After over a month of free agency the Cowboys 2022 roster is starting to take shape. But with the NFL Draft starting tomorrow and plenty of other moves still possible, many new faces are potentially on the way. As it stands today, what are Dallas’ biggest needs for next season?
Some positions feel a lot better than they did in mid-March. Safety went from a deserted wasteland to having one and maybe both starters under new contracts; Jayron Kearse and Malik Hooker. Dallas lost Randy Gregory to the Broncos but managed to re-sign Dorance Armstrong and added Dante Fowler as an interesting reclamation project.
Based on these and other comings and goings, which positions need the most help as currently constituted?
We’ll work out way up from the team’s strongest positions to those of greatest need.
14. Long Snapper
Dallas re-signed Bryan Anger to a three-year deal following his Pro Bowl performance in 2021. They also brought back long snapper Jake McQuaide on another one-year contract, maintaining a partnership that clearly clicked last year. Hopefully they can find a kicker (still to come in these rankings) who can match the proficiency of his fellow special teamers.
The potential competition between Sewo Olonilua and Nick Ralston was already intriguing. But after Dallas signed veteran Ryan Nall earlier this month, it would seem they already have more than enough FB options for one training camp. This wasn’t a spot they were likely to address in the draft anyway, but the Nall signing made it abundantly clear.
12. Running Back
A Day 3 pick here isn’t off the table. Tony Pollard is entering the final year of his deal and we still need to see if Ezekiel Elliott can get back to his old self. With projected RB3 Rico Dowdle having to recover from a season-ending hip injury, an investment at running back could make sense.
Still, the Cowboys would be perfectly justified to let things stand. Even if Dowdle doesn’t come back, we saw last year that journeymen like Corey Clement or Ito Smith are always available. Second-year prospect JaQuan Hardy is also still around to compete.
And while likely needing to make the roster as fullbacks, Ryan Nall and Sewo Olonilua both have experience as ball carriers and could serve in emergency RB3 roles. Clearly, the Cowboys have options and could leave RB untouched in this draft.
Like at running back, Dallas could easily skip the QB position in this draft. They have their clear starter, a semi-experienced backup in Cooper Rush, and two young passers in Will Grier and Ben DiNucci.
The Cowboys aren’t spending anything more than a mid-round pick on QB this year. Even if they did, that rookie would have a hard time beating Rush or even Grier for a roster spot. So really, would that pick really make sense?
At the most, Dallas might use one of their final picks to add a new developmental player and dump DiNucci. But if there’s any perceived need here it’s not something that the Cowboys will address through the draft; maybe a veteran signing in May like they had with Andy Dalton in 2020.
Right now Dallas has a solid four in Trevon Diggs, Anthony Brown, Jourdan Lewis, and Kelvin Joseph. They even have developmental projects in one of last year’s 3rd-rounders, Nahshon Wright, and Kyron Brown from the practice squad.
Ideally, Joseph would soon step into a larger role and at least be ready to replace Brown next year when the veteran’s contract expires. But after the legal trouble and disturbing reports that developed around Kelvin two weeks ago, Dallas’ faith in his as a long-term asset has likely taken a hit.
If this matter is truly momentary and all parties are moving forward, the Cowboys will naturally be expecting a lot from Kelvin as a former 2nd-round pick. That and the Wright pick last year could push them to wait on investing more in CB in this draft.
Dallas will more than likely stand pat on their current talent and see what Joseph and Wright do in their second seasons. They have that luxury this year with Brown and Lewis under affordable contracts.
Jayron Kearse and Malik Hooker each got new two-year contracts this offseason. Donovan Wilson and Israel Mukuamu are still around as developmental talent. Dallas will likely give this group a year before making any big moves at safety.
The CB and S positions are relatively similar. Each has an exceptional player in Diggs and Kearse, a decent starting option in Brown and Hooker, and then some interesting potential behind them. The Cowboys don’t have to reach at either spot but, if something really interesting fell to them in an early round, they could talk themselves into a potential upgrade. Nobody after Diggs among the defensive backs is currently irreplaceable.
This is a year where it might make sense. Greg Zuerlein is gone and right now Dallas only has an unknown rookie free agent from last year in Chris Naggar. If there’s a prospect who John Fassel really loves, securing him with a draft pick may be prudent over competing with other teams in post-draft free agency.
7. Defensive End
Now we start getting into the positions of more significant need. Though Dallas has a reasonable depth chart here with current talent, Randy Gregory’s exit took away a playmaker that we don’t know will be replaced.
Sure, there’s hope that the combination of Dorance Armstrong and Dante Fowler will supplement a lot of what Gregory brought to the table. But if an explosive pass rusher were to fall into the Cowboys’ laps, could they really say no? You could easily give Tarell Basham’s roster spot to a guy who’s either an immediate upgrade or brings stronger upside for the future.
DeMarcus Lawrence and Chauncey Golston make for a solid pair as run stoppers with some pass-rushing ability. But to truly replace Gregory and avoid pigeon-holing Micah Parsons as a rusher, Dallas could easily look at DE as a priority position.
6. Tight End
This position’s priority depends on the Cowboys’ long-term strategy with Dalton Schultz. If the goal is to get him signed to a new contract as they’ve stated, TE feels right as an optional but not dire draft need. We’re going to assume that’s Dallas’ plan.
Still, TE probably needs attention after Blake Jarwin’s exit. Jeremy Sprinkle is a blocker who you don’t want just an injury away from your starting lineup. Sean McKeon is intriguing but still very unproven as a regular part of the offense.
The TE class in 2022 is a funny one; no guys seen as 1st-round talents but a huge group of comparable Day 2 prospects. Depending on the style of play and traits you must want at the position, there’s a guy for you on Friday night and perhaps early Saturday if he slides a little.
