Dallas Cowboys Rookies Forecast

By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

Solid Starter

Jalen Tolbert, WR, South Alabama – Round 3
The Cowboys had some big changes to their wide receiver room in the 2022 offseason, giving away talented veteran Amari Cooper in a cost-cutting move and losing Cedric Wilson in free agency to Miami. Dallas was able to retain Michael Gallup, but the team needed a third starting receiver to go with Gallup and CeeDee Lamb. Tolbert was a solid third-round pick as a replacement for Wilson.

At South Alabama, the 6-foot-1, 194-pound Tolbert was a dangerous playmaker, showing some quality speed and size to challenge defensive backs. Tolbert is fast enough to be a vertical receiver and has the functional size and good hands to win contested catches. While Tolbert may not be an elite No. 1 receiver in the NFL, he could become a solid starter by the end of his rookie contract.

The Cowboys signed veteran James Washington in free agency, but he was a disappointing draft pick for the Steelers, and before long Tolbert should pass him as the No. 3 receiver. The rest of the depth chart is wide open, and Tolbert could emerge as the third wideout during his rookie season, provided he is a quick study with the Dallas playbook and NFL defenses. Before long, Tolbert should be a solid starter for the Cowboys.

2021: Micah Parsons, LB
2020: Trevon Diggs, CB
2019: Connor McGovern, G
2018: Leighton Vander Esch, LB
2017: Jourdan Lewis, CB
2016: Ezekiel Elliott, RB
2015: Chazz Green, OT
2014: Zack Martin, G
2013: Travis Frederick, C

Most Likely To Bust

Sam Williams, DE, Ole Miss – Round 2
The Cowboys made a big roll of the dice with Williams in the second round. Williams was phenomenal as a pass rusher for the Rebels last year, and he was perhaps the second-best edge rusher in the SEC after Alabama’s Will Anderson in 2021. Given his skill set and production, Williams should have been a first-round pick, but numerous issues led to huge character concerns that caused him to be removed from many the draft boards of many NFL teams. Some pro sources referred to Williams as “Greg Hardy 2.0.” While Williams has the talent to be a good player, it would not be surprising if he has issues avoiding suspensions and puts himself in danger of being run out of the league. Of Dallas’ early-round picks, Williams is the most likely to end up as a bust.

2021: Nashon Wright, CB
2020: Tyler Biadasz, C
2019: Michael Jackson, CB
2018: Connor Williams, OT
2017: Chidobe Awuzie, CB
2016: Dak Prescott, QB
2015: Randy Gregory, DE
2014: Anthony Hitchens, LB
2013: Gavin Escobar, TE

Potential Boom Pick

Tyler Smith, OT, Tulsa – Round 1
Just a few years ago, the Cowboys had the best offensive line in the NFL, but age, retirement, injury, and free agency chipped away at the once superb unit. While veteran left tackle Tyron Smith is returning in 2022, Dallas had to start thinking about his replacement. The franchise also let disappointing left guard Connor Williams leave in free agency. By taking Smith in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, the Cowboys addressed both issues because Tyler Smith can start out his career at left guard and in a year or two move to left tackle to replace Tyron Smith.

Smith is a mauler in the ground game. He has a mean streak to him, and he is a force as a run blocker. Smith blocks through the whistle and is very physical at the point of attack. With violence, Smith gets after defenders to push them around and routinely move them out of their gaps. Smith is quick out of his stance and capable to fire to the second level while being able to function in space. Few left tackles have Smith’s mauler style as a run blocker, so he is a rare left tackle prospect who can be a force in both phases.

As a pass blocker, Smith is a freakish athlete. He combines athleticism with quickness, agility, and strength. Thanks to his quick feet, Smith is a true dancing bear who can glide with rushers while being able to get depth in his drop to take away the edge from speed rushers. He has natural strength, good length with massive bulk to anchor and stop bull rushes. There is no doubt that Smith is a smooth mover with the power to finish off defenders and to keep them from getting pressure on the quarterback. Smith also is very intelligent, giving him the ability to adjust to games by the defensive line and showing developed awareness and recognition skills that stem from his intelligence.

Smith has issues to develop for the NFL, including overall technique, patience, and hand placement. He is very young at only 20 years old while also having had a young position coach in college. While Smith needs some refinement, he has a massive skill set that bears a ton of upside.

Here were the thoughts of another area scout on Smith before the draft, “He’s the definition of a dancing bear at 6-foot-5, 320 pounds; freaky balance and bend. Powerful man. Physically in the Jason Peters, Greg Robinson sphere, not near as raw coming out and the good tape is very good. Just needs time because he plays the game a bit like a defensive tackle and needs to learn patience.

“He could go to guard as a rookie just to get him on the field and let him tee off on people, and in the right situation, a perennial Pro Bowl talent. He’s the rare left tackle who can maul you in the run game. Not even close to what he can be – lightly recruited out of Fort Worth. Of the offensive linemen in this class, he’s the one who could just as easily flip over to defensive tackle and still be a high end talent because he’s so big, explosive, and physical.

