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Final 2022 NFL Draft Grades: Cowboys ‘Big Boy’ Draft draws mixed grades

A look at the first draft grades published over the last few hours, and how the Cowboys graded out.

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We saw yesterday that the Cowboys’ draft grades were all over the place on Day Two, and the same is largely true for their final draft grade. The crew at the Dallas Morning News is a good example of that:

  • Michael Gehlken: A
  • Calvin Watkins: B
  • Kevin Sherrington: B-
  • David Moore: C+
  • Tim Cowlishaw: C+

Gehlken’s summary perhaps best summarizes what the Cowboys tried to achieve in this draft:

My generous grading may draw frowns in the teacher lounge. In any event, the Cowboys became a far more physical and athletic team during the past three days, all while adding depth and competition at crucial spots. Is the job done? No. Some veteran additions are surely needed before the season. But this is a very legitimate haul of young talent for the coaching staff to develop.

By the looks of this draft, the Cowboys were looking to bulk up their roster to play more ‘Big Boy Football’:

David Moore explains how the Cowboys felt ‘big-boyed’ in playoffs. But is this draft class good enough to change that?

Deep into the fifth round, as the Cowboys were discussing who to select, owner Jerry Jones brought up one of his pet peeves.

He hates to see his team get big-boyed. The Dallas owner was stressing the need to add bulk in the trenches.

Mike McCarthy nodded in agreement and uttered a phrase he had used repeatedly since the draft got underway Thursday evening.

“Playoffs,’’ the Cowboys head coach said. “Playoffs.

“Remember the playoffs.’’

The national pundits my not necessarily agree with this take; their draft grades show the same wide range we saw from the DMN writers, which just means there’s a take for just about every taste below.

Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: Grade A

The Cowboys went down the line well with Jerry Jones to get their most pressing needs, starting with interior run blocking in Smith and outside pass rushing in Williams. Tolbert is a good new third wideout in the making for Dak Precott post-Amari Cooper and Ferguson is a solid blocking complement to Dalton Schultz. Dallas recognized the need to reload fast and stayed the course with its board. Clark, a playmaking star at LSU, and Ridgeway, out of Jones’ alma mater Arkansas, can pan out as late-round front-seven steals from the SEC.

PFF: Grade B+

Day 1: Smith has been on a meteoric rise in recent months. Arguably the most violent offensive lineman at the Group of Five level, he led the nation in big-time run-blocks a season ago. His grip strength and power are a sight to see — once his hands get locked into the defender’s pads, it’s game over. The Tulsa product earned a 92.1 PFF grade that ranked fourth among FBS tackles in 2021. He was even better from Week 6 on, too, as he graded out at 94.2 over the back half of the season. Smith is going to have a steep learning curve to start, but he is young at just 21 years old.

Day 2: Ole Miss’ Sam Williams has an insane get-off for an edge product who stands at 6-foot-4, 261 pounds. His 4.46-second 40-yard dash ranked 98th percentile among players at his position, but his play strength is massively lacking. He earned a career-high 78.1 PFF grade this past season but needs to develop counters in the NFL if he’s going to consistently create pressure on the quarterback.

While there are concerns with the competition level and being a one-trick pony, Tolbert is very good value late on Day 2. The 6-foot-2, 194-pound wide receiver was one of the top deep threats of 2021. He was responsible for 646 deep receiving yards this season, the fifth-most in the FBS. Tolbert was the go-to guy in South Alabama’s offense, and he made the most of those opportunities by generating 3.16 yards per route run. His deep speed and ball skills will be a good addition to the Cowboys’ receiving room.

Day 3: Waletzko’s developmental traits are as good as you’ll see in this tackle class. With a 7-foot-1 wingspan and nimble feet, he’s the project NFL teams want and has the tape of an offensive lineman with solid upside. Waletzko graded above 70.0 in five of his nine games this past season.

Chad Reuter, Grade B

Smith could be a dominant run blocker if he’s able to improve in his patience and technique as he matures – or he could become a first-round offensive lineman who does not reach his potential. Williams is a pass-rush talent, but there are off-field issues in his history. The Cowboys got good value in Tolbert, who could become a downfield threat.

