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Likely selecting more players than can possibly make the team, the Cowboys threw numbers at trying to round out their roster. Photo courtesy DallasCowboys.com

As it was the NFL and it was in Las Vegas, this year’s annual player selection extravaganza was as wild and over-the-top an affair as could have been reasonably expected. The estimated 40,000 in the stands certainly got their money’s worth (especially because attendance was free). Along with nine trades in the first round, including two player trades, an event nearly as rare as analysts accurately predicting the picks, there was a bevy of random and disparate celebrity appearances — uninspiring third-tier comedians, the names of which no one can recall, the ghastly drum-tight visage of an 87% botulinum toxin-composed Wayne Newton, and even a Locs and Raiders jersey-sporting Ice Cube plucked from the audience in a completely organic, definitely not pre-planned way. It was big, it was loud, it was the NFL.

With the number of starter vacancies on their roster, and picking late in each round, the Cowboys had a tough task ahead of them in trying to improve their squad amid the NFL-branded three-ring circus. In the days since, evaluations of how well the Cowboys managed the chaos (both the NFL’s and their own) from all across the football media commentariat vary wildly, with most, admittedly, leaning sharply toward the “D is for ‘diploma’ — that’s good enough for me” end of the spectrum. However, no East Coast sport-jacketed talking head’s opinion matters more than those of our own fearless and whiskey-fueled reporters. Let’s see how they grade the Cowboys’ 2022 draft haul.

 

Troy Fakeman
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It’s fitting that this year’s NFL draft took place in Las Vegas, because the Cowboys came to gamble. With 11 picks, they hit the tables with a sizable stack of chips to play with. The problem is, most of that stack consisted of single dollar tokens in the form of Day 3 picks instead of all the juicy black $100 chips able to be tossed around by their NFC East rivals. Dallas’ meager bankroll was also compounded by the fact they entered the game with some pretty obvious tells. Because free agency was little more than an afterthought to the front office as they focused instead on sponsorship deals and coverups, Jerry Jones and Co. were forced to enter the war room with a shopping list of specific positions they needed to address, anathema to the much-venerated draft mantra of “best player available.” As a result, the Cowboys were forced to go all-in on some fairly questionable hands.

Their Day 1 pick of Tulsa tackle Tyler Smith read like a panic move after more coveted O-linemen were taken well ahead of the Cowboys’ pick at 24. The kid is raw, with some frustrating technique issues that often lead to holding penalties (an apparent Cowboys prerequisite for left guard, where Smith will likely start next year). Yet given his size and the mean, mauling edge he plays with, along with an infectious, jovial, Joe Loony-type personality, if he can manage to develop and keep the penalties under control, it’s easy to see him quickly becoming a fan favorite, overcoming the current lack of enthusiasm surrounding his selection.

On Day 2, Jerry and the Joneses did what they traditionally do with their second-round pick, which is to use it on a player with undeniable talent but some major concerns. This year’s version was “troubled” defensive end Sam — née “De” — Williams. Just the phrase “alleged sexual battery” is a grotesque sequence of words that I hate even having to type, much less attribute to a member of a team I actively root for. In fairness, the charges against Williams while at Ole Miss were eventually dropped, but I’m all for taking a guilty-until-proven-innocent approach with this kid, personally. The talent is definitely there. We’ll just have to wait and see if he can live down his prior reputation as did Micah Parsons last year or live up to it as Greg Hardy once did.

Round 3 landed the Cowboys their first pick of legitimately good value. Jalen Tolbert was the Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the year. His skillset is more identical to Michael Gallup’s and CeeDee Lamb’s than complementary to them, but with the wide receiver room as thin as it was heading into next year, Tolbert should be able to contribute right away, taking over much of the void left by the departure of Cedrick Wilson.

Round 4 saw another panic move as the tight ends on Dallas’ wishlist went off the board one after the other. I would like to have seen them move up and take Washington’s Cade Otton by packaging one or two of their four fifth-round selections. One of them was the meager compensation for Amari Cooper from the Browns that looks all-the-more shameful after two comparable receivers were traded by other teams for first-round selections on Thursday. Alas, the Cowboys went with quantity over quality this year, and Wisconsin’s Jake Ferguson will have to do.