“He’s a clear first-round talent. Back half of first round could get interesting. I know offensive line coaches – they will fight like hell to get him. Can’t find his size, athleticism, physicality, and raw intelligence at that young often enough. His issues are all correctable. As a player right now, he is more of a second-round pick, although if you watch Mississippi State, Oklahoma State both years, and Ohio State game this season, he was the best player on the field against their best completion.”

Another area scout texted me about Smith early in the offseason, “If Tyler Smith blows up his combine and workouts, he could go top 10. He’s more gifted than the other offensive tackles in this class besides the N.C. State kid. Smith is 6-foot-5, 325 pounds with 34+-inch arms. As violent as he plays. and the fact he can play guard also, I could see someone pushing him up because he’s only 20 and smart also. He’ll hover bottom 1/early 2 until workouts and then we’ll see how he handles process.”

Thus based on the opinions of scouts from around the league, Smith has serious boom pick potential for Dallas.

2021: Kelvin Joseph, CB
2020: CeeDee Lamb, WR
2019: Trysten Hill, DT
2018: Dorance Armstrong, DE
2017: Taco Charlton, DE
2016: Jaylon Smith, LB
2015: Byron Jones, S
2014: DeMarcus Lawrence, DE
2013: Terrance Williams, WR

Future Depth Player

Jake Ferguson, TE, Wisconsin – Round 4
The Cowboys used their franchise tag to prevent veteran Dalton Schultz from leaving in free agency, but they were still in need of some tight end depth. Ferguson was an excellent fourth-round selection because he is a tough run blocker who showed some natural receiving ability for the Badgers.

Over the past few seasons, Ferguson was held back by weak quarterback play, which hurt his tape for scouts. Sources from other NFL teams, however, also really liked Ferguson and thought he could be a mid-round steal. With Schultz locked in as the starter, Ferguson could develop into being a really good No. 2 tight end to pair with Schultz in double-tight end sets while providing quality depth in case Schultz gets injured.

2021: Jabril Cox, LB
2020: Bradley Anae, DE
2019: Tony Pollard, RB
2018: Michael Gallup, WR
2017: Ryan Switzer, WR
2016: Charles Tapper, DE
2015: Damien Wilson, LB
2014: Ben Gardner, DE
2013: Joseph Randle, RB

Walt’s 2022 NFL Draft Grades:

24. Tyler Smith, OT, Tulsa B Grade
This is a fine pick, but why not Jermaine Johnson to replace Randy Gregory? The Cowboys had to be a bit depressed with their top three options – Zion Johnson, Treylon Burks, Kenyon Green – all off the board, but Tyler Smith is a solid tackle who should be a decent replacement for the departed La’el Collins.

56. Sam Williams, DE, Ole Miss – A- Grade
This is going to sound familiar. The Cowboys just drafted a talented front-seven player with character issues. They’ve done this many times, and Sam Williams is the latest such selection. Edge rush was a big need, and Williams will fill it well, provided he can stay out of trouble.

88. Jalen Tolbert, WR, South Alabama – B+ Grade
The Cowboys needed a receiver after losing Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson this offseason. Jalen Tolbert is a solid pick in this range. He has a wide range of outcomes in his career, as he has big-play ability, but didn’t face much competition at South Alabama.

129. Jake Ferguson, TE, Wisconsin – B- Grade
I mocked Jake Ferguson to the Cowboys, but in the fifth round. He makes sense for them despite this being a bit of a reach though. Dallas fears that it’ll lose Dalton Schultz after this season, so Ferguson could take over as the starter in 2023 and beyond, assuming that he doesn’t flop.

155. Matt Waletzko, OT, North Dakota – B+ Grade
The Cowboys are really making sure that they’re shoring up their offensive line. Matt Waletzko is someone I’ve had in the fifth and sixth round of my mock drafts, so he definitely fits the range. This is a solid pick.

167. DaRon Bland, CB, Fresno State – B Grade
This may seem like a bland pick for the Cowboys (sorry), but it could help their secondary, which needed to improve. DaRon Bland, a fast corner, is someone I had in the sixth round, but a slight reach like this in the middle of the fifth round isn’t a big deal.

176. Damone Clark, LB, LSU – A+ Grade
Love it! Damone Clark would have been a second-round prospect if it weren’t for spinal surgery. Those are two scary words, which is why he dropped three rounds. Clark may never play in the NFL, but if he can make it back from injury, he could end up being an excellent player for Dallas.

178. John Ridgeway, DT, Arkansas – A Grade
The Cowboys are on fire at the end of the fifth round. John Ridgeway is someone I slotted in the third- or fourth-round area, so I love this value. Ridgeway is a big player who can help stop the run, which is essential against Philadelphia.

193. Devin Harper, LB, Oklahoma State – B+ Grade
It’s no surprise that the Cowboys are addressing their need for linebacker depth. Devin Harper seems like a decent choice here in the sixth round, as I had him in this range in my updates.

2022 NFL Draft Team Grade: A-. Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

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