The Dallas Cowboys entered 2021 with lofty expectations. Dak Prescott was returning from a horrific injury to quarterback a ridiculously talented offense, and a 2021 draft full of defensive reinforcements left fans hopeful that Dallas would be a more well rounded outfit. The season began with a close loss to the defending champion Buccaneers, but would quickly turn into an undeniable success as Dallas rattled off 6 straight wins, and eventually finished 12-5. The Cowboys would eventually flame out in the Wild Card round against San Francisco, losing 23-17 in a heartbreaker.
Heading into 2022, the Cowboys are without a massive number of key cogs from last year’s team. The offensive line lost La’el Collins in free agency, and now finds itself without Tyron Smith for an extended period as well following a torn hamstring. At wide receiver, Dallas enters the season without star Amari Cooper and emerging target Cedrick Wilson Jr. Most notably on the defensive side of the ball, stalwart edge rusher Randy Gregory has left the Cowboys for Denver. This year’s draft was an important moment for the Cowboys, a team still teeming with talent but in need of reinforcements at key positions around the field. Dallas addressed with clear intentions the positions that had seen the most talent walk out the door, especially in the first three rounds. Let’s take a closer look at three rookies who have a chance to play big roles for the Cowboys in year 1.
Tyler Smith, OL – Tulsa (1st Round, 24th Overall)
Tyler Smith played left guard at Tulsa, but Dallas drafted Smith with plans of him eventually protecting Dak Prescott’s blind side at left tackle. After Tyron Smith’s injury, it appears likely that Tyler Smith will replace him more quickly than Dallas intended. Smith is a local kid, originally from Fort Worth. He’s also massive – at 6’5” and 320 pounds, he’s as tall as Tyron Smith, but 13 pounds heavier than the veteran.
For Dallas, the appeal of Smith is in his upside. His massive size and clear ability make him a great prospect, but there are concerns with his readiness to make that talent count. He led the country last year with 12 holding calls, and life will not get any easier as the game speeds up significantly in the NFL. Dallas takes on Tampa Bay week 1, meaning Smith will immediately be tasked with handling players like Shaquille Barrett, Lavonte David, and Vita Vea – put simply, the Cowboys are going to learn a lot about their first round pick right out of the gate, and adjustments will need to happen quickly.
Sam Williams, EDGE – Ole Miss (2nd Round, 56th Overall)
The Cowboys selected Randy Gregory’s replacement next, a 6’4” edge rusher from Ole Miss who finished his career with 22.5 sacks. Williams has drawn rave reviews at training camp, and has already produced highlight plays in the preseason that include a 14-yard sack of Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith. The 23-year-old is expected to start opposite Micah Parsons as an edge rusher, and Dan Quinn would be thrilled if he produced similar production to the second year stud. Parsons and DeMarcus Lawrence, front seven staples for the Cowboys in their own right, have both heaped praise publicly on the rookie this summer. If they’re right, Dallas just might be building one of the better young defenses in the NFL.
Jalen Tolbert, WR – South Alabama (3rd Round, 88th Overall)
Dak Prescott has become used to a deep, talented crew of wide receivers in his time with the Cowboys. Dallas has shown an ability to scout the position well, drafting CeeDee Lamb out of Oklahoma and trading for Amari Cooper, who would blossom into a star in the Cowboys’ offense. When healthy, Michael Gallup has provided consistently solid production as well.
Heading into this season, there are opportunities available for newcomers following Cooper’s departure and given Gallup’s injury status. Third round pick Jalen Tolbert will be given every opportunity to fill those voids, and as such is being viewed as a sleeper by some fantasy football experts. Tolbert has seemingly built a good relationship with injured receiver Michael Gallup in training camp, and will need to take advantage of early opportunities while Gallup is out if he intends to maintain a key role in the Cowboys offense. He seems to be a bit buried on the depth chart at the moment, stuck behind CeeDee Lamb, Noah Brown, and eventually Gallup. Tolbert did play in the slot almost half the time at South Alabama, making him a uniquely strong candidate to replace some of the production the Cowboys lost with Amari Cooper.