There are two main storylines for the cowboys in the 2022 draft. The first is that, due to roster losses and inability to fill holes in free agency, the Cowboys have backed themselves into a corner of having to draft for need. They need to replace their LG with an immediate starter. They also lost a perennial pro-bowl WR, and would benefit greatly from a day 1 starter due to the fact that their WR2 will likely miss significant time. Their front office has all but admitted that they plan on reaching early in the draft to fill those holes, in lieu of drafting best player available (“BPA”). BPA is how you wind up with draft steals, and how depth charts end up with an overflow of talent. The Cowboys also lost Randy Gregory, who was a top 10 defensive end last year according to PFF. On most years, that would be the headliner. However, due to the emergence of Micah Parsons as a pass rusher, they have the luxury of choosing a developmental (athletic) DE later in the draft. Oh, they also lost their starting right tackle. They do not feel that is an issue, and I do not expect them to address it early in the draft.
The second storyline is that the cowboys have 4 fifth-round picks. In a draft where the “sweet-spot” is from picks 15-45, the Cowboys own the 55th pick. This would seem like an ideal year to package a few fifth-rounders to move into the 40s and pick up a sliding prospect. For review, the Cowboys’ 5th round picks have been Simi Fehoko, Bradlee Anae, Michael Jackson, Joe Jackson and Mike White since 2017. If they were a rebuilding team like the Texans, with no expectations of winning and in a position to gamble on lottery tickets, it would be prudent to make all of those picks. However, hey do not need four more training camp roster cuts, they need a starter. If they tended to use fifth rounders to draft high-upside athletes with starter ceilings, that would be one thing. Unfortunately, they tend to pick fifth-round prospects with fifth-round ceilings (Anae). Another sneaky need is tight end. They released Blake Jarwin, and Dalton Schultz (who is on a franchise tender) is unlikely to re-sign. TEs require development more than any other position, and they do not want to go into next year without someone already incubating.
First Round (Pick 24)
The draft Gods may smile on the Cowboys again. Their “reach pick” may also coincide with, not just the best player available, but the most underrated prospect in the first round. Zion Johnson has a realistic shot of being there at 24, and is not only a plug-and-play guard, he has physical traits of an elite OT, providing intriguing upside to an already sky-high player. If he is not there, expect Kenyon Green, who many analysts think highly of. If one of the top five WR are available, they could fill one of their other gaping holes. My favorite is explosive Jameson Williams, but he does not solve the issue of missing Gallup, who will miss time while recovering from injury. Chris Olave would also provide a “Dak friendly” option, as a crisp rout runner who will create separation. I am not convinced that Dak would maximize “body receivers” like 6’3 Drake London or 6’2 Treylon Burks, because he is not prone to throwing up 50/50 balls. DE Jermaine Johnson and George Karlaftis are remote possibilities at 24, and would also fill a position of need with a likely immediate starter. There will almost certainly be a plug-and-play LB available, but the surplus value is simply not there for that position unless they are a Parsons-level pass rusher.
Second Round (Pick 56)
I think there will be several immediate starters at positions of need available at pick 45, but not at 56. The Cowboys have the trade capital to move into that area without giving up a 3rd or 4th round pick. In that 45 area, they will have options at WR. My favorite is Christian Watson, the 6’4 burner out of North Dakota State. Dane Brugler’s draft guide projects him as the 61st overall pick, but I suspect that his elite athleticism will have him drafted higher. Other options include George Pickens (47th overall), who has the length and college production, but average speed and lateral quickness. Watson would provide a speed threat missing in this offense, and might open more space for other receivers. Concerns regarding his unrefined route running are valid, but he played in a run-first, basic, small school college offense. There is no reason to believe he is incapable of learning with proper coaching. He answers an immediate question, and, like Zion Johnson, provides intriguing additional upside.
If those two WR are gone before the mid 40s, the same trade could be used to snag DE David Ojabo, who was considered a first-rounder before an Achilles injury. He would not contribute early, but DE is a position the Cowboys can wait on because of the Parsons pass rush. However, if the WR simply are not there, I would prefer the Cowboys stay at 56 and take Drake Jackson, out of USC. At 273 pounds, with 34-inch arms, his short shuttle times significantly outpace the mean for the DE position, and are a harbinger of a future starter in a draft slot where starting DEs are not normally found. His college production was modest, but the traits hint at more. The cowboys could also take DE Sam Williams, who ran a 4.46 forty at 261 pounds, and who the cowboys have shown heavy interest in. He does not show up until 77 on the Athletic Big Board and pick 91 on Dane Brugler’s draft guide, so this would seem like a reach. He is lighter than Jackson, and has less lateral and turn quickness.
Third Round (Pick 88)
In the dream scenario, the cowboys have taken Zion Johnson and then Christian Watson, and Sam Williams is still available at 88. After Sam Williams, the only other DE that have starter traits are developmental prospects that can be had much later.
In the absence of Sam Williams, I would prefer TE Jelani Woods here. He is not expected to go until the 90s, but he has the traits to be special, and you do not want to get cute if someone can be special. He has the short area quickness and long-speed numbers of a Travis Kelce, on a sculpted 6’7 frame. He is an unrefined route runner, but few college TE are. He is also an above-average college blocker, which presents a high floor to match his high ceiling. If Woods is gone, Charlie Kolar would be worth a look. He has the physical profile of Woods, but with slightly less turning agility.
