The draft typically brings an optimism around the Dallas Cowboys thanks to a trust in Will McClay and the scouting staff to find impact players. It wasn’t easy for the Cowboys to convince fans their 2022 draft was a positive one after starting off with Tyler Smith as their first-round pick, but by the end of day three they took advantage of the strengths in this class and attacked their needs.
Part of the initial disappointment from the Cowboys locking in on Smith as the 24th overall pick came from what their NFC East rivals did much earlier in the draft. The Giants grabbed Kavon Thibodeaux at fifth overall and Evan Neal at seven, the Eagles snagged Jordan Davis while pulling off a trade for star receiver A.J. Brown, and Washington gave new QB Carson Wentz a versatile receiver in Jahan Dotson.
It’s clear these Cowboys rivals don’t share the same blue-and-silver tinted view on America’s Team that Dallas themselves does, nor should they. The Cowboys have been selling their perfect record in the NFC East from 2021 as a reason to expect success in 2022, but in a division without a repeat winner since 2004 it’s clear the race is on in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington to catch Dallas.
The advantage the Cowboys have in this race is a significant one though, and it showed throughout the draft.
Dak Prescott is still clearly the best quarterback in the NFC East, and the Cowboys will need him to elevate the talent around him.
We’ll never know if the Cowboys would have actually taken a receiver at 24th overall, since their targets got wiped out much earlier, but it would have sent a much different message about their faith in Dak Prescott. Sure, the 2018 experiment where Prescott had virtually nobody to throw to until the Amari Cooper trade should never be repeated, but even with Cooper gone the Cowboys came into this draft with talent at receiver.
Where teams more commonly do wrong by their franchise quarterback is protection on the offensive line, and this is clearly where the Cowboys felt Prescott needed the most help. Not only does Tyler Smith have a chance to be a more consistent pass blocker than Connor Williams, but his strength as a run blocker could be part of the solution for the Cowboys to find their ground game again.
This past season was the first for Prescott under his new contract, and in games he was sacked one time or less he completed nearly 70% of his passes for 23 touchdowns and three interceptions. He also dealt with lingering concerns about his ankle, missing one game. The start of this offseason program will be an important step for a healthy Dak Prescott to help prove this team is going in the right direction with him on this new deal.
How the front-office handled team-building throughout Prescott’s rookie contract, a sweet spot to build around young talent at the game’s most crucial position, earned a lot of skepticism. The team also took a similar free agency approach this offseason, with the groundwork in place for Prescott’s contract to be their “out” when explaining why top free agents sign elsewhere for years to come.
Any other team in the division would love to have Prescott. The Giants did not pick up a fifth-year option on Daniel Jones, the Eagles already have two first-round picks in next year’s draft with a better quarterback class, and the Commanders had to tell their supposed franchise QB they were going to use a fifth-round pick on a project QB Sam Howell.
There’s a fine line between the Cowboys asking too much of Prescott, allowing one of these teams with a strength outside of the position to contend, and them preparing to use draft assets elsewhere while Prescott elevates the offense. With how volatile defensive performance is from year to year, and the potentially short window the Cowboys will have Dan Quinn as coordinator, it was wise to use five picks on defense. The receiver they did take, Jalen Tolbert, has the ability to create space for other receivers by selling vertical routes while using his length to attack defensive backs. That gives Tolbert a real chance to contribute in year one.
We discussed these ideas in the latest episode of Hidden Yardage on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to our network so you don’t miss any of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.
The Cowboys have been gifted both a franchise quarterback from a fourth-round pick, and the benefit of a division where other teams have yet to find this invaluable asset. Every offseason move in Dallas is graded by how close it supposedly gets them to a Super Bowl, but more realistically this team first needs to be a mainstay in the NFC playoffs. Prescott winning the NFC East consistently, if the Cowboys offensive line does take a step forward this season, is a solid goal to set for a team that’s been through as much as they have this offseason.
On-field activities have always been a great distraction from whatever’s happening with the Cowboys elsewhere, and OTAs with a healthy franchise quarterback begin in three weeks. Hopefully this is just the start of positive reports coming from a team that drafted with full confidence in their signal caller.