Hot Takes, Predictions for Cowboys Rookies After 2022 NFL Draft

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistMay 2, 2022

Hot Takes, Predictions for Cowboys Rookies After 2022 NFL Draft

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    The Dallas Cowboys came into the 2022 NFL draft looking to change the narrative of their offseason.

    They had parted with several key contributors, including wideout Amari Cooper, right tackle La'el Collins, guard Connor Williams, wideout Cedrick Wilson Jr. and pass-rusher Randy Gregory.

    Coming into the draft, Dallas was not better than it was in 2021. That's not a hot take, it's reality.

    The Cowboys did a nice job of navigating draft weekend, though, addressing a few key needs and making nine selections in total. Several of their newest players are poised to contribute right away.

    While it's impossible to know exactly what to expect from the team's rookie class in 2022, we're here to make some bold predictions based on factors like player potential, projected role and roster makeup.

    First, though, let's revisit how the 2022 draft unfolded.

2022 NFL Draft Results

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Tyler Smith Will Start at Least 12 Games in 2022

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    The Cowboys turned a few heads when they took former Tulsa offensive tackle Tyler Smith with the 24th pick in the draft.

    A talented but raw prospect, the 21-year-old was far from a first-round lock. He was the seventh-ranked tackle on the Bleacher Report Scouting Department's big board and the 64th overall prospect.

    "Smith has the physical traits and aggressive nature to become an eventual NFL starter," Brandon Thorn of the B/R Scouting Department wrote. "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."

    Here's the hot take: Grabbing Smith is a brilliant move for the Cowboys.

    While he needs his fair share of seasoning, expect him to make quick strides under offensive line coach Joe Philbin. This will get him on the field sooner than later, even if the youngster experiences some early growing pains.

    Smith projects as a replacement for Collins at right tackle, though he has the size (6'4", 324 lbs) and athleticism to work in as a pulling guard. Expect him to see the field in Week 1 and to start the vast majority of the 2022 season as a rookie.

Jalen Tolbert Will Contribute Early and Top 500 Receiving Yards as a Rookie

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    In the third round, the Cowboys snagged former South Alabama receiver Jalen Tolbert. While the small-school product might not fit in every offense, he's a great pickup for Dallas.

    The 6'1", 194-pounder is a legitimate home run threat who can help Dallas stretch the field and turn short Dak Prescott passes into big gains.

    "Tolbert projects as an outside receiver who is best taking the top off the defense on vertical passing concepts or on in-breakers where he can keep his longer legs going," Nate Tice of the B/R Scouting Department wrote. "He doesn't make many defenders miss in a phone booth, but he does have the burst to split defenders after making the catch on screens and shorter throws."

    Last season, the 23-year-old caught 82 passes for a whopping 1,474 yards and eight touchdowns.

    With the Cowboys, Tolbert will have plenty of competition for catches. CeeDee Lamb, Dalton Schultz and Michael Gallup are all proven targets, while Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard are more than adept at catching passes out of the backfield.

    With both Cooper and Wilson gone, though, Dallas has room for another big-play threat. Expect Tolbert to flash occasionally with highlight plays and to top 500 receiving yards in an uneven but promising rookie campaign.

DaRon Bland Is a Gem and Will Be an Early Defensive Contributor

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    Fifth-round picks don't always get onto the field early, if at all, as rookies. However, Fresno State cornerback DaRon Bland should be a rotational player early and often in 2022.

    The 6'2", 197-pounder is a big, physical cornerback who will mesh perfectly with Dan Quinn's defense. While he wasn't invited to the scouting combine, he was a rising prospect some linked to Dallas even before the draft.

    "I have been mocking DaRon Bland to the Cowboys for a reason. Plenty of late buzz on the Fresno State DB and Dallas wanted to make sure they got him," Dane Brugler of The Athletic tweeted. "Long, fast, and tough. Fits Dan Quinn."

    Dallas could use depth at the cornerback position. Despite leading the league with 26 interceptions in 2021, the Cowboys had a very boom-or-bust secondary. The unit ranked 20th in passing yards allowed, while the team went 1-3 in games where it didn't force a takeaway.

    Bland, who had 34 tackles, two interceptions and a forced fumble in 2021, will make an early impact as a role player behind starters Trevon Diggs and Jourdan Lewis.

    The No. 167 pick will have to compete with the likes of Kelvin Joseph and Nahshon Wright for playing time, but he has all the tools needed to be a fixture in the secondary.