If Williams, Woods and Kolar are gone, they need to take a quick look at LG. Ed Ingram will likely be available here, and has the physical profile of a possible starter. However, if LG has not been addressed to this point, the Cowboys are likely looking to fill that hole through FA, possibly with former first round pick Ereck Flowers.
In terms of WR, I like Bo Melton, Calvin Austin and Kevin Austin, but they will all still be available much later. I like Alec Pierce, but he is likely gone, along with OT Abraham Lucas.
For the remaining BPA board, LB Troy Anderson could provide the youth influx to move away from Leighton Vander Esch. IOL Luke Fortner and Luke Goedeke would also be available, but they do not present any immediate upgrade over what is already on the roster. CB Zyon McCollum is a 6’2 CB with a 4.33 forty and unreal lateral and turning numbers. He would appear to be a luxury pick, but Kelvin Joseph’s legal troubles could make CB a sneaky need. He is a small school player, though, and might still be available in the 4th (or possibly 5th) round. Marcus Jones and Tariq Woolen would also be a consideration, but they are likely gone and do not appear to fit the CB profile for this team. Sean Rhyan is an OT in this area that people have relegated to the “IOL” pile because of his short arms, but has good athletic numbers.
4th Round (Pick 129)
Obviously, if any of the players above have fallen this far, they are your pick. I think that everyone discussed above other than Sam Williams and Jelani Woods has a realistic shot, so I expect a pick out of the previous group of players.
If none of those players are available, this is is the fork in the road, because only flawed players will be available. You can draft a player with no apparent flaws who would be an adequate rotational player. Or, you can draft someone who hasn’t reached their full potential because of injury, legal incidents, poor scheme fit, or late development (small school people). In the last four years, the Cowboys have shown a willing to do either, taking high-upside Jabrix Cox and Josh ball in 2022, “what you see is what you get” players in Tyler Biadasz and Reggie Robinson in 2021, upside Tony Pollard in 2020, and upside guys again with Dorance Armstron and Dalton Schultz in 2019. In terms of “WYSIWYG” guys, CB Marcus Jones is a productive college player with mediocre physical traits. Ed Ingram would be an appropriate WYSIWYG value at this spot. Cade Otten would also be here, and would be a “dependable but unimpressive” TE moving forward.
WR Calvin Austin would no longer be a reach here, and his lack of length might be worth gambling on his speed and quickness. DE Tyreke Smith would be available here, and he tested well for lateral and turning movement. WR Velus Jones and Danny Gray are a couple of WR with long speed, but mediocre lateral and turning testing times. Amare Barno is a DE that will be available with a 4.3 forty and great 10 yard splits as well as 3-cone, but mediocre short shuttle and subpar play strength.
RB Zamir White out of Georgia will likely be here also. He did not do all of the combine testing, so we are not as confident in our assessment of him. However, his 10-yard splits are good and his play strength on film suggests he might be an absolute horse in waiting. If you want your true Pollard replacement, Ty Chandler out of UNC is available in the 5th round. His tape looks like a supercharged Tony Pollard, and his 10 yard split bares that out. The real question is whether you want a Tony Pollard clone (Chandler) or if you are looking for a between-the-tackles lead dog. With Tony Pollard’s future uncertain after this year, this could help avoid another Gallup/Cooper or Jarwin/Schultz debacle next year, but for the RB position.
Fifth and Sixth (Picks 155, 167, 176, 178, 193)
Ideally, two of these picks were already dealt to move up in the second round. If not, and none of the players listed above are available, it is time to play the lottery. This is where mice and men are separated. If there are position groups that simply need bodies, there are plenty of “Anae” picks to be had in this range. However, I love toolsey, inexperienced (or small school) prospects in this range with speed/size traits that present high ceilings.
Matt Waletzko is a 6’7 OT with incredible length, bend, and lateral quickness. He is a solid training table away from being a steal. He is a longer, more athletic, Josh Ball, who Dane Brugler thought was a top-100 talent in the previous draft. There are several underdeveloped speedy safeties that will be available here. JT Woods out of Baylor, Percy Butler out of Luisiana, and Dane Belton out of Iowa will be here, which is essentially the earliest that the Cowboys begin considering safeties.
If you like a kicker in the draft, pick them here. I like noseguard John Ridgeway, but I do not know if he is any upgrade over Bohannan. Joshua Onujiogu and Mike Tverdov are both short-armed DE that might have sufficient lateral and turning quickness to make up for it. I really like Samori Toure, who has decent height, length and long speed, but elite turning and lateral quickness. Tyquon Thorton is a long burner, who might develop if taught how to get off the line. Lucas Krull and Braden Galloway are both developmental TE that have traits for separation. Ten yard splits appear to correlate to good RB production, and Ty Chandler’s is so comical that I thought it was a typo. Julius Chestnut is more of a long-speed/power runner, than a shifty-burst guy, but might present a powerback alternative to save Zeke. Ultimately, if two of these guys is still on your roster in two years and one of them is a starter, you have done well. If you think lightning can strike twice, Brandon Smith is a speedy LB from Penn State with 34 7/8 inch arms, who has excellent lateral and turn numbers but very little sack production. If DQ can repeat the magic, the long term ”second edge” problem could be solved with a lottery ticket 6th ground pick.