Cowboys' Projected Winners of Key Position Battles

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxCorrespondent IAugust 15, 2022

Cowboys' Projected Winners of Key Position Battles

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    OXNARD, CA - AUGUST 02: Defensive end Sam Williams #54 of the Dallas Cowboys participates in drills during training camp at River Ridge Fields on August 2, 2022 in Oxnard, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
    Cowboys rookie DE Sam Williams (Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

    Week 1 of the 2022 NFL preseason is complete. The Dallas Cowboys didn't show much in their 17-7 loss to the Denver Broncos, but Dallas didn't play many starters either.

    Saturday's loss wasn't an indication of what fans can expect from the Cowboys in 2022. It was, rather, another stage in the development of a roster that saw several changes this offseason.

    Dallas' preseason opener may have also given us a glimpse into the progress of a few key position battles.

    Here, you'll find a look at some of the biggest battles of training camp, what they could mean for the regular season and predictions based on past production, player potential, roster depth and any relevant recent buzz.

Left Guard

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    Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Osa Odighizuwa, left, rushes against offensive tackle Tyler Smith (73) during NFL football training camp Wednesday, July 27, 2022, in Oxnard, Calif. (AP Photo/Gus Ruelas)
    Tyler Smith has the potential to be a rookie starter at guard. (AP Photo/Gus Ruelas)

    Tyler Smith vs. Connor McGovern

    Two of Dallas' biggest changes this offseason came along the offensive line. Gone are left guard Connor Williams and right tackle La'el Collins. Former backup Terence Steele is expected to replace Collins, while there is a camp competition at guard. Finding a reliable starter will go a long way toward solidifying the line this season.

    Connor McGovern is a five-year veteran with 67 starts on his resume. He's battling rookie first-round pick Tyler Smith, who has loads of upside but is a bit unpolished.

    Brandon Thorn of the Bleacher Report Scouting Department called the Tulsa product "as raw as sushi."

    While Smith may have his fair share of rookie mistakes in 2022, fans should expect him to get the start in Week 1. He had an up-and-down performance in his preseason debut—including a couple of penalties—but his strength and upside were on display.

    " I think Tyler Smith had a very encouraging night," Nick Eatman of the team's official website wrote. "Yes, the penalties were there, but he also had his share of dominant blocks. He was moving people in the trenches."

    Smith has the high ceiling and the draft status needed to win a close competition. The other factor to consider is that McGovern has experience at both guard and center. He's better equipped to be a versatile interior backup than the rookie.

    Predicted Winner: Smith

Edge-Rusher

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    ARLINGTON, TEXAS - JANUARY 16: Dorance Armstrong #92 of the Dallas Cowboys gets set against the San Francisco 49ers during an NFL wild-card playoff football game at AT&T Stadium on January 16, 2022 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
    Is Dorance Armstrong ready to be a full-time contributor? (Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

    Dorance Armstrong vs. Dante Fowler Jr. vs. Sam Williams

    The Cowboys have one standout pass-rusher in DeMarcus Lawrence. Heading into 2022, they're looking for a reliable and consistent complement on the opposite side—with linebacker and 2021 Defensive Rookie of the Year Micah Parsons naturally in the mix. Finding one should allow Dallas to field one of the conference's top pass rushes.

    Dallas made a couple of key pass-rushing additions this offseason, signing veteran Dante Fowler Jr. and using a second-round pick on Mississippi's Sam Williams. The prediction here, however, is that fifth-year pro Dorance Armstrong emerges as the starter at defensive end opposite Lawrence.

    Armstrong didn't quite have a "break out" campaign in 2021, but he did have his most productive season as a pro. He appeared in 13 games with five starts and tallied five sacks to go with 22 quarterback pressures.

    That's solid production for a part-time player who saw just 56 percent of the defensive snaps. Williams has upside and will see time in the rotation. Fowler had 11.5 sacks in 2019 and will see the field as well. However, he's logged just 7.5 sacks over the past two seasons combined.

    Armstrong, meanwhile, is entering his second season under defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and was named a starter on Dallas' first unofficial preseason depth chart. Expect the 25-year-old to continue building on what he flashed last season and to open the season on the other side of Lawrence.

    Predicted Winner: Armstrong

Wide Receiver

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    FRISCO, TX - JUNE 02: Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Simi Fehoko (81) makes a catch during the Dallas Cowboys OTA Offseason Workouts on June 2, 2022 at The Star in Frisco, TX. (Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Simi Fehoko caught a touchdown pass in Dallas' preseason opener. (George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    Noah Brown vs. T.J. Vasher vs. Simi Fehoko

    Dallas's top three receivers for 2022 should be set. CeeDee Lamb is a lock, rookie third-round pick Jalen Tolbert is likely to start, and Michael Gallup will be on the field once recovered from last year's torn ACL.

    However, there is competition behind the top three—one that was complicated by James Washington's recent injury. The Cowboys signed Washington as a free agent, but the former Pittsburgh Steelers wideout suffered a fractured foot and is expected to miss 6-10 weeks, according to ESPN's Todd Archer.

    This leaves veteran Noah Brown, 2021 undrafted free agent T.J. Vasher and 2021 fifth-round pick Simi Fehoko vying for a prominent spot.

    The prediction here is that Fehoko solidifies himself as Dallas' No. 4 receiver—and third option for as long as Gallup remains sidelined. He made a strong case in the preseason opener—catching two passes for 18 yards and Dallas' only touchdown—and has been a regular standout in camp.

    "It's now become habitual for Fehoko to make at least one eye-opening grab every day," Patrik Walker of the team's official website wrote.

    With Gallup unlikely to be available for Week 1, expect Fehoko to be in the starting lineup.

    Predicted Winner: Fehoko

    *Advanced statistics from Pro Football Reference.

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