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Dallas Cowboys Draft Targets at Linebacker

The month of April couldn’t have come quicker for most Dallas Cowboys fans. After a disappointing loss in the first round of the playoffs and a less than satisfying start to free agency, Dallas fans can turn their attention to an area where America’s Team has typically excelled over the past decade, as the Dallas Cowboys draft classes have largely been successful.

The NFL Draft is quickly approaching, and the Cowboys are wrapping up evaluations and hosting potential targets with each of their nine selections in the upcoming 2022 NFL Draft. The pressure will be on Will McClay and the Joneses to put this team in a position to be the first repeat winner the NFC East has seen since the Eagles won four straight from 2001-04.

However, after an offseason that started with more departures than additions, a strong draft haul has never been more crucial. Let’s take a look at the Dallas Cowboys draft targets at each position, starting at linebacker in this article.

QB | RB | WR | TE | OT | G/C | DE | DT | LB | CB | S | ST

Dallas Cowboys Draft Targets: Linebacker

The linebacker position is a tricky one in Dallas. With Leighton Vander Esch and Luke Gifford back on one-year deals, I could easily see them playing that pair with the second-year guys, Micah Parsons and Jabril Cox, and being fine. However, this position doesn’t have a lot of long-term solutions.

Cox will slide into Keanu Neal’s old role, and most expect him to thrive there. Still, he’s played only ten defensive snaps in the NFL. It would be great to see Vander Esch return to form or Gifford live up to some of the flashes we’ve seen in training camps. However, the jury is still out on them as well.

Parsons’ versatility is what makes this so challenging. If the Cowboys make an edge rusher the top priority, we will likely see Parsons play more snaps as a natural linebacker. Still, if the Cowboys need help coming off the edge, they will need another talented linebacker to replace him.

Where the Cowboys could look to add help

The Cowboys plan is to continue to maximize Parsons’ versatility in 2022. Still, the board is going to determine a lot, and it could be someone with similar versatility.

I’m not ruling out Dallas taking a linebacker with any pick based on value, as this year boasts a talented group of prospects at the position. They could find a partner next to Parsons in the starting lineup or grab a nickel backer or depth piece.

Devin Lloyd 2022 NFL Draft profile stats highlights projection dallas cowboys
Credit: Bryan Byerly/Utah Athletics

First-Round Dallas Cowboys Draft Options

Devin Lloyd, Utah

I would be shocked to see Devin Lloyd get to 24, but if he does, the value should make him a serious candidate. His skill set compliments Parsons so well, as Lloyd transformed into a true three-down linebacker in his senior season.

Not only did he continue to be a tackling machine with 111 tackles and 22 TFL, but he also added career highs in sacks (7), interceptions (4), and passes defensed (6). With Lloyd in the fold, Parsons could line up all over the field.

The Cowboys’ top needs are clear, and their goal in the first round should be to get an offensive lineman, wide receiver, or edge rusher. However, if they are going to draft someone outside of those three spots, Lloyd is my clear-cut favorite to be the guy they take.

Other Intriguing Dallas Cowboys Draft Targets

Brandon Smith, Penn State

The Cowboys have had their fair share of success tapping into Linebacker U, and the Cowboys were sure to be well-represented at Penn State’s Pro Day a year after striking gold with Micah Parsons.

Though his career didn’t exactly yield the kind of instant stardom Parsons’ did, Smith has increasingly showed flashes of greatness during his time in Happy Valley. The physical gifts are evident throughout the tape, as Smith is an exceptional athlete with intriguing size and outstanding arm length.

Some envision his best position being an edge-rushing linebacker, but in my opinion, some of Smith’s best snaps came as an overhang linebacker. No matter where the Cowboys envision him, he needs reps to start processing the game quicker.

Still, Smith just turned 21 in April, and if a team thinks they can get him reacting to the game naturally, he has star potential. If he is available at 88, I could see the Cowboys considering him, and that interest will peak if he gets to day three.

Darrian Beavers, Cincinnati

When people think of Cincinnati’s run to the College Football Playoffs last fall, a lot of names will cross their minds as high-impact players that helped lead the charge. Not enough people will credit Beavers for his role as an athletic linebacker with physicality and natural instincts in coverage.

While there are still some issues with him seeing and reacting in the box, the guy hasn’t been playing linebacker that long. After going to UConn as a safety, he packed on weight and jumped to defensive end, only to play linebacker in his time with the Bearcats.

Still, you look at some of the instincts he plays with dropping into zone coverage, and it gives you hope that he can do the same reading his keys in the box against the run. I’d love to see Dallas get their hands on him early on day three and groom him for a year.

He has the skill set to develop into a player that lines up on the weak side in base packages, then slides to the middle when Parsons roams on passing downs.

Damone Clark, LSU

I thought Clark had a chance to slide into the end of day three before the unfortunate news that he would need spinal fusion surgery following his physical at the NFL Combine. Still, hopes are he can return to the fast, physical linebacker that can make plays from sideline to sideline.

His desire to get in on the play is evident on tape, although he can sometimes be too aggressive. Also, while Clark is very physical, he’s a bit undersized. Tacking that on to his recent medical news, there is a strong chance many teams will bump Clark off their board until after the draft.

Still, I wouldn’t be shocked to see someone grab him later on day three to ensure he’s on their roster when he gets healthy. Considering Vander Esch and Gifford are on one-year deals, the Cowboys could afford to redshirt Clark for a year in hopes that he returns to the player he was in 2021.

Devin Harper, Oklahoma State

The Pokes have a pair of underrated linebackers in this class, with Harper and Malcolm Rodriguez. Of the two, Rodriguez is higher on my board, but Harper is the one Dallas could look to grab late in the draft or as a priority free agent.

His athleticism jumps out on tape with terrific closing speed and change-of-direction skills. The Cowboys’ one-year experiment with Keanu Neal at linebacker showed the kind of player they want as their nickel backer, and Cox is the only one left on this roster with that skill set.

Harper played a similar role for most of his career in Stillwater and could instantly provide depth behind Cox while also being an ace on special teams. He’s got a knack for getting where he wants on the blitz and has terrific range for a 235-pound player.

Tariq Carpenter, Georgia Tech

Carpenter is a similar prospect to Harper, with the exception of playing safety in college. Still, at 230 pounds, most teams see him as a nickel backer that can also be a stud on special teams. It will take some time for him to adjust to playing inside the box primarily, but he’s got plenty of looks in that regard during the pre-draft process.

He will be a developmental prospect early in his career, and considering Dallas doesn’t have a seventh-round pick, their best hope may be him going undrafted. However, his exceptional athleticism for his size may be too good to pass on for someone late on day three.

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