin Harper rounded out the Cowboys 2022 class, earning them a draft grade of....
Dallas Cowboys Final Draft Grade: B-
While it may be true that the Cowboys weren’t on an island when it comes to wanting Tyler Smith at the bottom of the first, their status as a team picking in the late twenties is hollow. There’s a stark difference between a team like Rams, Bengals, or Chiefs feeling their roster is in a good enough place to take Smith as a project, and the Cowboys picking here by way of winning the NFC East in ‘21.
The Smith pick also comes after the Giants added Kavon Thibodeaux and Eagles drafted Jordan Davis. Teams building to upend the Cowboys as division champions both landed defensive linemen with star potential, attacking a weakness on Dallas’ roster they only hope Smith can make a strength again. Smith’s best chance to make an immediate difference will be in the run game, where his size and strong hands open holes on the second level, but the every down consistency in pass protection is a major concern.
The Cowboys have been selling their strength as a drafting team to cover up the loss of big name players this offseason, falling on their reputation taking offensive linemen to justify Smith.
Smith will be thrown alongside Tyron Smith and Tyler Biadasz and asked to learn quickly, but the Cowboys can ease Williams, Tolbert, and the rest of their picks into action. The way these picks addressed clear needs with high talent-floor players is ultimately what earns the Cowboys a high passing grade here.
Tight end may have been one of the quieter needs on the Cowboys roster after franchise-tagging Dalton Schultz, but Jake Ferguson is a valuable pick at 129th overall. If the Cowboys are willing to live with Schultz’s shortcoming as a blocker, they’re getting a similar player in the run game with Ferguson.
Ferguson also has similar pass catching ability to Schultz, boxing out defenders well and securing the ball away from his frame in traffic.
If Smith isn’t the future at left tackle after starting at left guard, the Cowboys drafted a four-year starter at the position with the pick swapped to Cleveland in the Amari Cooper trade. Matt Waletzko joins Josh Ball as a developmental tackles on the roster, and both need to be ready to step in for either Tyron Smith or Terence Steele in the attrition of a 17 game season.
Waletzko hit the ground running at North Dakota, immediately starting at left tackle. He started all four of his years in college. His presence along the offensive line helped his team allow the third-fewest sacks in the FCS last season. At 6’7” he brings a long frame to the edge that includes 36 1/8 arms and a wingspan of 85 5/8 inches. Waletzko moves well for a guy his size and has shown the ability to easily get to the second level. He shows good handwork to thwart off defenders. Waletzko is a smart player, which shows by his ability to step in as a freshman and start.
DaRon Bland is a lengthy man coverage cornerback that provides depth at a position every team needs plenty of. The Cowboys used a third-round pick last year on Nahshon Wright, betting on Dan Quinn’s ability to work with his physical traits to develop a contributor. With Wright still on the roster as a core special teams player in year one, the Cowboys waited until their second pick of the fifth round to take another cornerback that looks the part this year.
The rest of the Cowboys picks would also go towards Quinn’s side of the ball, with two linebackers and a defensive tackle. Damone Clark marked the second year in a row the Cowboys took a LB out of LSU. Jabril Cox was one of several rookies that didn’t contribute much in 2021, but is projected to step into a much bigger role this season.
In need of depth behind Micah Parsons, Leighton Vander Esch, and Cox, the Cowboys added Clark and Devin Harper out of Oklahoma State with their last pick. Between these picks, they got defensive tackle John Ridgeway.
Carlos Watkins is on a one-year deal, so Ridgeway, along with second-year player Quinton Bohanna, could be the future at the 1-tech spot on the interior.
Again, grading a draft class before they play is all about potential and positional value. The Cowboys did well in both of these categories. My B- grade is based on the fact that Smith will be a day one starter at left guard, Williams is a pass rusher Dan Quinn has wanted to get his hands on, and Tolbert could prove to be a steal quickly.
These three players were the Cowboys top-100 picks, but the value they got throughout the next three rounds was also a positive. Having the draft at the end of April is a great way to bring football back to the forefront of the sports world, and now all eyes will be on these Cowboys rookies getting to camp and putting the star on for the first time.