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Cowboys 2021 class will be pushed by rookies as team looks for young core of players

Just how well the Cowboys drafted the last two years will greatly determine the direction of the team.

Arkansas v Alabama Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

As long as they have Dak Prescott, the Dallas Cowboys will feel they have a chance to compete, and this year’s draft haul proved that even further. Prescott’s career of 25-6 record against the Giants, Eagles, and Commanders is a fine starting point, and though the Cowboys roster may not be as strong on paper as last year, five of their other eleven games come against teams that finished with a losing record in 2021.

The Cowboys need to do more than bolster their record against bad teams and fall short in the playoffs to call any future seasons a success, but the core of players they’ll be building around is still very much undecided. By nearly sitting out free agency this offseason, the Cowboys tied themselves heavily to the success of this year’s draft class - while also having several picks from 2021 that are still developing.

Proven picks from last year like Micah Parsons, Osa Odighizuwa, and Chauncey Golston have a step ahead of the field when the Cowboys get to shaping this roster, and the same should go for Jabril Cox coming off injury.

The Cowboys would love nothing more than to have the rest of their picks from 2021 and 2022 make up a young core of players on rookie contracts to build around. Draft picks like Tyler Smith and Jake Ferguson have similar play styles to Connor Williams and Dalton Schultz. Williams left in free agency for the Dolphins and Schultz is without a long-term deal entering this season on the franchise tag. Dallas is set in their ways that the makeup of the 2021 roster wasn’t the root of the problem, and are looking to replicate it with players on team-friendly contracts.

Let’s take a closer look, by position group, at some of the roster decisions the Cowboys could be forced to make between recent draft picks of the last two years.

Offensive Tackle

2021 Picks: Josh Ball

2022 Picks: Matt Waletzko

Other depth players: Aviante Collins, Isaac Alarcon

The Cowboys entered the draft with left guard as their biggest need, and landed their top-graded player here with Tyler Smith. A college left tackle, Smith addresses both an immediate position of need as well as the much-needed future at left tackle.

Plenty of drafts have come and gone in recent years with the Cowboys delaying their plan to replace Tyron Smith, both in-season when the veteran misses games and beyond. The skepticism of the Smith pick doesn’t come from the Cowboys finally filing this need, but more so the lack of existing depth on the offensive line that forces Smith to develop quickly. The team did take another tackle in the fifth round with North Dakota’s Matt Waletzko, and got a true redshirt year out of 2021 fourth-round pick Josh Ball.

Keeping both Ball and Waletzko is a possibility, but it would likely mean the Cowboys haven’t seen the development from Ball in year two to truly earn his spot. If Ball can take this step forward and prove a viable backup tackle, Waletzko can fill in behind him as a project player with great physical tools. There’s also the elephant in the room that Dallas has made a large commitment to Terence Steele in 2022 to see if he can be the right tackle of the future, making it a crucial offseason program for developing these fringe tackles on the roster.

Cornerback

2021 Picks: Nashon Wright

2022 Picks: Daron Bland

Other depth players: Kyron Brown, CJ Goodwin

Starting cornerback Anthony Brown is playing on an expiring deal in 2022, and Jourdan Lewis is only under contract until the following season. The Cowboys need to build a secondary around Trevon Diggs, and have the young players in place to potentially do so.

When Wright was drafted in the third round a year ago, it was viewed as a project pick for the future for defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. While Quinn certainly proved his worth in his first year with the Cowboys, Wright was mostly a special teams player with limited run on defense.

Not seeing a lot out of a lengthy cornerback like Wright in year one didn’t stop the Cowboys from adding another one this year, drafting Daron Bland out of Fresno State in the fifth. While Quinn works with both Wright and Bland, it’s special teams coordinator John Fassel that could make room for both. He turned Wright into a core special teams player, and Bland played on special teams plenty in college.

Similar to their situation at tackle, the Cowboys have their starters at cornerback to buy time while they build depth and figure out the future of the position. This is also a spot where a team can never have enough players ready to step in.

Defensive Tackle

2021 Picks: Osa Odighizuwa, Quinton Bohanna

2022 Picks: John Ridgeway

Other depth players: Austin Faoliu, Carlos Watkins

This might be the position group where the Cowboys plan of building around recent draft picks is the furthest along. Odighizuwa showed great flashes as a rookie, as did defensive end Chauncey Golston in limited work as a interior rusher.

Dallas added Arkansas DT John Ridgeway to the mix with their second to last pick in this draft, providing depth along with second-year player Quinton Bohanna and Carlos Watkins. The Cowboys being thin at defensive end may force them to go longer at tackle, but it still wouldn’t be a shock to see a name that’s currently on every 53-man roster projection end up on the cut list.

The run-stuffing defensive tackle spot isn’t one the Cowboys have prioritized much. Ridgeway offers some potential as a run-stuffer and he will battle Bohanna for the future at the position.