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Cowboys news: Stephen Jones insists Damone Clark could play in 2022

The anticipation is building for the Cowboys rookie class to take the field.

NFL: Scouting Combine Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Cowboys: LB Damone Clark will be ‘ahead of schedule’ in rehab, expected to play in ‘22 - Todd Brock, Cowboys Wire

The Cowboys are never scared to gamble on players with an injury history. This year it was Damone Clark.

LSU linebacker Damone Clark was, at one time, pegged on most draft boards as a possible Day 1 or Day 2 selection. He led the entire SEC in tackles last season, was a second-team All-American, and he followed it all up with an impressive showing at the Senior Bowl.

But then at the combine, Clark was found to have a herniated disc. He had spinal fusion surgery on March 24; his draft stock plummeted.

But the Cowboys were more intrigued by his long-term upside than they were scared by his short-term recovery. And despite many around the league writing off Clark for the entire 2022 season, the Dallas front office isn’t so sure he won’t be back sooner rather than later.

“He’ll miss six months from his time in surgery,” director of player personnel Stephen Jones said of Clark on Saturday. “This is a guy who works, works, works. Football is very important to him. Very committed to getting back, and he’s going to work through his injuries. If anything, he’s going to be one of those guys who’s ahead of schedule.”

5 Biggest Winners From Cowboys 2022 Draft - Jess Haynie, Inside The Star

Clark could be this year’s Jabril Cox for the Cowboys, but Cox still came out of this draft a winner with Dallas waiting until the fifth round to take a linebacker.

LB Jabril Cox

The Cowboys didn’t draft a linebacker until LSU’s Damone Clark late in the 5th round. With LB seen as one of their biggest needs going in, this appears to be a strong endorsement for where the team sees Jabril Cox as part of their future and hopefully his progress from last year’s ACL tear.

Clark is dealing with his own injury and isn’t expected to play at all in 2022. He was a Day 2 talent that fell after discovering he needs a spinal fusion surgery. This will be a “redshirt” season for Damone with the hope that he comes back next year and probably replaces Leighton Vander Esch.

A veteran free agent could still be coming, but for now Dallas appears to be counting on Cox as a key contributor this season. Even if he doesn’t start Jabril will need to be a big part of the LB rotation and especially the more that Micah Parsons is tasked with rushing the passer.

Dallas’ true faith in Cox will be seen in how they handle things between now and camp. But with the draft now behind him, Jabril can feel even more confident about his potential role with the Cowboys in 2022.

Rookie Tyler Smith Has ‘Tremendous Ceiling,’ Raves Cowboys Coach Mike McCarthy - Mike Fisher, CowboysSI.com

The Cowboys have time for Smith to reach his ceiling, but will need his floor to be a serviceable left guard this season.

It’s indescribable being able to finally come home after all this time to be able to play for America’s Team,” he said. “It’s a dream come true. I grew up watching this team.”

“Indescribable’’ ... is a word that fits the fact he has overcome Blount’s Disease, which as a youngster left his legs bowlegged - and put him in leg braces for much of that time.

But Smith overcame Blount’s Disease to start 23 of 25 games at Tulsa and become a second-team All-AAC pick this year. One concern for fans and the team that surrounds Smith is penalties. He was the most penalized player in Division I football last season, with 16 total penalties - 12 for holding - comparable to the player he could potentially replace, Williams, who had 15 total.

“At the end of the day, the work is going to speak for itself,” Tyler Smith said. ”Having these guys around me, being able to learn from those guys and play with those guys, that’s going to be huge for my development as a player. I feel like it’s nothing but a blessing in terms of what I can be.”

Smith will have some large cleats to fill, and time will tell if he was the best offensive lineman available at No. 24 as the Cowboys thought.

2022 NFL Draft: The Biggest Mistakes That Could Have Been Avoided - Ian Wharton, Bleacher Report

Should the Cowboys have addressed their needs in a different order, and passed on offensive line entirely in the first round?

6. Dallas Cowboys: Grabbing Tyler Smith over Bigger Needs

One massive aspect of how teams can win the NFL draft is to correctly value positions of need. Quarterbacks, pass-rushers, offensive tackles and cornerbacks cost the most for veteran contracts and therefore routinely go high in the first round. It’s less common to see interior offensive linemen and run-focused defenders go in the first round since those skill sets can usually be found later in the draft.

The Dallas Cowboys were on the clock with the draft’s premier center prospect, Tyler Linderbaum, two well-regarded edge prospects in Jermaine Johnson II and George Karlaftis, and top linebacker Devin Lloyd still available. Instead of grabbing an ideal fit at a more valuable position or higher-rated prospect, the Cowboys opted for Tulsa’s Tyler Smith. Smith is an excellent athlete who starred at left tackle in college but is projected to play guard for Dallas.

The Cowboys had Smith rated higher than guards Kenyon Green and Zion Johnson, according to Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News. He’ll need work on his technique but can become an excellent starter in time. However, Dallas may be the victim of focusing too much on filling an immediate need and passing on the opportunity to get a difference-maker at a key position.

Serviceable free agents like Ereck Flowers, Trai Turner and Quinton Spain could have come in off the street and been an average presence in 2022 for Dallas. The question of whether a combination of a free-agent guard and one of the better prospects would have been a preferred option for Dallas will exist unless Smith proves to be a Pro Bowler quickly.

What Cowboys’ draft class lacks in star power is made up in staying power - Todd Archer, ESPN

The Cowboys did their best to enter the draft without any glaring needs, but still focused heavily on positions of weakness.

Jones said the Cowboys entered the draft without any “musts,” but they certainly had questions.

Smith was the Cowboys’ highest-rated offensive lineman remaining when they took him in the first round. Williams had a high second-round grade and they nearly selected Tolbert at No. 56 overall in the second round but felt a receiver was more likely to fall to No. 88 than a pass-rusher.

“I would say those positions that were [blinking] to us when we were picking, I think it was just sorting through when was the best time to get these players,” Jones said. “Whether the best guy right off the bat is the lineman, take him. If it would’ve been the pass-rusher, then take him. But I think we did a really good job of working through our board.”

On the draft’s third day, the Cowboys had at least a fourth-round grade on each of their first five picks, according to Jones. Fifth-round linebacker Damone Clark had a third-round grade but fell because of a spinal fusion surgery that will keep him off the field for at least part of the season. If he is fully healthy in 2023, he could be the biggest find of the class considering he had 135 tackles last season at LSU.

With Smith, fifth-round tackle Matt Waletzko and 2021 fourth-rounder Josh Ball, Jerry Jones said the Cowboys will not need to add a veteran as the backup swing tackle. Cornerback DaRon Bland and sixth-rounder Devin Harper can be major special teams additions. The Cowboys’ fourth fifth-rounder, John Ridgeway, brings size (6-foot-6, 320 pounds) the Cowboys need at defensive tackle.

“That’s the best I’ve ever seen us work it in a draft room with a combination of how we ended up with these players,” Jones said.

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