LAS VEGAS (KFDX/KJTL) — After a disappointing first-round playoff exit and the departure of several key starters, the Dallas Cowboys now look to the draft to fill the holes in their roster.
Head coach Mike McCarthy enters his third season at the helm without a playoff win under his belt, and many insiders believe he has to earn one this season to keep his job as the leader of America’s Team.
Owner and general manager Jerry Jones and his son, president of the Cowboys, Steven Jones, have seen nearly three decades pass since the last time the Lombardi Trophy found its way to Dallas.
But every new year is a new opportunity, and it all starts with the draft.
The Cowboys hope to build off of recent draft success and find the next stars that will wear the iconic star in Dallas. They’ll have the opportunity to do just that, and it all starts in Sin City.
The first round of the 2022 NFL Draft kicks off from Las Vegas on Thursday, April 28, with rounds two and three taking place on Friday, April 29, and the final four rounds on Saturday, April 30.
Where do the Cowboys pick?
The Cowboys have nine total picks, with six traditional draft picks, one draft pick via trade, and two compensatory picks headed into the 2022 NFL Draft.
- Round 1: 24th Overall
- Round 2: 56th Overall
- Round 3: 88th Overall
- Round 4: 129th Overall
- Round 5: 155th, 167th, 176th and 178th Overall
- Round 6: 193rd Overall
- Round 7: None
What are the Cowboys’ needs?
A multitude of starters from the 2021-2022 campaign found new homes this offseason, and the Cowboys have yet to make moves to replace quite a few of them.
Some key departures for the Dallas Cowboys headed into the draft:
- WR Amari Cooper traded to Cleveland Browns
- WR Cedrick Wilson signed with Miami Dolphins
- WR Makil Turner signed with San Francisco 49ers
- G Connor Williams signed with Miami Dolphins
- T La’El Collins cut, signed with Cincinnati Bengals
- DE Randy Gregory signed with Denver Broncos
- LB/S Keanu Neal signed with Tampa Bay Buccaneers
While the Cowboys did manage to sign WR Michael Gallup to a 5-year extension, placed the franchise tag on TE Dalton Schultz, re-signed a handful of players and add WR James Washington and DE Dante Fowler, Jr., there are still some massive holes to fill on the Cowboys’ roster.
While free agency certainly isn’t over, and plenty of great players are still available, the focus now turns to Las Vegas and the 2022 NFL Draft.
Here are the team’s top 5 biggest needs heading into Thursday night.
5. Defensive Tackle
There’s a lot of young talent at the defensive tackle position for the Cowboys. Unfortunately, they all specialize in pass rushing. The Cowboys need a solid run defender on the defensive line, as they’ve been weak up the middle in recent years.
Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn may have turned this abysmal defense into the league’s top scoring unit in just one year, but to have a stronger 2022 campaign, he needs help stopping the run.
One year after drafting a linebacker who became the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, it may seem silly to bring this up as a need again. However, the loss of Randy Gregory means the Cowboys’ best linebacker may be asked to rush the passer more in 2022.
Tapping into his versatility that made him such a star in 2021 is the best move for the Cowboys, but it leaves a hole behind the defensive line. 2019 first-round pick Leighton Vander Esch signed a 1-year extension, and 4th round pick Jabril Cox, who was injured last year, looks to compete for a starting role.
On paper, a Parsons – Vander Esch – Cox linebacking core looks fantastic, but injury concerns with Cox and Vander Esch and the versatility of Parsons make linebacker a need for Dallas.
3. Defensive End
Obviously, the loss of Randy Gregory to free agency means the Cowboys could use an influx of talent rushing the passer. While re-signing Dorance Armstrong adds depth and, as previously mentioned, Micah Parsons is an elite pass rusher in his own right, defensive end is a glaring need for this defense. Luckily, this draft class is very deep at the defensive end position.
Of course, don’t expect a premiere guy to be available at pick number 24 (they’ll be gone in the first three picks) but in the 2nd and 3rd round especially, there is a plethora of talent the Cowboys could add to their roster.
