With the Dallas Cowboys putting so much faith in their current draft class to help keep this team atop the NFC East, any rookies that see the field for Dallas in 2022 will be scrutinized heavily. The Cowboys started their draft with a pick at their biggest position of need, taking Tulsa offensive lineman Tyler Smith to play left guard. That choice, along with the rest they made, will always be measured against the idea of: what if they had done things differently?
Let’s lay down a list for posterity. Here, in game order, are the rookies on other teams that Dallas faces in 2022, that were potential draft targets for Dallas, would have filled a position of need, or had a chance to be a steal at their draft position. We’ll even include some that were never coming to Dallas, but they were still connected with the team in some way.
Week 1 - Vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Round 2, Pick 1 - DL Logan Hall, Houston
- Round 2, Pick 25 - G Luke Goedeke, Central Michigan
- Round 4, Pick 1 - TE Cade Otton, Washington
For the second straight year, the Cowboys will open their season against the Bucs and Tom Brady, this time at home. Tampa Bay didn’t have a first-round pick in this draft, but in a class highlighted by its depth, the first pick on day two held more value than ever this year. The Bucs turned this pick into a versatile defensive lineman in Logan Hall.
When the run on Cowboys draft targets started early in round one and dwindled options for 24th overall, Hall became an option as the “outside the box” prospect Jerry Jones alluded to. It turned out Dallas was pretty set on taking Smith in this scenario, but Hall falling out of day one completely made him a possible target for round two before the Bucs grabbed him. His play strength will need to improve at defensive tackle, but Hall has the juice to get into the backfield quickly and be disruptive against the run.
The Bucs also came out of the second round with a starting-capable guard to replace Alex Cappa’s loss in free agency. Luke Goedeke is solid in pass protection while creating movement in the run game for Leonard Fournette.
Cade Otton was a pre-draft visitor for the Cowboys, but they found another tight end in the fourth round with Jake Ferguson. Ferguson profiles similarly to Dalton Schultz, the Cowboys incumbent starter here, where Otton is a more dynamic vertical threat.
Week 2 - Vs. Cincinnati Bengals
- Round 1, Pick 31 - SAF Daxton Hill, Michigan
The Bengals visiting AT&T Stadium for week two means the Cowboys will start their season with conference champions from the last two years. The Bengals still have Jessie Bates on the franchise tag as they look to keep a strong roster around Joe Burrow, but added another centerfielder in the secondary with Daxton Hill.
If ever there was a year where the Cowboys were going to prioritize safety in the draft, this could have been the one. Malik Hooker, Jayron Kearse, and Israel Mukuamu are the only players under contract beyond 2022. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has had his say in rebuilding the Cowboys defense, and is willing to work with less talent at safety in a scheme that asks a lot of this position.
Kearse was the do-it-all defender for Dallas last year, and a big free agent to bring back. Hill played a similar box role at Michigan while also being sticky in man coverage with ideal length.
Weeks 3 & 12 - New York Giants
- Round 1, Pick 5 - DE Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon
- Round 3, Pick 3 - G Josh Ezeuda, North Carolina
This was the first draft for the Giants under a new GM and head coach, and seeing the best pass rusher in this year’s class fall to them at five was a great start. Kayvon Thibodeaux has all the potential to be a mainstay of NFC East matchups against the Giants for years to come, and makes this list because of some last minute rumors the Cowboys entertained trading up for him.
The Giants haven’t had nearly as much success drafting offensive linemen compared to the defense, and need to hit on the Josh Ezeuda pick to evaluate Daniel Jones this season. Every guard with the ability to start in year one from this year’s draft will catch the attention of Cowboys fans, given the team could have addressed another need in the first round.
Ezeuda was another 30 visit for the Cowboys as a very technically sound guard with strong hands in pass protection.
Weeks 4 & 18 - Washington Commanders
- Round 1, Pick 16 - WR Jahan Dotson, Penn State
The Commanders may be banking on Carson Wentz to be something he never really has been this season. Contending in the NFC East last year thanks to their defense was an offseason pipe dream that never came true. Washington used just three of their eight picks to continue building this defense, spending the rest on fixing an offense that’s struggled for some time.
