There are many different ways that the Cowboys could go with their first three picks in the 2022 NFL Draft. Depending on available talent at positions of need, could a run-stuffing defensive tackle be in the mix? If so, UConn's Travis Jones could be on Dallas' radar Friday night.
While Georgia's Jordan Davis has become a premiere prospect from any position in this class, Jones is generally seen as the next best run defender at defensive tackle. He is a consensus 2nd-3rd round prospect and has even had a few suggest he could go late in the 1st round.
Billed at 6'4″ and around 330 lbs., Jones has textbook size for the traditional run-stopper in a 4-3 scheme. But with eight sacks in his last two seasons, the former Husky has shown he can create some issues in the backfield as well.
Run defense has been a key issue for the Cowboys defense for a while. Even going back to 2018 when they got rushed to death by the Rams in the playoffs, Dallas has struggled to stop run-proficient offenses for several seasons.
A consistent problem in the Cowboys' approach to defense has been undervaluing defensive tackle. But while they've thrown several Day 2 picks at the position with Trysten Hill, Neville Gallimore, and Osa Odighizuwa the last three drafts, all of these players are built more to rush the passer in the “3-tech” role.
Last year Dallas signed veteran Brent Urban, a proven run stopper, to help anchor the line. But Urban only played in six games before his season ended with an arm injury. While Carlos Watkins was serviceable in the role, run defense was still a general liability for the Cowboys and again contributed to a playoff elimination against the 49ers.
Drafting someone with Travis Jones' ability would show how committed Dallas is to fixing this fatal flaw. But it would also mean potentially ignoring other positions of need such as WR, OL, TE, or LB with a premium pick.
This is where it gets tricky. If a guy like Jordan Davis fell to the 24th pick then the Cowboys should pull that trigger without hesitation; he's an immediate upgrade over anyone they currently have at either DT spot and a potentially special talent. But after Davis you move from the special guys to the next tier, and Dallas already had some strong potential in Gallimore and Odighizuwa.
Could you really justify spending a Day 2 pick on a player who will only rotate around your existing prospects?
Sure, a player like Travis Jones would be an immediate upgrade as a run stopper. But a niche role like that isn't a smart use of a premium pick. You will likely get more snaps out of a WR, TE, OL, or LB taken in the first three rounds.
That being said, Gallimore and Odighizuwa were only 3rd-round picks themselves. If the Cowboys think Travis Jones is a clear upgrade with higher potential then perhaps you don't worry about those incumbents and just get stronger. At the very least, Jones could provide immediate help against the run and perhaps take on a larger role over time.
If they stay true to form then the Cowboys likely won't prioritize DT enough to target Travis Jones over some of their other positions of need. But given how that strategy had burned them in the past, could Dallas finally decide to give defensive tackle more attention? If so, the UConn nose tackle is a name to remember in the upcoming draft.