What should we expect from the Dallas Cowboys rookie draft class? It is the one bright spot in an off-season filled with despair and frustrations.
The reality is some rookies will play max or near max playing time. From necessity and lack of depth on the team.
This can be good and bad. Good that it allows the team to get quicker development from many of their younger players. Bad that it forces players who might not be fully ready right out the gate to take on the responsibilities of an NFL starter.
Given how the roster is looking like it will shape up, most if not all the draft picks will make this team. Their expectations are going to vary based on positional depth and where they stand coming into camp. Especially the first four. All of whom will play early and play heavily.
Here’s what we can reasonably expect from the Cowboys’ 2022 draft class:
The expectations for Smith are not only to be the starting left guard, but possibly even fill if for Tyron Smith at left tackle. Tyler Smith got plenty of reps at both left guard and tackle, as a true left side player. Preparing himself for this season at guard, and the eventual potential successor to the elder Smith.
If there’s anything the Dallas Cowboys can do it’s draft. Especially with their first overall picks. Smith might have the same high expectations, but at the minimum he’ll need to start the majority of the season, elevating the run game in replacing Connor Williams.
Over the last 10 seasons, 88 different rookie defenders have totaled four or more sacks their first year. This is a reasonable mark for the rookie edge rusher, even if he’s coming off rotation behind Dorance Armstrong on the right side.
At the moment, he’s likely Edge3/4 alongside Dante Fowler. Despite the depth and use in rotation considering how many different front combination Dan Quinn will use, Williams will factor into this early. Ranked as one of the best edge rushers last season, he made an early impression on the defensive coordinator, and could be setting up to be the Randy Gregory replacement the defense needs.
Jalen Tolbert only needs to replicate the effect left by Cedrick Wilson, and not so much Amari Cooper. Now that CeeDee Lamb is the new Dallas Cowboys WR1, he’ll get the bulk of the targets. Meaning Tolbert merely needs to be a reliable target for Dak Prescott.
Tolbert is a good route runner, who’s able to win in one-on-one battles and create separation downfield. He’s now the team’s WR3, similar to where Lamb was in 2020. If he can replicate Wilson’s production in year one, it’s a step in the right direction moving forward.
Tight end Dalton Schultz will play on the franchise tag. It seems like it’s only a matter of time before the two sides are done with each other. Drafting the rookie from Wisconsin, Ferguson is a developed edge blocker with good hands and can create plays in space. While Schultz will likely get the bulk, if not second-most overall targets, what’s that leave for the rookie?
Ferguson is the presumed TE2, and the Dallas Cowboys show plenty of 12-personnel, two TE looks. However, the second TE usually only gets 20-25 targets in a season. Behind Lamb, Schultz, Tolbert, Gallup, Elliott and Pollard, Ferguson will need to make the most of his chances. If he only sees 25 targets in year one, 15-18 catches might be all he sees. What he’ll need to display is his edge setting skills and hands. If he does that, it might be enough for the team to be ok moving on from Schultz.
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