5. Defensive Tackle
The Cowboys have two exciting young DTs in Neville Gallimore and Osa Odighizuwa. The problem is that they play the same position, 3-technique tackles who are better at pass rushing than run stopping. With Quinton Bohanna still needing a lot of work and Carlos Watkins a journeyman at best, Dallas is still looking for a hole-plugging, run-stuffing DT to complete their defensive line.
Because this is somewhat of a niche role the need isn’t higher on our list. But if the fantasy of Georgia’s Jordan Davis falling to the 24th pick becomes reality, or perhaps UConn’s Travis Jones being there in the 2nd round, these guys have potential to be more than just run support.
Getting stronger in the middle is a clear need. But it’s a matter of finding the right piece to go with your existing talent, or hoping a superior talent is available who makes your current options less relevant.
There are varying opinions about Tyler Biadasz’ performance, and those takes coincide with feelings about how much Dallas should prioritize the position in the draft. Though Biadasz has shown improvement and was trending up last in 2021, he’s far from the Travis Frederick replacement that some over-optimistically hoped for when he was drafted.
Healing the wound from Frederick’s untimely retirement keeps the position as a talking point. If the Cowboys have the same mentality, Iowa’s Tyler Linderbaum is the only prospect from this draft with the clear upside to accomplish that goal.
Anyone after Linderbaum could provide competition for Biadasz but wouldn’t necessarily improve the situation. That’s not to say a mid-round pick for competitive purposes and depth is a bad idea, but Dallas already has some depth options with Connor McGovern and Matt Farniok.
4. Wide Receiver
This is probably lower than you thought you’d see WR on the list, with some even arguing for it as Dallas’ top draft priority. But I think there’s been a bit of hysteria over the Amari Cooper situation which has warped perceptions.
CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup are still a better starting duo than the Cowboys have had many years, even successful ones. The team felt good enough about Gallup’s situation to give him a long-term contract and Lamb is poised for a major breakout in his third year and as the clear top target.
James Washington was signed for veteran depth and has experience in a major offensive role with Pittsburgh. At worst, he’s capable of filling Cedrick Wilson’s role as the fourth receiver and could surprise people with production in the top three.
I would certainly like to see Dallas add another solid WR talent sometime during this draft. But I’m not going to panic if it doesn’t happen on Thursday or even Friday night. There are options to get by with if Gallup misses the first month of the season and some veteran band-aids could be added after the draft.
And while having someone to fill in for Gallup’s possible absence is a concern, these next three positions present issues that could impact the entire season.
Dallas might get by on a top three of Micah Parsons, Leighton Vander Esch, and Jabril Cox. But at that point you’re leaning heavily on Vander Esch and Cox, one with a bad history of injuries and the latter coming back from a torn ACL.
The Cowboys aren’t the only ones who see Parsons and Cox as the future at this position. But until Jabril has proven that this injury is just an isolated roadblock, a critical spot on defense can’t be left to chance.
The need is compounded by how much Micah may be asked to rush the passer in 2022. If more DE help doesn’t come and the combination of Armstrong and Fowler are ineffective, Parsons could be deployed more and more at the line of scrimmage and create more need for a LB to work in coverage.
With Vander Esch only back on a one-year contract, Dallas could easily draft someone now to provide depth and a rotation piece before replacing Leighton in 2023. With the added concern of Cox’s recovery, it would be a very sound investment for this season and more to come.
2. Offensive Tackle
How many games will Tyron Smith actually play? How much will Terence Steele grow beyond what we’ve already seen? Can Josh Ball play at all? These are too many questions at such a critical position, making OT a top concern for this draft.
I don’t think anyone is thrilled at the prospect of Steele starting at right tackle. The coaches liking him more than La’el Collins personally doesn’t mean he’s better on the field. And even if he was comparable to the declined version of Collins last year, that still means we’re weaker at the position overall than we were when La’el was playing at a Pro Bowl level.
Ball as the swing tackle is even scarier. Tyron Smith has missed way too many games since 2016 to trust in his availability now. Do we really want Josh’s first NFL action to come in a crucial moment while protecting Dak Prescott’s blind side?
There’s just too much liability here to not make it a top need. Hoping in Smith’s health, Steele’s progress, and Ball’s college tape is just too much risk for one season. Why not add a guy to compete with Steele now at RT but with the potential to eventually move to the left side in the near future?
At least at OT you have two starters ready, albeit with all the aforementioned concerns swirling around them. The same can’t be said for left guard; Connor McGovern had his shot last year and only proved that the team needs to look for something better.
The days of plugging a guy between All-Pros Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick are over. With both LT and C now in weaker states, greater attention must be given to LG and perhaps a talent who can help the guys around him. Another Zack Martin, or even just an above-average talent, on the other side of the line could do wonders.
Connor Williams was the epitome of average as a starter. He had good moments but was too leaky in pass protection and a penalty machine. His departure for Miami was welcome and there’s no sign that the Cowboys even tried to keep him.
One of the simplest exercises to reach this conclusion is to scan the list of projected starters on offense and defense and see where you cringe the most. I would argue that the idea of McGovern starting in 2022 causes the most angst, especially whenever Smith inevitably has to miss time next time him.
Thankfully, Boston College’s Zion Johnson and Texas A&M’s Kenyon Green provide two worthy options with good potential to have at least one available at the 24th pick. Dallas may even been able to trade back a little, land an extra mid-round pick, and still get one of them.
No, drafting a guard isn’t as tantalizing as play-making WR or some flashy spot on defense. But if you really look at what’s held this team back the last few years, it’s been toughness up front. The offensive line carried the Cowboys from 2014-2018 and now the team has rebuild its core.