It is fun and diverting to argue about which teams “won” the 2022 NFL Draft. Rationally, that can’t be truly judged for three years or so. However, we will be able to look back at the end of this season and see how they fared. With nine new draftees and the usual crop of undrafted free agents, the Dallas Cowboys are hoping for a lot of passing grades.
But what exactly is success or failure? A first-round pick should not be judged the same way as a sixth-rounder, much less a UDFA. So here is a grading scale to use for this year’s group. The three grades available are excellent, passing, and failure, and there is a real curve here based on draft position.
OL Tyler Smith
Excellent: Be the starting LG from day 1.
Passing: Earn his way to the starting job several games into the season.
Failure: Ride the bench because he can’t beat out Connor McGovern.
Even in a year when there was a paucity of true first-round talent, you want any pick on day one of the draft to be a walk-in starter. Sitting at 24, the Cowboys had to try and find a player that others may have overlooked before them. They placed their bet on Smith.
In all these, “Passing” is the most likely outcome, at least for me. In Smith’s case, he has a lot of technique issues to work on. It may well take him a bit into the season to be ready to go as a starter. Hopefully the team will get some big leads in a couple of early games to get him on the field late and accelerate the process. But if he winds up starting in the last half of the season, we should be satisfied that the pick worked out.
DE De Williams
Excellent: He wins the starting RDE spot, although that will be in part rotational with Micah Parsons.
Passing: He starts out the season as part of a rotation with Dorance Armstrong, Dante Fowler, Tarell Basham, and/or Chauncey Golston. Then over time he sees more and more snaps until he is among the leaders in the group in time on the field.
Failure: He winds up mired at the bottom of things.
Part of the issue for Williams is that he brings something similar, but a bit less, to what Parsons does as a pass rusher. It will be a big help for him if Dan Quinn finds a way to get him on the field with Parsons a lot. That could be a real problem for offenses, especially if they line up next to one another on passing downs.
WR Jalen Tolbert
Excellent: He is a starter on week one, and stays in the top three all year.
Passing: He holds down a starting position until Michael Gallup comes back but is clearly the WR4 for the rest of the way and still sees some good opportunities.
Failure: He can’t beat out the rest of the WRs coming out of camp and sees little action all year.
Remember that WRs often don’t hit their peak until year three. So even if this year does not pan out for Tolbert, he still could become a good asset in later seasons. This grade is just about the rookie year, of course.
TE Jake Ferguson
Excellent: He claims the TE2 spot and stays there.
Passing: He is TE3 to start things, but sees his snap count go up through the season until he becomes the TE2.
Failure: He is stuck behind Jeremy Sprinkle and/or Sean McKeon all year.
A fourth-rounder cannot be held to the standard of becoming a starter. The only way Ferguson should be in that conversation is if something happens with Dalton Schultz. We certainly don’t want to see that, just as we are hoping to avoid the same kind of thing for the earlier picks.
OT Matt Waletzko
Excellent: He wins the swing tackle job coming out of camp.
Passing: He makes the roster, but the team keeps Josh Ball in a sign they are not quite ready to rely strictly on Waletzko.
Failure: The staff elects to keep Ball as the swing and sends Waletzko to the practice squad.
Fifth-round picks are when there is a real possibility of not making the 53-man roster given that the team almost never cuts anyone taken in the first four rounds. And Ball represents a fourth-round investment, which gives him a slight edge coming into camp. This should be a real battle to watch.
LB Damone Clark
Excellent: His recovery goes better than expected and he is on the roster at any time this season.
Passing: He spends the year on PUP.
Failure: He really can’t be considered that this year.
This could be the Cowboys doing the draft-an-injured-player thing right. A fifth-round spot is not too expensive to try this, the way they did with a certain other linebacker.
CB DaRon Bland
Excellent: He makes the team, contributing mostly on special teams but seeing some reps as a corner. As with some others, big leads in games could greatly advance his development.
Passing: He is almost strictly a special teams guy, possibly setting him up as a successor to C.J. Goodwin, who is in the final year of his contract and may be nearing retirement at age 32.
Failure: Cut with a shot at the PS.
One thing about players who are cut. If they really blow it in camp, they might not even get a PS offer. That is a danger for all the players taken after the fourth. There is also an interesting thing about him. The roster at DallasCowboys.com does not give a position for him, which could mean they are thinking about giving him a try at safety. Based on past results from that approach, it would not be a good sign for his future.
DT John Ridgeway
Excellent: He becomes the day one starter as a nose tackle on running downs.
Passing: He makes the squad and gets some rotational work.
Failure: Quinton Bohanna takes a big step and fends off the challenge from Ridgeway, who gets a visit from the Turk at the end of camp.
At his present level of development, Ridgeway is a beast against the run but something of a liability when the opponent passes on expected running plays. This will be about the race between him and Bohanna to try and prove themselves to the coaches.
LB Devin Harper
Excellent: Make the 53, even if he only sees meaningful snaps as a special teamer.
Passing: Gets released and signed to the practice squad.
Failure: His tenure with Dallas ends when camp does.
Don’t put any high expectations on the sixth-rounder. He was most likely a bit of insurance for Clark in any case.
Excellent: Make the roster coming out of camp.
Passing: Make the practice squad.
Failure: They get to live with the memory of their brief time with the Cowboys organization during training camp.
The same grades apply for all the UDFAs. With kicker Jonathan Garibay seen as a strong contender to make the team, there should be at least one excellent this year, and possibly more.
This has been an attempt to come up with a more reasonable way to judge the draft class than just looking at whether or not they start or win a key rotational role. Rookies, especially later-round selections, often need a bit of time to grow. Passing is just that, it was an acceptable outcome. Of course, only those excellent ones will be really satisfying.