Pairing Jahan Dotson with Wentz is a solid start though, as Dotson has the speed to win vertically as well as the route running ability to go over the middle. The Cowboys waited until the third round to address receiver, and Dotson would have been an intriguing option in the second, but the Commanders locked in on their target and took the Penn State prospect at 16th overall.
Weeks 6 & 16 - Philadelphia Eagles
- Round 1, Pick 13 - DT Jordan Davis, Georgia
- Round 3, Pick 19 - LB Nakobe Dean - Georgia
A pair of Georgia Bulldogs that anchored one of the most dominant defenses in college football history will have a chance to do so as teammates still for the Eagles. The Eagles are a hot pick to upset the Cowboys as division winners this season, if Jalen Hurts can prove to be the quarterback of the future.
The Eagles traded for A.J. Brown during the first round to help Hurts in a big way, spending two of their five picks on defense to give them another way to win. Davis is a run-stuffing monster that gives Philadelphia a dominant interior with Fletcher Cox.
Nakobe Dean’s fall to the third round was a major surprise, as concerns about his size and a possible lingering injury scared teams away. The Eagles could already have one of the draft’s biggest steals however, as Dean’s been a full participant in rookie minicamp.
Both Georgia prospects embody the hard-nosed style of play that Philadelphia fans will embrace fully, with the Cowboys week six game on the road being a Sunday Night Football matchup.
Week 7 - Vs. Detroit Lions
- Round 1, Pick 12 - WR Jameson Williams, Alabama
- Round 3, Pick 33 - SAF Kerby Joseph, Illinois
With their second of two first-round picks, the Lions added a dynamic receiver in Alabama’s Jameson Williams. Recovering from an ACL injury, how far Williams would slide was an unknown in the first round, and if he got in range for the Cowboys could they take the risk with Michael Gallup also off ACL surgery?
Dallas didn’t get this chance, but by week seven could be preparing to defend Williams’ rare combination of speed and size. The Lions also got a high-value pick in Kerby Joseph with a third-round compensatory pick.
Joseph’s lack of athleticism and starting experience pushed him to the third, but his tape shows a safety that’s always around the ball with a knack for taking it away. As mentioned, the Cowboys are still very much looking for the future at safety, and missing out on Joseph could sting.
Week 8 - Vs. Chicago Bears
- Round 2, Pick 16 - SAF Jaquan Brisker, Penn State
- Round 3, Pick 7 - WR Velus Jones, Tennessee
The Bears saw signs from Justin Fields that he can be their franchise quarterback last year, but entered the draft needing receiver help in the worst way. Like the Cowboys, they also waited until the third round, but ended up with a burner in Velus Jones. Running a 4.31 second forty, Jones has incredible run after the catch ability.
Brisker makes this list for the same reasons as any safety mentioned above, but his hard hitting style of play would be perfect for Quinn. Instead, the Cowboys will play against a secondary that also added Kyler Gordon in the first round, and deal with Jones running through their own defensive backfield.
Week 10 - @ Green Bay Packers
- Round 2, Pick 2 - WR Christian Watson, North Dakota State
The Packers haven’t drafted a first-round receiver since 2008, when Mike McCarthy was still their head coach. McCarthy will make his return to Lambeau Field with the Cowboys in November, and while they won’t have to deal with Davante Adams the Packers added Christian Watson in the second round.
Green Bay has a specific type of receiver they’ve looked for with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, and Watson is their latest shifty receiver with a wide catch radius. The Packers actually added two more receivers with their total of eleven picks, drafting Romeo Doubs in the fourth and Samori Toure in the seventh.
Their roster building approach feels similar to the Cowboys, making an effort to get younger while trusting a QB like Rodgers can keep them in contention while doing so.
Week 11 - @ Minnesota Vikings
- Round 1, Pick 32 - SAF Lewis Cine, Georgia
The Cowboys passing on Cine would have been a bigger deal if they didn’t re-sign Jayron Kearse, instead he became the last pick of the first round to Minnesota. The Vikings have a new head coach and defensive coordinator, but Cine fits the type of patented defense they were playing under Mike Zimmer.
With many of Zimmer’s players still on the roster, Cine has a strong veteran presence around him to transition from a great college defense. His ability to come downhill and tackle as well as cover deep could make him a steal even as a late first round pick.
