Cowboys' Biggest Weaknesses Ahead of 2022 NFL Training Camp
The Dallas Cowboys should be playoff contenders in 2022. While they parted with several key contributors from 2021 in the offseason, they also did a fine job of adding replacements in free agency and the NFL draft.
Offensive linemen La'el Collins and Connor Williams are gone, but Dallas used a first-round pick on versatile lineman Tyler Smith. Pass-rusher Randy Gregory left, but the team brought in Dante Fowler Jr. and second-round pick Sam Williams.
Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson Jr. are no longer part of the receiving corps, but James Washington and rookie third-rounder Jalen Tolbert are.
Dallas doesn't appear poised to experience a major drop-off from last season. Considering this is a team that won 12 games while ranking first in scoring and seventh in points allowed, fans should be excited for what's to come.
Of course, this doesn't mean the Cowboys are without holes. A few question marks still remain as training camp approaches.
Here, we'll dive into Dallas' three biggest weaknesses heading into camp and how they may be addressed before the start of the regular season.
While Dallas enacted a succession plan at wide receiver, depth remains a question mark. CeeDee Lamb will have no trouble replacing Cooper as the team's top target—and some would argue he did so last year—but things get a little dicier beyond that.
Wilson was a tremendous weapon as an inside-outside receiver, and he won't be easy to replace. Michael Gallup's recovery from a torn ACL presents another issue, too. Tolbert is a rookie, Washington is coming off a down year with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and depth receivers such as Noah Brown and Simi Fehoko are largely unproven in significant roles.
Who will settle into the No. 2 spot and in the slot if Gallup isn't ready to go by Week 1? This is a question the Cowboys will have to answer.
Ideally, Tolbert will progress quickly enough to contribute on the perimeter early. He and Washington could platoon the No. 2 job, while Dallas utilizes a committee in the slot. One interesting wrinkle, though, could come from running back Tony Pollard.
According to Clarence E. Hill Jr. of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Pollard spent time in the slot during minicamp.
"And it’s not just a gimmick," Hill wrote. "Pollard goes through receiver drills as well as running back drills in practice."
If Pollard, who had 39 receptions last season, can be a regular contributor in the slot, Dallas will be able to put more focus on navigating Gallup's recovery.
Sorting through depth will remain a focus during camp, but the Cowboys could turn this question mark into a team strength by Week 1.
Losing both Collins and Williams in the same offseason puts Dallas in a bit of a bind. The Cowboys line, which allowed 33 sacks, was good but not great last season. It's now notably worse, at least on paper.
A lot will hinge on the development of the rookie, Williams. He has loads up upside but isn't what one would consider a pro-ready prospect.
"Overall, Smith has the physical traits and aggressive nature to become an eventual NFL starter," Brandon Thorn of the Bleacher Report Scouting Department wrote before the draft. "However, he is as raw as sushi and a penalty machine who needs to reconfigure his technique from the ground up before he can see an NFL field."
Questions along the line are exacerbated by the extensive injury history of left tackle Tyron Smith. The eight-time Pro Bowler has not played a full season since 2015 and missed 20 games over the past two seasons.
Presumably, Dallas will develop Tyler Smith as depth behind Tyron Smith while also grooming him to start at left guard. This would leave future Hall of Famer Zack Martin at right guard, Tyler Biadasz at center and perhaps a competition to replace Collins at right tackle—one headlined by Terence Steele and 2022 fifth-rounder Matt Waletzko.
Right now, Tyron Smith and Martin are the only reliable high-end starters on the line, and the unit will be perhaps Dallas' biggest area of focus during camp. If Tyler Smith can quickly adapt to the pro game, it will go a long way toward taking this potential weakness off the table.
While question marks at receiver and along the line are products of this offseason, Dallas' run defense was a weakness last year. It ranked just 23rd in yards per carry allowed (4.5) and was particularly bad against the run late in the season.
Dallas surrendered an average of 130 yards per game over the final 10 weeks of the regular season. In its playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers, it gave up 149 yards on the ground.
Yet, the Cowboys have done little to bolster their run defense in the offseason. They didn't draft a linebacker until taking Damone Clark in the fifth round and didn't add a starter in free agency. Dallas also lost interior defender Brent Urban in free agency.
The Cowboys may get a boost from the return of 2021 fourth-round pick Jabril Cox, who is coming off of a torn ACL. However, this is a weakness Dallas may have to address externally.
Some quality run defenders—such as defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi and linebacker Dont'a Hightower—remain unsigned, and the Cowboys should think long and hard about acquiring one of them.
Dallas has $20 million in cap space available, according to Spotrac, and using some of that to address the run defense would make a ton of sense. Run defense was a liability last year, and as things stand, the Cowboys are not poised to be any better in 2022.