The 2022 NFL Draft has come and gone, and after a lackluster start to free agency, Dallas has finally added some promising talent to their roster. With nine picks heading into the process, the Cowboys chose not to budge from their predetermined slots, selecting four offensive players and five defenders in their 2022 Dallas Cowboys draft class.
I had them reaching more often than not and am surprised at how much the front office targeted projection over production. Tyler Smith, Matt Waletzko, DaRon Bland, and Devin Harper will need a significant amount of development in order to have an impact at their respective positions. Sam Williams also has a ways to go to be an every-down edge defender after playing out of position at Ole Miss.
In addition, Jalen Tolbert and John Ridgeway join Smith, Waletzko, and Bland as players with relatively little experience against Power-Five competition. Clark will also miss his rookie year after having spinal fusion surgery, which presents plenty of risk to his long-term future as well.
Dallas Cowboys Draft Grade: C
Overall, there are a lot of question marks in this group, and that’s typically not a desirable trait for a draft class. You hire coaches to coach, but loading up on projects is asking a bit much from any staff. The upside is there for this to be a productive group of players, but the unknown element attached to many of the Cowboys’ picks dropped their final grade.
A big part of this class exceeding my grade hinges on the development of the two offensive linemen. The Cowboys set such a high priority on improving their offensive line, including passing on better options for Smith at 24.
Therefore, polishing Smith’s game enough to make him a quality starter (at left guard or right tackle) is a must. Obviously, the expectation isn’t as high for Waletzko, but Dallas needs him to at last be a viable swing tackle in the future.
2022 Dallas Cowboys Draft Class
Round 1 Pick 24 Tyler Smith OL Tulsa (70, Big Board Rank)
I broke down the selection of Tyler Smith with a fair amount of skepticism based on those that remained on the board (Lloyd, Linderbaum) and the lack of technical ability that made him the most highly-penalized player in FBS. Aside from those issues, I am still intrigued by his upside, which is why I felt Dallas would consider him on day two.
He’s got the rare size, length, and power that teams covet on the line, and while his lateral movement may never bse suitable for tackle, he can be a stud at guard. A year ago, I made a case for Dallas reaching on Kelvin Joseph with an early second-round selection, and that same argument is viable here.
If Tyler Smith stayed at Tulsa and continued his upward pattern of development, he’d likely be a first-round pick in 2023. While I’m the first to point out how vital that improvement is, he just turned 21 in April, making him one of the youngest players in this draft.
At his age, most players are still in the ascending stages of their development, and if Dallas can be patient with him, I see no reason he can’t reach his immense upside.
Round 2 Pick 56 Sam Williams EDGE Ole Miss (79)
This was my prediction for the Cowboys at 56, though I had my questions about Dallas choosing Sam Williams after what recently transpired with Kelvin Joseph. While the sexual battery charges against Williams were ultimately dropped in 2020, Joseph was the most recent example of this team getting burned on a player who entered the NFL with character concerns.
A year ago, Joseph, Micah Parsons, and Josh Ball all came with similar red flags, and it’s never a good idea to continue to collect players that present that kind of risk. I get that kids make mistakes, but so do adults, especially those with severe amounts of money added to their years of maturation.
Having said that, Dan Quinn was enamored with Williams for a good reason. He’s extremely explosive off the snap and only just beginning to develop the techniques to be a dominant force off the edge. Williams has all the earmarks of a “war daddy,” as Jerry Jones would call it, and watching him and Micah Parsons terrorize offenses off the edge on nickel downs should be fun for the foreseeable future.
Round 3 Pick 88 Jalen Tolbert WR South Alabama (59)
Jalen Tolbert was the Cowboys’ highest-ranked selection on my big board, and someone I believed they’d seriously consider a round earlier. In a lot of ways, he is a clone of Michael Gallup with terrific body control, play strength and tracking skills that make him a dominant player on 50-50 balls.
While Dak Prescott has one of the higher passer ratings throwing downfield, the Cowboys typically only take calculated chances with their deep balls, which is why he didn’t finish in the top 25 percent of the league in passes thrown more than 20 yards downfield. Still, when the Cowboys get one-on-one opportunities on the perimeter, they like to take their chances.
However, because Dak Prescott doesn’t have the arm strength of a Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen, the Dallas Cowboys draft classes typically value 50-50 ability over deep speed in their perimeter receivers. That’s why adding Tolbert is such a great pick. Schultz will live over the middle, while CeeDee Lamb is a threat all over the field. With a pair of strong 50-50 specialists on the perimeter, it will be very difficult to play the Cowboys with just a single-high safety.
Round 4 Pick 129 Jake Ferguson TE Wisconsin (184)
I am a fan of Jake Ferguson, who is a blue-collar player that prides himself on being dependable in any situation. Still, he’s not the kind of tight end Dallas hoped to select in this class. The majority of the tight ends we were interested in were players that could stretch the field.
