With the 2022 Reese’s Senior Bowl set to start practices on February 1, the Dallas Cowboys will be making their annual trip to Mobile to get a first-hand view at some of the top prospects in this year’s draft crop. The rosters are set, with seven players from my most recent mock draft attending, and several others that could fill the final four spots in the draft order that have yet to be determined.
A year ago, Dallas selected a trio of defenders that competed in the Senior Bowl, in Osa Odighizuwa, Chauncey Golston, and Jabril Cox. All three made a name for themselves at the event, with Cox proving to be one of the most capable linebackers in the draft in coverage.
This year, we will see over 130 players compete with the New York Jets and Detroit Lions’ coaching staffs heading up the two squads. Practices will run Tuesday through Thursday with a walkthrough on Friday and the game itself on at 1:30 p.m. (CT) on Saturday at Hancock Whitney Stadium.
For Dallas, there are plenty of holes to fill on the roster considering they have 23 players hitting free agency. Let’s take a look at the offensive players the Cowboys need to keep an eye on at the 2022 Reese’s Senior Bowl.
Offense | Defense
Senior Bowl Offensive Prospects for the Dallas Cowboys to Watch
Bailey Zappe, QB, Western Kentucky | American Team
Yes, the Cowboys have Will Grier and Ben DiNucci on the roster. However, DiNucci showed very little development in his second training camp, and Grier is on his second roster in three years in the league.
Bailey Zappe actually has a similar build and skill set to Grier coming out of West Virginia. He has a short, stocky build with slightly above-average arm strength and enough zip on his short and intermediate passes to thread the ball into tight windows. He has a good feel for timing coming out of Tyson Helton’s system, which is the same system former Cowboys fifth-rounder Mike White, played in. Zappe had a record-setting campaign in his final year, breaking the single-season marks with 5,967 yards and 62 touchdowns.
In Mobile, Zappe will need to prove his ability to maneuver in the pocket to create time and throwing lanes. The Hilltoppers ran a quick-strike offense that thrived on timing. Zappe also rarely read the full field or made pre-snap adjustments, and he will get the chance to do both through the week. Also, with some of the best defensive backs in the country across the line, he will need to show improved ball placement. Zappe had issues throwing poorly-placed passes that weren’t always intercepted due to a lack of awareness from most of the defensive backs at the Sun Belt level.
Still, he’s not afraid to pull the trigger and will have a ton of talented pass-catchers to spread the ball to in Mobile.
James Cook, RB, Georgia | American Team
The Cowboys have plenty of running backs returning that carried the ball in 2021, as well as training camp standout Rico Dowdle. However, I could see them drafting a running back for two reasons.
The first would involve needing a back like Cook, who thrives in the passing game. When Dallas drafted Pollard, much was made of his ability to play in the slot and impact the passing game in general. However, for whatever reason, Dallas hasn’t taken advantage of that skill set. Perhaps it’s that they don’t trust him in pass protection, making him a one-dimensional option in obvious-passing situations. I’ll add that Pollard doesn’t have the route-running prowess that allows him to separate in routes.
That’s where Cook is different. Cooks’ short-area quickness is a strength to his game. While Georgia didn’t always take advantage of it, that is partially because of the four-back stable the Bulldogs employed.
Not only will Cook get the chance to show off his skills in the passing game, but he will also get plenty of coaching in pass protection. I expect him to turn plenty of heads during the practice sessions with his athleticism.
One of the biggest complaints coming out of 2021 was that Kellen Moore struggled to create separate packages that utilized CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper as the top priority in the progression each week. Doing so will likely force Dallas to abandon their balanced scheme, making a passing-down back all the more vital.
Rachaad White, RB, Arizona State | National Team
Above, I mentioned to reasons the Cowboys may draft a running back. The second involves the possibility of trading Pollard. I’m not saying they will do it, but there is undoubtedly a market for him.
According to Pro Football Focus, Pollard had the fourth-best overall grade among running backs and ranked second with a run grade of 90.3. He also had the second-highest yards per carry (5.5) among running backs with at least 100 carries.
He’s also in the final year of his rookie contract, with little chance of getting an extension in Dallas. While some might clamor for the Cowboys to cut Ezekiel Elliott and extend Pollard, Elliott’s contract wouldn’t yield any cap relief until after 2022, and the idea of taking that space just to sign the less-versatile player isn’t ideal.
My point is, if Dallas were to get an offer they couldn’t refuse from a team in need of a starting-caliber back, it would make sense to part with Pollard. His market will likely never be hotter, and the Cowboys’ current cap situation, paired with their list of free agents, means additional draft capital can’t be ignored.
If that happened, Rachaad White is the type of player that could fill the void left by Pollard. He’s a tall, one-cut runner with terrific acceleration once he gets moving north and south.
Not only can he thrive in the zone-concepts Dallas uses Pollard in, but he’s also got natural hands out of the backfield. We won’t get to see his power show up much during the week, but he could impress com game time.
Where I want to see him during the practice sessions is in pass protection. Measured at 6’2”, his length and power could shine as a blocker with the proper technique.
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Jalen Tolbert, WR, South Alabama | American Team
While most haven’t heard of Jalen Tolbert, the draft community is well aware of the talented receiver that has caught 146 passes for 2,559 yards and 16 touchdowns in the past two years. He’s got a big catch radius, something I’ve always favored when predicting receivers that fit with Dak Prescott.
