Overtime Heroics’ countdown to the 2022 NFL Draft continues with a new mock draft. As the annual event, set to take place in Las Vegas between April 28th and April 30th, rapidly approaches, we look at how it could play out for the 32 teams involved.
Today, the Dallas Cowboys are in the spotlight. During head coach Mike McCarthy’s second season in charge, America’s Team registered dramatic improvements. Firstly, the team ended the campaign with a 12-5 record, returning to the NFL playoffs for the first time since 2018. Secondly, the quality of the on-field output, very clearly, rose substantially. More specifically, the levels of stability of the running unit, the secondary, and the pass-rush skyrocketed.
Now, after a free-agency period that observed more subtractions than additions for DAL, the Cowboys need to make the final push to complete, hopefully, a contender within the NFC. As things stand, the groups that still require more work are the edge-rusher post, the safety spot, and the receiving corps.
Here is what this year’s NFL Draft could have in store for Dallas:
1.24 (24 Overall)
Jahan Dotson, WR, Penn State
Last year, Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott led one of the best air raids in all of football. The unit finished the year third in collective passer rating and eighth in passing yards per attempt.
However, entering the 2022 campaign, the group might find itself lacking sufficient weaponry. After the Cowboys traded Amari Cooper to the Cleveland Browns, getting a fifth-round pick in return, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup remained the only reliable pass-catchers on the team’s roster. Former Pittsburgh wide receiver James Washington was later brought in but that will not be enough if the offense wants to retain its levels of productivity. In 2021, Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard proved that they can provide adequate support on the ground but stability will still be required for a unit that had the sixth-heaviest workload in the NFL last winter.
That could force the Cowboys to push the WR spot to the top of their priorities come April 28th. Fortunately, they have many options which could make that search a successful one. High-ceiling talent such as Jameson Williams, Chris Olave, and Treylon Burks is expected to be drafted somewhere around the Cowboys’ 24th overall selection on Opening Night in Las Vegas.
Penn State standout receiver Jahan Dotson seems to be the best asset available for Dallas in this draft simulation. During his senior year with the Nittany Lions, Dotson was an elite-caliber weapon in the intermediate game. The Newark native averaged 13.0 yards per catch on 91 receptions, the 12th-most in the entire FBS Division I. The latter figure is also higher than any pass-catcher projected to be selected before Dotson, with Drake London standing the closest in the chase with 88 catches.
Moreover, the 22-year-old registered consistent improvement, driving his draft stock to soar substantially. Across the 2020 season, he broke out for the first time, nearly doubling his reception total to 52 despite participating in fewer games than the previous year. Also a pleasant surprise was the fact that he accomplished that despite his deep-threat role – he had a yards-per-catch average of 17.0, tied for the fourth-highest amongst receivers with more than 52 catches. Yet, even that was eclipsed by his immensely expanded presence as a short-game go-to target.
The Cowboys are clearly in desperate need of a receiving addition and Jahan Dotson is noticeably the best asset the team could get with their inaugural pick of the 2022 NFL Draft. The possibility of Dallas electing to use the pick on an edge rusher should not be ruled out. However, the receiving corps is a bigger need even than the overhauled spots on the edge of the defensive line. In addition, Dotson is a top-of-the-class talent who should not be passed on if the team can select a solid pass-rusher later on.
2.24 (56 Overall)
Jalen Pitre, S, Baylor
The previous section of this article mentions the receiving core and the EDGE post as primary issues on the Cowboys roster. However, another hole that should not go unnoticed is at the safety position.
Last year, Dallas’s secondary enjoyed tremendous success, highlighted by top-three spots in both allowed passer rating and completion percentage. Anthony Brown and Trevon Diggs put the league on notice as the outside corners while Jayron Kearse and Damontae Kazee, in charge of the safety jobs, were not far behind in pass coverage.
However, Kazee was allowed to walk out and enter free agency, which now places the inexperienced Donovan Wilson at the top of the depth chart at free safety. Wilson has just 13 starts and 34 targets in coverage over his three-year stint at the professional level. What is needed is at least some competition to provide the coaching staff broader choice for completing the secondary.