While Ferguson doesn’t do that, he is an overachiever that can help this team. Despite having some very talented rosters, he’s been one of Wisconsin’s most dependable players for the last four years. At the Senior Bowl, he was outclassed by the upside of the rest of the tight ends in attendance. However, he showed up every day and made plays.
He may not be better than Sean McKeon and Jeremy Sprinkle, who reside just behind Dalton Schultz on the Cowboys’ depth chart. Still, that doesn’t mean he will be outperformed by them. Ferguson blocks his tail off and catches anything he gets his hands on. This isn’t the flashiest pick, but if you told me he was going to be our third tight end for the foreseeable future, I’d be happy with that.
Round 5 Pick 155 Matt Waletzko OT North Dakota (133)
Waletzko is another player I predicted Dallas would draft in my seven-round mock draft, though I had us taking him at 176. Still, he has the kind of projectable traits Dallas was looking for in a project at the tackle position.
At well over 6’7” with 36-inch arms, the size is impressive, and he’s got excellent mobility as well. Still, NFL defenders will give him problems with their strength, and that is why he’s not likely to see the field in year one.
Waletzko will still need to take a step up with his technical development, but the most critical improvement he can make will be next offseason in our strength and conditioning program. If he comes back with an NFL-caliber frame, the Cowboys will be in business with the prospect they acquired in the trade with Cleveland for Amari Cooper.
Round 5 Pick 167 DaRon Bland CB Fresno State (NA)
Like Waletzko, Bland is another project facing a major jump in talent after spending all but his final year at Sacramento State. A former track star, Bland has the combination of size, length and athleticism that Quinn wants in a corner, and I thought Dallas would consider him on day three.
There were also flashes of his play-making ability during Bland’s time at Fresno State and the NFLPA Bowl. Still, he’s a developmental project at the position. While he has the speed and physicality to compete in coverage, Bland will need to start seeing and processing the game quicker, and his footwork needs to get more efficient in his transitions.
I didn’t have him in my top 250 prospects because his upside may top out as a special-teams contributor that provides adequate depth. I’m not saying he can’t develop into an option on defense, but he will be 23 before we get to training camp with a lot of developmental ground to make up. The odds are stacked against him in that regard, but great athletes always have a puncher’s chance when they receive NFL coaching.
Round 5 Pick 176 Damone Clark LB LSU (199)
I talked to a lot of peers that cover other NFL teams that had Clark pegged as someone they hoped their team would take a chance on during day three. I was no different in that regard, predicting him as an option for the Cowboys in my Dallas Cowboys draft Targets series.
The fit just made too much sense for Dallas. He’s not expected to play as a rookie following spinal fusion surgery to correct a herniated disc that was revealed at the combine. Still, with Leighton Vander Esch and Luke Gifford on one-year deals, Clark has a path to be this team’s long-term fit as middle linebacker.
He’s got top-100 talent, with quick reactions, excellent closing speed, and violent intentions in pursuit. He’s one of the more dependable finishers in this class and also one of its fiercest competitors. Assuming he does return to the player he was before the injury (which is no guarantee), this could be a steal for the Cowboys.
Round 5 Pick 178 John Ridgeway DT Arkansas (145)
I was a little shocked to see Ridgeway get out of the fourth round, though we did see several defensive tackles fall well beyond where I thought they would go. It’s not unusual for run-specific players to be devalued in a game so heavily invested in passing the football.
Still, I often feel teams overlook the quality of making their opponent one-dimensional by taking away their ability to run the football. That is something Dallas has prioritized since Quinn was brought in, and the selection of Ridgeway is another step in the right direction.
The guy is a difficult player to move and a natural fit as a two-gap nose. He’s powerful from head to toe, and his wrestling background shows up, as he typically plays with good leverage despite being over 6’5”. He’s got the length Quinn loves with nearly 34-inch arms and could push to be Dallas’ starting nose tackle of the future.
Round 6 Pick 193 Devin Harper LB Oklahoma State (228)
Harper was the last of three Dallas Cowboys draft prospects I correctly predicted them to take in my seven-round mock draft, and I’m excited about what he brings to the table. Like several of the Cowboys’ day-three picks, reps are necessary for him to continue to develop the instincts for his defensive position.
He was only a full-time starter for one season at Oklahoma State, serving primarily as a special-teams player and sub-package backer. While he doesn’t anticipate and spring into action in any scenario, Harper’s ability to close on the ball shows up on tape.
Whether it’s breaking on passes or coming on the blitz, he can cover a lot of ground quickly. That also holds true on the blitz, as he had eight career sacks. I believe he can develop into a quality backup to Jabril Cox as the nickel backer while also serving as a special teams ace. That would be a valuable role to fill with a sixth-round pick.