Week 13 - Vs. Indianapolis Colts
- Round 3, Pick 9 - TE Jelani Woods, Virginia
- Round 3, Pick 13 - OL Bernhard Raimann, Central Michigan
- Round 3, Pick 32 - SAF Nick Cross, Maryland
This was a great draft to have multiple third-round picks, and the Colts proved this with their haul of three players. Woods was a pre-draft visitor for the Cowboys as one of the most athletic prospects of all time, as was Raimann who was projected to go much higher.
Per @MathBomb, Virginia TE Jelani Woods is now #1 most athletic tight end prospect EVER!— Eric Galko (@EricGalko) March 23, 2022
At Pro Day, Woods added to awesome Combine with the follow numbers
All would've been #1 at TE at NFL Combine
#1 Athlete at TE all time #ShrineBowl pic.twitter.com/SGgIUNuqy2
The Colts upgraded from Carson Wentz to Matt Ryan at quarterback this offseason, and did well to give the veteran help in the draft. The Cowboys didn’t have a receiver or defensive end left to take in the first round, but seeing Raimann as a third-rounder could make them regret taking a guard in the first.
The good news is that Cross is the second to last safety that forces their way onto this list, with the other also being drafted to the AFC South, and the Cowboys next opponent.
Week 14 - Vs. Houston Texans
- Round 1, Pick 15 - OL Kenyon Green, Texas A&M
- Round 2, Pick 5 - SAF Jalen Pitre, Baylor
A pair of Texas college prospects ended up with the Texans, with Green coming off the board at 15 being the first sign that things might not fall the Cowboys way in round one. They’ll play against Green this season, as well as Baylor’s Jalen Pitre, another centerfield type safety with great range and speed.
The Texans are still firmly going through a rebuild, and at the moment this game falls in the “must win” category for the Cowboys to avoid disappointment, but Houston drafted potential players to build around throughout their class.
Week 15 - @ Jacksonville Jaguars
- Round 1, Pick 27 - LB Devin Lloyd, Utah
- Round 3, Pick 6 - LB Chad Muma, Wyoming
The Cowboys had a chance to draft one of their 30 visit players in Devin Lloyd at 24, but passed on the Utah linebacker who went three picks later. The Jaguars added two linebackers to a roster in need of everything but a quarterback, snagging Chad Muma in the third.
Playing against both Lloyd and Muma could be a bigger challenge than opponents are expecting from Jacksonville, as both players show off great ball skills. Like the Texans game before it, this is still a game the Cowboys can’t afford to drop on the road, but the Jaguars defense paired with the progression Trevor Lawrence makes could make them pesky.
Week 17 - @ Tennessee Titans
- Round 1, Pick 18 - WR Treylon Burks, Arkansas
- Round 3, Pick 22 - QB Malik Willis, Liberty
- Round 4, Pick 38 - TE Chigoziem Okonkwo, Maryland
When the Titans traded A.J. Brown on draft night, it telegraphed the Treylon Burks pick with the Cowboys still six picks away. Burks gives the Titans the long speed to keep defenses honest as they continue to run offense through Derrick Henry.
The Titans not only jumped the Cowboys when they took Burks, but traded up in the third ahead of Dallas by two spots for Malik Willis. It came out after the draft the Cowboys may have been considering Willis before taking Jalen Tolbert.
.@RapSheet said he wondered if the Titans traded up to take Malik Willis at 86 because they thought that the Cowboys might take him. FWIW Dallas took Jalen Tolbert at 88.— Blogging The Boys (@BloggingTheBoys) May 2, 2022
( : @nflnetwork) pic.twitter.com/LEy7RXlGrC
The Titans also added an intriguing tight end prospect with strong run-blocking ability in the fourth, after the Cowboys also took Jake Ferguson. Chigoziem Okonkwo has a higher ceiling as a pass catcher, but is a rawer prospect overall compared to Ferguson.
The Cowboys have stuck to their guns that Tyler Smith, Sam Williams, and Jalen Tolbert are the right combination of prospects that addressed their biggest needs. It takes time to truly evaluate a draft, but this year’s class will mostly be thrown into the fire early.
Whether or not this proves to be a rebuild-on-the-fly year or another contending season for the Cowboys will largely be determined by how they play against other current draft picks they passed on, and the top prospects that found their way in the NFC East early on day one.