Trading Amari Cooper only netted a fifth-rounder from Cleveland, which is a cheap price relative to the cost for other talented receivers this offseason. The Cowboys did add needed tackle help in Waletzko, who could be a valued backup or better if he gets stronger on the edge. Ferguson separates better than his timed speed indicates, and he has strong hands and solid blocking skills. I love that the Cowboys took Clark in the fifth round even though he’s unlikely to play in 2022. He could prove to be well worth the investment once healthy.

Luke Easterling, DraftWire: Grade B

The Cowboys are another team that did a solid job of making sure they filled their biggest needs without reaching at any point in the draft. OL Tyler Smith is a nasty, athletic blocker who can play guard or tackle. EDGE Sam Williams and WR Jalen Tolbert were both good value picks at positions where Dallas needed to replace key starters.

Day 3 was highlighted by a pair of bargains in Clark, who would have been a Day 2 lock if not for recent spinal fusion surgery, and Ridgeway. OT Matt Waletzko was another sneaky value in the fifth-round with starter upside.

Doug Farrar, TouchdownWire: Grade B-

If there’s one thing we know about the Cowboys, it’s that they have their methods, and they’re not about to change for anything. Which means that you’ll get high-upside players with off-field issues (Sam Williams), some smaller-school guys you’ve probably never heard of, and some higher picks that may or may not make sense in the grand scheme of things.

Start with Tyler Smith, the power tackle from Tulsa, who may kick inside to guard. Jerry and Stephen Jones insisted that Smith would not have been there had they not taken him 24th overall, and while that may be true, it’s a tough sell overall. Perhaps the board didn’t go the way Dallas wanted there.

Smith, for his part, seemed unperturbed by the drama.

Williams, who has all kinds of pass-rushing upside, was suspended from the Mississippi squad in July 2020 after he was charged with sexual battery, and reinstated to the team in September, 2020, after the charge was dropped. Tolbert, the receiver from South Alabama, has a lot of potential — his tape shows some great catch radius plays with iffy quarterbacks, so imagine how it’ll look when Dak Prescott is throwing his way.

Our own Laurie Fitzpatrick is a big fan of Jake Ferguson’s, and watch out for Fresno State cornerback DaRon Bland — a 6-foot-2, 200-pound defender who fits exactly what Dan Quinn wants in that position. Like most Cowboys drafts, it’s hit-and-miss when you look at it at the time.

Connor Orr, Sports Illustrated: Grade C+

The Cowboys’ draft was fine, but seemed to do nothing to separate them from an NFC East field quickly gaining ground. This was a two-year window in which Dallas had the opportunity to step on the throat of a fledgling division. Instead, the Cowboys exposed some of their most significant weaknesses. Dallas spent their first pick replenishing the offensive line and their off-ball linebacking corps, two units among the best in football for a short time before they aged out. Williams is an attractive chess piece for defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who has generated new life for his ability to isolate and empower pass rushers. Ferguson eventually could add some pop to Dallas’s offense as a secondary playmaker. Coming from a Wisconsin program where blocking is a necessity, it seemed like a lot of his routes came as he recovered from chipping duties at the line of scrimmage.

Mel Kiper, ESPN: Grade C+

This class just has too many unknowns. We don’t know if Smith can definitely be a good guard or that Williams can definitely be an every-down player. Tolbert has good hands but is still raw. This is a risky group.

Ryan Dunleavy, New York Post: Grade C

Dallas is going to Dallas. Boom-or-bust Smith continues the rebuild of the NFL’s best offensive line last decade. Red flags overlooked for Williams, who had a sexual battery charge dropped but can fill the pass-rush void after a free-agency mishap with Randy Gregory.

There’s obviously nothing wrong with trying to build a team to win in the playoffs. But should we be worried that the Cowboys are reducing a complex problem (the many reasons for the early playoff exits) to a simple solution (“bulk in the trenches”)?

This Big Boy Draft may indeed be the draft that gets the team over the playoff hump, but the last time we labeled a Cowboys draft (the 2009 “Special Teams” Draft) it did not end so well.

But then, there are also things like this:

... which convinced at least one guy:

What grade would you give this draft class?

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