That being said, Baylor’s Jalen Pitre can be a fairly decent option. Pitre is mainly a strong safety, but at this level players often undergo position changes and he even has some experience at FS, among other positions. Also, the trouble of keeping him at SS won’t be too big since Kearse is himself known to be a very versatile safety who faced 65 targets in coverage in 2021.
Furthermore, the five-year collegiate prospect gained valuable playing time early on in his career, having taken part in 19 games by the end of his sophomore campaign. And, of course, he particularly excelled in his last two seasons, feeling comfortable in an SS-centered role and turning in nine passes defended and 29.5 tackles for loss across a pair of Big 12 campaigns.
It seems wiser to use Pitre as a strong safety since that is where he can unveil his true potential. So, should Kearse retain his stability in case of a hypothetic move to free safety, the door could be open for Pitre to grab the starting job at SS, based on his good output with the Bears and the subsequent high ceiling that it implies.
3.24 (88 Overall)
Sam Williams, EDGE, Ole Miss
This simulation of the first two days of the 2022 NFL Draft sees Dallas wait to draft an edge rusher all the way until the late stages of the third round. One could argue that the departure of Randy Gregory leaves a more noticeable hole in the Cowboys defense. At the same time, all of the club’s other needs make that series of moves not so illogical.
In 2021, Dem Boys produced 41 sacks, 14th-most in the NFL. The unit turned in stable numbers last season but the exit of Gregory, an author of six sacks (second-most on the team), warrants a more aggressive approach in that area.
Therefore, the Cowboys might look to take a pass-rusher on the edge earlier than the third round. However, as already noted, that statement also applies to other position groups. Yet, if they indeed opt to select an edge-rusher at that point of the event, Ole Miss‘ heavy artillery, Sam Williams, is the most worthy candidate.
Across the 2021 NCAA campaign, Williams was fifth in Division I with 12.5 sacks. Furthermore, this figure and the accompanying 15 tackles for loss rank him second in the SEC in both categories. All in all, Sam Williams has put on 32.5 tackles for loss and 22.5 sacks over three collegiate seasons. That really is shocking efficiency.
Finally, Dallas should have little problem incorporating Williams into pass-rushing duties, despite the presence of Dante Fowler and Micah Parsons, both of whom are also avid, and valuable, edge-rushers. If the Cowboys elect a 3-4 formation, one of them easily remains on the front line (if all three are starters). Alternatively, should a 4-3 scheme be the choice, two of them line up upfront but the "linebacker" (the so-called strong-side linebacker, also known as SLB or "Sam") will still remain involved in pass-rushing.
4.24 (129 Overall)
Jermayne Lole, DT, Arizona State
This pick is less significant than the previous three. That being said, it would be a blessing for the Cowboys if they have addressed all of their most severe issues by the conclusion of the first trio of rounds in the draft.
Even if they have done that, there are still a few areas where insurance policy can be beneficial. The interior of the defensive line is one of those departments. That would be the case even if the defense transitions to a 3-4 strategy with just Carlos Watkins as a true defensive tackle.
For that purpose, DT becomes a priority for Dallas in the fourth round of this simulation. Jermayne Lole might seem like a real gamble – he definitely is. The Arizona State prospect did not take the field during his senior year after he underwent surgery for a triceps injury. In the previous campaign, Lole appeared in just four games for the Sun Devils. Meanwhile, Pro Football Focus named him the second-best interior lineman in college football between those two seasons. His talent was recognized by the industry a long time ago but his efforts did not help his draft stock.
However, as a sophomore, the Long Beach native registered impressive 71 total tackles, including 42 assisted tackles, sixth-best in Pac-12 and near the top 100 in NCAA. This is not a major set of accomplishments but if that is his real self, he is the best at his post at that moment on Night Two.
4-Round Cowboys Mock Draft Recap
Wide Receiver and EDGE are the Dallas Cowboys’ two most needy roster departments, and Jahan Dotson and Sam Williams should improve those units right from the get-go. In addition, if the Cowboys can wait for a player like Williams to be available in the third round, adding a safety can make perfect use of their second pick as this is also a primary concern for Mike McCarthy’s squad. If not, going with an edge in the second, or even first, round would be the safer, and perhaps more effective, bet.
Lastly, the fourth selection will most probably provide extra depth, which is Jermayne Lole’s expected role, at least in the short term.
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