2. Wide Receiver
This feels strange, considering the Cowboys had arguably the best receiving trio in football at the beginning of the 2021 season. However, the loss of Amari Cooper, injury concerns with Michael Gallup, and the loss of a great role player in Cedrick Wilson means Dallas needs more targets for Dak Prescott to throw to.
2020 First Round Steal WR CeeDee Lamb takes the mantle as the new top target, with Gallup continuing to be a reliable deep ball target. Other than the Washington acquisition in free agency, this position has yet to be seriously addressed.
However, there’s also plenty of depth at this position in this draft class, too. Adding a wide receiver in the top three rounds is critical for the Cowboys to be competitive.
1. Offensive Line
The Cowboys have not been afraid of using first round picks on the offensive line in the past, and thankfully so… They need first-round talent on their line at all three positions.
What used to be the dependable, reliable strength of their offense is withering away. The Cowboys still haven’t recovered from the loss of C Travis Fredrick, and could use a solid center. LT Tyron Smith, when healthy, is still one of the best left tackles in the league. But he’s been hurt nearly every season. With LG Connor Williams gone and RT La’El Collins gone, the only consistent member of their offensive line left is RG Zack Martin, and even he was hurt last year.
So, this jumps to the top of the list of needs. Right tackle, Left tackle, left guard, center. They need all of them. Don’t be surprised if Dallas uses at least three or four of their nine total picks on the offensive line.
Who should Dallas take in the first round?
The Cowboys have found success in the first round of the NFL Draft in recent years. Four of their last five first round draft choices have been impactful starters for the Cowboys since their rookie season.
Most recently, their first round selection of Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons paid dividends, with the rookie setting franchise records and making NFL history, as well as being named the NFL Defensive Rookie Of The Year.
Here’s a look at some of the guys the Cowboys should be targeting at 24.
At 6’4″ and 325 pounds, Green was a force to be reckoned with on the Aggie offensive line. Green’s a versatile lineman, playing every position on the line except center in college. He can play either guard position as well as tackle, making him a movable chess piece on the line. He’s a brawler and wins his match-ups.
Penning played 31 games at left tackle at Northern Iowa, as well as a game each at right tackle and left guard. Versatility is the key word with Penning. In 2021, he was named a First Team All American a First Team All-Mountain Valley Conference. He’s 6-foot-7-inches tall and 325 pounds. His fundamentals need work, but his raw talent and size make him an NFL-ready tackle.
Olave has sub-4.4 40-yard dash speed, dependable play catching ability, and lead Ohio State in touchdowns in 2021. He could immediately jump in as the Cowboys third option at the slot.
Part of Georgia’s elite defense, he was a Unanimous All-American selection and won the Butkus Award, given to the nation’s best linebacker. He’s only 5’11” and 230 pounds, but he could immediately fill the role of a Keanu Neal as a nickel corner hybrid of a safety and linebacker. To that end, he had 10.5 tackles for loss, 6 sacks, 2 interceptions and 8 passes defended in 2021.
Another versatile lineman, Johnson played left guard and left tackle once he moved from Davidson to Boston College. His junior and senior year he was named a captain by his teammates, showing how looked up to he is in the locker room. He’s 6-foot-2 with long arms and big hands. He’s got quick feet and agility, and didn’t miss a game in five years of college football. Not to mention, he drew a single flag in 2021.
Linderbaum started 35 consecutive games in the past 3 seasons for Iowa, earning First Team All-American nods in his sophomore and junior year. In 2021, Linderbaum was named the Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year, First Team All Big Ten, was named a team captain, and won the Rimington Award given to the nation’s best center.
Burks set an Arkansas school record with six games over 100-yard games. He had over a thousand yards on the season with 11 touchdowns. He’s an athlete who has the natural ability to develop into a teams number one option.
Karlaftis has power, effort, and is good with his hands. He was a First Team All Big-Ten mention and lead his team with 11.5 tackles for loss in 2021. He also blocked a field goal and returned a fumble for a 56-yard touchdown.