The Dallas Cowboys have made their bed and it’s a bed that consists of nine new draft picks to help build their roster as they continue their quest for that long-awaited sixth title. Each of these players was drafted with a different purpose as some will see the field early, others maybe not at all.
In this week’s episode of The Star Seminar, Rabblerousr and I discussed the best case/worst case scenarios for the Cowboys' draft picks. You can listen to the episode below or by subscribing to the Blogging The Boys podcast network so that you don’t miss any of our shows. Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.
Now, it’s time to reel that in a bit and project what we might witness this upcoming season. Here are some realistic expectations for all nine of the Cowboys’ new draft picks for their rookie year.
Round 1 (24th overall): Tyler Smith, OL, Tulsa
Picking late in the first round meant it was highly unlikely that the team was going to get a blue-chip player from this draft class. So, in true Cowboys fashion, they decided to roll the dice and opted for a player who offers upside, despite having plenty to work on in the immediate future. While the best case is that Smith’s traits open the door for him to eventually take over for future Hall of Fame tackle Tyron Smith, the best we can hope from Smith during the upcoming season is just to be an upgrade over Connor Williams at the left guard spot.
Prediction: It may not happen right away, but by Week 6 Smith will jump Connor McGovern as the team’s new left guard. He’ll lead the unit in penalties but will show some nice improvement down the stretch.
Round 2 (56th overall): De Williams, Ole Miss
The Cowboys let Randy Gregory slip through their fingers after finally seeing some of his potential show up on the field. Dallas took a chance on Gregory late in the second round back in 2015, so it shouldn’t be all that surprising that they replaced him by taking another chance late in the second round in this draft. Williams is coming off a very productive senior season where had 15 tackles for a loss, including 12.5 sacks. With Gregory now playing at a higher elevation, Williams should have opportunities to rush the passer. However, his inability to defend the run coupled with the rise of the pass-rushing presence of Micah Parsons could limit some of his snaps.
Prediction: With Dorance Armstrong ahead of him on the depth chart, expect Williams to be designated as a rotational pass-rusher. A 400-snap, five-sack season would be a nice start for the rookie.
Round 3 (88th overall): Jalen Tolbert, WR, South Alabama
Wide receivers went like hotcakes early in the draft to the point where Tolbert was being considered by the Cowboys in the second round. The team’s patience paid off as they were able to get their guy a round later. Tolbert is coming off two productive years at South Alabama and has the skills to be in the mix right away. And considering that veteran Michael Gallup is expected to miss the first part of the season recovering from knee surgery, his opportunities should be plentiful.
Prediction: He’ll split the WR2 job with free-agent acquisition James Washington early on, but will emerge as the clear no. 2 receiver a few weeks before the return of Gallup when he’ll then take on the WR3 role. An 800-yard rookie season is not out of the question.
Round 4 (129th overall): Jake Ferguson, TE, Wisconsin
It was a foregone conclusion that the Cowboys would reload at tight end after they released Blake Jarwin and franchise-tagged Dalton Schultz. The selection of Ferguson offers them a little of both as he possesses Jarwin’s receiving ability and Schultz’s blocking. The team also has third-year youngster Sean McKeon as well as veteran Jeremy Sprinkle, who are both good blockers. Getting Ferguson in the mix early might be a bit of a challenge.
Prediction: He’ll dress plenty, but his reps will be scarce and his targets will be almost non-existent. Don’t be surprised if he only hauls in a dozen catches in year one, but a couple of them could result in touchdowns.
Round 5 (155th overall): Matt Waletzko, OT, North Dakota
With La’el Collins released and Tyler Smith not being tackle ready, the Cowboys certainly could use some depth out on the edge. Terence Steele will man the right side opposite Tyron Smith, but the swing tackle position is wide open. The hope is that last year’s fourth-round pick Josh Ball could move into that role, but he has yet to log an NFL snap. The Cowboys' offensive line depth can be full of surprises as we’ve seen some lesser-known names (Brandon Knight and the before-mentioned Steele) step into bigger roles as a rookie in years past, so who knows what’s in store for Waletzko in 2022?
Prediction: Stash pick. The traits are intriguing, but Waletzko needs to clean up some of his balance issues before getting any meaningful reps. He’ll make the roster, but he’ll only log offensive snaps in garbage time.
Round 5 (167th overall): DaRon Bland, CB, Fresno State
It’s easy to be intrigued by the physical traits of Bland. After all, he’s long, he’s fast, and he has good instincts to put those traits to good use. With only one year at the Divison I level, there is a lot still to be learned about this young corner. The team went after their guy last year with another out-of-nowhere corner pick in Nahshon Wright, but he hardly saw action. With the team having a rather resilient group with Trevon Diggs, Anthony Brown, Jourdan Lewis, and Kelvin Joseph, a real path to playing time will require multiple starters to fall.
Prediction: Anthony Brown delivered as a rookie despite being a sixth-rounder so anything is possible, but a special team’s role with very minimal defensive reps is likely the scenario for Bland.
Round 5 (176th overall): Damone Clark, LB, LSU
The Tigers’ star linebacker was dropped down the rankings after the combine revealed he had a herniated disk. While he’ll have to be shelved a while until he recovers, Clark was a tackling beast last season accruing 135 total tackles, including 15 behind the line of scrimmage. The Cowboys re-signed Leighton Vander Esch and they do have last year’s LSU draft pick Jabril Cox returning from injury. Combine that with the part-time linebacking services of Micah Parsons, the team has a solid core to work from while Clark heals up.
Prediction: Doesn’t play this season. There are some optimists who think there’s an outside chance Clark debuts this season, but that usually ends up being wishful thinking.
Round 5 (178th overall): John Ridgeway, DT, Arkansas
The selection of Ridgeway marks just the second time ever that Jerry Jones has drafted a player from his alma mater (Felix Jones was the other one back in 2008). The Cowboys continue to show that they don’t value two-down players whose sole purpose is to absorb blocks, and that’s what Ridgeway is. He doesn’t offer much as a pass rusher, but his long arms come in handy shedding blocks. The veteran Carlos Watkins and second-year player Quinton Bohanna will command most of the playing time, but the opportunity for reps is there.
Prediction: Even with better players ahead of him, he’ll get some looks possibly with 200 reps and maybe even double-digit tackles. It won’t be fancy.
Round 6 (193rd overall): Devin Harper, LB, Oklahoma State
Double-dipping at linebacker with Clark not expecting to play right away is smart, but the answer is not going to be found in a player like Harper. In his five years at Oklahoma State, he improved each season and he’s got some speed, but he has a lot of processing work to do if he’s to get himself on the football field at this level.
Prediction: If things go well, he’s got a legit chance to contribute on special teams, but a final roster cut/practice squad spot could be where this one ends up.
What do you expect from these new rookies this upcoming season? Who will make the biggest impact? Who will garner the sound of crickets?