Every draft brings a shift to the landscape that leaves some existing players feeling differently about their job security. Some come out of the draft in a better position than before and others even more threatened. Today, we're going to look at the five Cowboys who look like the biggest winners following Dallas' 2022 draft.
We all had thoughts before the draft of what positions might be targeted. Some got the attention we expected, such as left guard and wide receiver, while others didn't get touched until late in the draft if at all.
Granted, post-draft free agency could still change things for some players. But as of today, based on where things stood before Thursday night compared to now, here are five Cowboys who saw their position on the team strengthened.
S Malik Hooker
The Cowboys didn't add any safety prospects until they started signing undrafted free agents. That's good news for Hooker, who now appears to be going unchallenged as one of Dallas' starting safeties in 2022.
With his new contract only averaging $4 million per season and just 25% guaranteed, Malik's claim to a starting role was hardly certain. Had the Cowboys gone with a safety early in the draft then Hooker might've had a fight on his hands.
But now it appears Hooker and Jayron Kearse will walk into the first-team lineup this season. Donovan Wilson isn't a free safety and Israel Mukuamu would have to make a shocking leap to push Malik for that role.
At this point, the biggest threat to Hooker's job is his own body. The former 1st-rounder has battled injuries since entering the league and hopefully those days are behind him.
TE Sean McKeon
Though Dallas did draft Jake Ferguson in the 5th Round, McKeon's been with the team for two seasons. An earlier pick at TE might've been bad for Sean's status but this gives him a strong opportunity to compete for the backup job.
While he went undrafted in 2020 McKeon has been protected on the 53-man roster for the last two years. And before you dismiss him as a former UDFA, remember that Blake Jarwin was starting in 2020 over Dalton Schultz before his Week 1 injury.
This isn't to say that Ferguson won't provide competition. This actually should be one of the more intriguing camp battles.
But had Dallas gone with a TE in the 3rd Round like many expected, that prospect would've walked in with some high expectations and almost guaranteed the TE2 role. Waiting until the 5th Round leaves things more open and allows McKeon's two years in the system to give him an edge.
LB Jabril Cox
The Cowboys didn't draft a linebacker until LSU's Damone Clark late in the 5th round. With LB seen as one of their biggest needs going in, this appears to be a strong endorsement for where the team sees Jabril Cox as part of their future and hopefully his progress from last year's ACL tear.
Clark is dealing with his own injury and isn't expected to play at all in 2022. He was a Day 2 talent that fell after discovering he needs a spinal fusion surgery. This will be a “redshirt” season for Damone with the hope that he comes back next year and probably replaces Leighton Vander Esch.
A veteran free agent could still be coming, but for now Dallas appears to be counting on Cox as a key contributor this season. Even if he doesn't start Jabril will need to be a big part of the LB rotation and especially the more that Micah Parsons is tasked with rushing the passer.
Dallas' true faith in Cox will be seen in how they handle things between now and camp. But with the draft now behind him, Jabril can feel even more confident about his potential role with the Cowboys in 2022..
RB Rico Dowdle
Like with Cox, Dowdle is having to come back from a season-ending injury. But given that it occurred in the 2021 preseason, Rico has a great chance to return as RB3 and especially after Dallas didn't make any investments at the position during the draft.
Dowdle will certainly still have to compete for a roster spot. The versatility of players like Ryan Nall and Sewo Olonilua could make them more valuable as potential fullbacks with emergency RB3 potential. Prospects JaQuan Hardy and new UDFA Aaron Shampklin are also in the mix, as is pure FB Nick Ralston.
If fully recovered, Dowdle provides special teams snaps as a KR and in coverage duties. He's also flashed potential at running back and now has two years in the system to increase his perceived value.
Had the Cowboys spent any of their picks at RB it could've been closed the door on Rico and these other prospects. But Dowdle's presence may indeed be why Dallas didn't make that move.
DT Carlos Watkins
Another of the targeted positions in pre-draft analysis, DT didn't get any help until Arkansas' John Ridgeway in the 5th round. That may be bad news for Quinton Bohanna at the bottom of the depth chart but it was a welcome sight for Carlos Watkins and his role on the team.
Last year Watkins was the team's second-busiest DT, trailing only Osa Odighizuwa in total snaps for the season. Once Neville Gallimore came of IR there was a more steady three-way rotation between them, but Carlos remained relevant and that earned him a second one-year contract with Dallas this offseason.
If the Jordan Davis pipe dream had happened last week, or even landing Travis Jones in the 2nd round, Watkins may not have even made it to training camp. But now Carlos should have the opportunity to remain a key part of Dallas' early-down defense. He started 14 games in 2021 and could easily return to that role now.