It’s been a turbulent time in Dallas since their season ended at the hands of long-time rival San Francisco 49ers in January’s wildcard round debacle. Since then, the Cowboys have traded Amari Cooper, had Randy Gregory stolen right from under them, cut La’el Collins, and let wide receiver Cedrick Wilson walk away in free agency.
So, the upcoming NFL draft may be one of the most vital in quite some time for Jerry Jones and his Cowboys. In recent years, Dallas has done well in the draft and will need to hit big at some key positions again this year. The Cowboys are not a championship contender, so they’ve got more than a few holes to fill, but I’m going to give you three key positions Jerry and the Boys must get right in the 2022 draft.
1. Offensive line: Guard or Tackle
This one should be obvious, but we are talking about Jerry Jones making these picks. Jerry tends to go for the sizzle over the steak. The flashy glamour positions like wide receiver or cornerback tend to peak Jones’ interest no matter the team’s need at a given time. The Cowboys need to begin the rebuild of this offensive line asap.
Now that Dallas has confirmed their perceived identity as a pass-first team, it’s time to secure Dak Prescott’s protection, so he stays healthy for the next decade. Left tackle Tyron Smith is nearing the end as he’s been banged up for the better part of the last two seasons in Dallas. Smith played in just 13 of 33 regular-season games from’ 20-22. Guard Zack Martin is still playing at a high level, but at 31 years of age, he might have another two to three years left in his prime. And again, Collins was let go, and former center Travis Frederick retired two years ago.
So, it’s definitely time for Dallas to look to the future of this offensive line. Right tackle Terence Steele has been a pleasant surprise, which is why the Cowboys felt they could cut ties with Collins and not look back. In this draft, the Cowboys should be looking to go in the direction of the offensive line with either their first or second pick. In his most recent mock draft, Charles Davis has Dallas selecting guard Zion Johnson out of Boston College with the 24th overall pick. This would be a great start in rebuilding a once-dominant offensive line. Let’s just hope they don’t draft another receiver in the first round knowing they have many other needs.
2. Defensive line: Edge rusher or Defensive tackle
Are you sensing a theme here? Good, because you should. Dallas must return to dominating in the trenches. A flashy offense is fantastic, and we know this attracts the most attention, but winning teams usually rank toward the top of the league in the trenches on both sides of the ball. The defense was much improved last year with the addition of Micah Parsons, but when it mattered in the postseason, they couldn’t get home in rushing the quarterback.
Dallas came up with a giant donut to represent the number of times they sacked Jimmy Garoppolo in their wildcard loss at home to San Francisco. On top of that, the Cowboys allowed the Niners to convert nearly 50 percent on third downs. That’s going to be a losing formula almost every time. Add to that the heartbreak of fumbling the Gregory signing, and Dallas desperately needs another edge rusher. A highly-rated young defensive tackle would also suffice, but Dallas should be selecting one if not two edge rushers at some point in this draft.
CBS Sports draft analyst Josh Edwards sees Jerry Jones opting for edge rusher out of Purdue, George Karlaftis. Another mock draft has the Cowboys taking DT Jordan Davis from Georgia. Davis should be a Week 1 starter no matter where he lands in the draft. Just go back and watch some of his game clips from Georgia. Should Davis last this long into the draft, I think the Jones family should jump at the opportunity to draft this kid.
Jones and the Cowboys got lucky when they drafted Micah Parsons in last year’s draft with the 12th overall pick. The team was looking toward drafting a cornerback before the top two corners in that draft class were snatched off the board right before their pick came around. So, Dallas traded two spots back, and Parsons was there waiting. Parsons was selected to the Pro Bowl, named All-Pro, and took home Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.
Now the Cowboys should look to add another athletic, rangy linebacker to pair with Parsons. Jabril Cox was also drafted last year and was having a great rookie campaign until he suffered a torn ACL halfway through the season. Hopefully, he can return to the form we saw in seven games during his rookie season.
So, the Cowboys need to be ready. Leighton Vander Esch is still on the roster, but Cox was already stealing snaps from before the ACL injury derailed him. Nakobe Dean, another Georgia Bulldog, could be around for Dallas around pick 24 if they decide to go that route over a pass rusher or offensive linemen. Devin Lloyd out of Utah is another option for the Cowboys at linebacker who could be available when they pick.
Whether it’s the O-line, D-line, or linebacker position, a player that fits the criteria needs to be Dallas’ first pick in the 2022 draft. Jerry can be easily distracted by shiny things, like receivers, but not this time, hopefully. In this draft, a player from each of these position groups should be selected by Dallas.
Yes, there are other needs like a reliable, consistent kicker, but they should be able to find one later. And, of course, I’m aware that Jones will draft a receiver with one of their picks. He just can’t help himself. All we can hope is that Jones at least waits until the fourth round or later to do so.