Prescott’s accuracy and ball-placement waiver on throws down the field and having guys with Tolbert’s size and length would be a welcomed addition. The Cowboys will see Michael Gallup and Cedrick Wilson hit free agency, though Gallup’s injury could present a scenario where he returns on a one-year prove-it deal.
Still, Tolbert would give them a big pass-catcher that routinely extends his hands to the ball. He may have played at a lower level of competition in the Sun Belt, but he was impressive even against Tennessee and a ranked-Coastal Carolina.
Sign me up to see him take on a supreme athlete in Auburn’s Roger McCreary or a physically disruptive player like Georgia’s Derion Kendrick in practice for three days. Will he be explosive enough to separate from McCreary or physical enough to do the same from Kendrick?
If Tolbert is up to the task in both areas, his value will soar into the top 50 on my board. That may be too rich for the Cowboys, considering Lamb and Cooper are still on the roster. Still, Tolbert would fit well with those two in Dallas.
Calvin Austin, WR, Memphis | American Team
While Tolbert is the kind of receiver that fits with Dak, Calvin Austin is the kind of guy this offense is missing. Players like Cooper, Lamb, and Pollard have great speed, but Austin has game-changing speed and is rumored to run in the slow 4.3’s or possibly lower. He’s the kind of gadget player Dallas could employ on shallow crossing routes, screens, and jet sweeps, while also occasionally taking a shot deep to him.
Of course, he would also be helpful in the return game. He returned a punt for a score in each of his last two years at Memphis. I want to see him show a firm grasp of the route tree from the slot while in Mobile.
As a short, slender player, Austin isn’t going to offer much on the perimeter aside from stretching the defense. However, if he can prove to have the body control and footwork to win in his release and at the top of the route, that would increase his value beyond that of a gadget player.
In addition, showing the toughness to work over the middle would help further that agenda. Overall, it should be a big week for Austin to showcase his explosiveness.
Greg Dulcich, TE, UCLA | American Team
This is an extremely talented group of tight ends coming to Mobile, with nine of my top 12 showing up. The Cowboys should be keeping a close eye on this group, with some like Ohio State’s Jeremy Ruckert getting their first chance to shine after playing in systems that didn’t target the tight end.
However, I think Dulcich is really going to shine during the week. There may be no other tight end that competes like him as a run blocker of the bunch heading to the Senior Bowl, and I could see him earning the trust of his quarterbacks very quickly.
Also, we may not see his ability to run after the catch show up in practices, but that will be a different story on game day. I love his play speed for a guy that weighs around 250 pounds, and defenders won’t enjoy tackling a player that big that gets moving as fast as he can.
Obviously, Dallas has a lot up in the air at the position. Schultz is in line for a big payday, while Blake Jarwin could end up being a cap-casualty after two injury-plagued years.
Colorado State’s Tre McBride is my top-ranked tight end participating, but Dulcich may be the most versatile one at the event. That is something the Cowboys need to keep an eye out for, considering the uncertainty at the position.
Zion Johnson, G, Boston College | National Team
Johnson is my top-rated interior lineman at the game, and Dallas will be looking to improve their situation at left guard. With Connor Williams hitting free agency, they could turn to Connor McGovern or even kick La’el Collins inside.
Still, I expect them to make an addition to the inside of that offensive front at some point. Johnson isn’t the flashiest player, but the job always seems to get done. He was credited with giving up just three sacks in three years starting at Boston College, while Pro Football Focus had him allowing just three pressures and one sack as a senior.
He spent his junior season at left tackle, but guard will be where he fits best as a professional. I expect Johnson’s technically-sound handwork and easy mobility to shine in practices, but one area he could struggle with is some of the more powerful interior players.
Johnson has good, not great, power in his upper body, with just average strength in his lower half. I expect that to change once he gets into an NFL offseason program, but for now, I want to see him hold up against guys like UConn’s Travis Jones and Oklahoma’s Perrion Winfrey in practice.
I’ll also be interested to see if he snaps the ball at all. He never played a snap at center, but at 6’3”, some teams may want to see if he can handle playing the pivot. A good showing in Mobile could make him an option at 24.
Braxton Jones, OT, Southern Utah | National Team
A lot could change if Tyron Smith or La’el Collins is no longer in Dallas next season or if Collins kicks inside. Even if both are on the roster, I could see Dallas looking for another project at tackle.
Terence Steele looked good at right tackle this season, while Josh Ball should be ready to compete after a year in the offseason program. Still, we don’t know how much will change at tackle over the next year or two.
As I’ve mentioned, both Smith and Collins are on the list of possible cap casualties, and the pair have missed quite a few games over the last few seasons. Steele will be a restricted free agent after this year, and if he’s called upon often in 2022, a team may look to poach him next offseason with an offer Dallas can’t match.
Jones would make for quite the project to mold into a future contributor. The guy has the size, arm length, and mobility to find a home on the blindside in the NFL, though there is a lot of grooming to do.
I expect he will have his share of ups and downs, as we saw from him against Arizona State and San Jose State. Jones’ strength and pad level will give him issues against the stronger ends, and I’d like to see him play with some patience in pass protection.
Steele had similar issues in Mobile, but there were also reps sprinkled in where he implemented the coaching he got and looked really good. If Jones is coachable and employs what he’s taught, he will improve through the week. Forget about how many reps he loses. How does Jones progress from day one to game day? That will be the real story.