After the kneejerk pick of Ferguson, and a bit of a reach with the following pick, their first in the fifth round, which they spent on developmental offensive tackle prospect Matt Waletzko, I actually really like the rest of the Cowboys’ choices. The other fifth rounders saw DC Dan Quinn net another lengthy corner in Daron Bland; a potential future All-Pro (if he can fully recover from recent spinal fusion surgery — yikes!) in LSU linebacker Damone Clark; and a big space-eating D-tackle in Razorback John Ridgeway. With Clark more than likely set to redshirt his rookie year, in the sixth round, Dallas bolstered their linebacker depth with Oklahoma State’s Devin Harper.

I suppose the Cowboys achieved what they set out to do, which was snag enough bodies at the right spots to be able to field a complete team come September. Many of the guys taken (or supplemented from the massive haul of undrafted free agents Dallas signed over the weekend) have a chance to develop into decent to good (or better) players. The issue is in having to wait on them to do so. It’s a weird approach for a team that’s supposedly in “win-now” mode. Dak Prescott isn’t getting any younger. Overall grade: B-

 

Bo Jacksboro

The Cowboys’ 2022 draft was as predictable as it was disappointing. Unlike the past couple of years, the front office used the NFL’s annual pick-’em to fill holes in their increasingly leaky boat. They panic-drafted need after need as better players remained on the board.

Owner/GM/baby-daddy Jerry Jones said the team’s first-round pick, Tulsa offensive tackle Tyler Smith, was the 16th-ranked player on his big board. Nabbing him at 24, the newly minted father of an illegitimate daughter said, was a great bargain. Yet the scouting reports on Smith all point to an underdeveloped, sloppy physical competitor who lacks technique and is penalty prone. Jerry took replacing erstwhile guard Conner Williams a little too literally.

With Pick 56 in the second round, the team drafted physical freak Sam Williams, an edge player out of Ole Miss. On the field, he looks every bit the part at 6-foot-4 and 261 pounds, with production to match. His 12.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for a loss earned him second-team All-American honors. He was also accused of sexual battery, continuing the Cowboys’ run of gambling on idiots and ne’er-do-wells in the second round — aside from Trevon Diggs, who is the only Round 2 pick on the roster who wasn’t present during a murder (Kelvin Joseph) or suspended from both his college and pro teams for being a knucklehead (Trysten Hill).

Jalen Tolbert, a wideout from the University of South Alabama, might redeem the front office’s second day. He’s a legit deep threat who tracks the ball at an elite level. He’s a Michael Gallup starter kit in Ceedee Lamb’s body.

Fourth-rounder Jake Ferguson, tight-end out of Wisconsin, might develop into a nice player, but he turned in average production with so-so athleticism to match. He looks like the ultimate JAG (Just a Guy), who could hang around and play backup for a few years before moving on to sell used Chryslers.

The rest of the Boys’ haul was a mix of “Who?” and “Wow!”

I’m a huge fan of fifth-rounder Matt Waletzko, OT from North Dakota. He’s a developmental guy who looks plucked out of Central Casting for an offensive tackle. His fellow Round-5er, Damone Clark, LB from LSU, would have likely gone two or three rounds prior if not for his recent spinal fusion surgery. If he can make it back to his previous level, this could be the steal of the draft. Arkansas DT John Ridgeway, the team’s final pick of the fifth, is the run-stopping mauler this front has needed for half a decade. I’ve never heard of Daron Bland or Devin Harper, which probably means they’ll blossom into stars.

The Cowboys reached for guys, but those guys might be good enough to keep the team from swirling the drain — and right into mediocrity’s warm embrace. Overall grade: C+

Below is what the team should have done.

 

24 Jermaine Johnson — DE, Florida State

56 Bernhard Raihmann — OT, Central Michigan

88 Jalen Tolbert — WR, Southern Alabama

129 Darian Kinnard — G/OT, Kentucky

155 Kyle Phillips — WR, UCLA

167 Damone Clark — LB, LSU

176 John Ridgeway — DT, Arkansas

178 Kingsley Enagbare — DE, South Carolina

193 Jamaree Salyer — OG, Georgia

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