Oct 30, 2022; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys tight end Jake Ferguson (87) celebrates catching a touchdown against the Chicago Bears during the second quarter at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Grading the Cowboys 2022 draft: Part 1 (Rounds 1-4)

Now with one season under their belts in the NFL, it is time to take a quick look back at the Dallas Cowboys 2022 draft class. The Cowboys hit home runs on a couple of picks and missed wildly on others.

Now just weeks away from another draft, it is time to hand out letter grades to last year’s selections. In this two-part series, we graded each of the Cowboys’ nine draft picks, explained what went right or wrong for each player in 2022, and what to expect from them in 2023.

The 2023 NFL Draft is set for April 27-29 in Kansas City. The Cowboys currently own the No. 26 pick in the first round, along with one pick in rounds two (58th overall), three (90), four (129), six (212) and seven (246), and three picks in round five (163, 170 and 176).

But that is still a few weeks away, so let’s get to those grades.

Round 1, Pick 24: TYLER SMITH (Offensive Tackle/Tulsa)

2022 Season Grade: A+

The Cowboys were blasted for what experts perceived as a reach for Smith in the first round. To shut those experts up, Smith came in and started at left tackle from play one of Week 1 for an injured future Hall of Famer in Tyron Smith. Tyler Smith was an ironman for the Cowboys, playing tackle and some left guard for 1,141 regular season plays over 17 games and another 130 snaps in two postseason games. That’s close to 99% of the snaps this season for a Cowboys offense that racked up 6,034 total regular season yards. Only 18 offensive linemen played more snaps than Smith. He committed 13 penalties and gave up six sacks while facing some of the NFL’s best pass rushers —  Joey Bosa, Nick Bosa, Khalil Mack, Trey Hendrickson, Shaquil Barrett, Chase Young, Za’Darius Smith, and Josh Sweat, week after week. Of the four offensive tackles selected ahead of him in the draft – Ikem Ekwonu, Evan Neal, Charles Cross, and Trevor Penning, nobody played more snaps than Tyler Smith.

What to expect in 2023: The future could not be brighter for the 21-year-old. He presents the Cowboys with a tough decision – leave Tyler Smith at left tackle and roll on, or move him to left guard and put Tyron Smith back at left tackle and see what they can do together. Either way, he will have to cut down on the penalties, but the future is now for a guy who should be a cornerstone of the Cowboys’ offensive line for the next decade-plus.

Round 2, Pick 24: SAM WILLIAMS (Defensive End/Mississippi)

2022 Season Grade: B

The Cowboys took a chance on Williams, who had off-the-field problems at Ole Miss, with their second pick of the draft, and it paid off for the defense. The ninth defensive end off the board last April, Williams had a solid first season, playing in 15 games for the Cowboys. He played 237 snaps, including a season-high 27 in the Cowboys’ 40-3 win over Minnesota. After playing just six plays in the season opener, Williams’ play count picked up over his final seven games of the season, when he was on the field for more than 24 snaps five times. He finished with 22 tackles, which was good for seventh-best among defensive ends taken in the 2022 draft, and four sacks, which was only bested by rookies Aiden Hutchinson (9½) and George Karlaftis (6), both drafted in the first round. He also had three fumble recoveries and one forced fumble while backing up DeMarcus Lawrence.

What to expect in 2023: The Cowboys should be confident enough to lean on Williams more in his sophomore campaign, enough for him to double his play count and get close to 500 snaps. If he can double his production, a 44-tackle, 8-sack season is something defensive coordinator Dan Quinn would be thrilled with. The Cowboys head into the offseason with four defensive ends under contract, including starters Dorrance Armstrong and Lawrence. More Williams should take the pressure off of those two, keeping them fresher longer.

Round 3, Pick 24: JALEN TOLBERT (Wide Receiver/South Alabama)

2022 Season Grade: F

With Dallas in need of a wide receiver that could stretch the field, the situation was perfect for Tolbert, who averaged 17.6 yards per catch in college, to find playing time on the Cowboys’ high-powered offense. But he never could impress the coaches enough to get off the bench. After making just six catches for 44 yards in three preseason games, Tolbert regressed to just two catches for 12 yards in a rookie season that saw him inactive for nine regular season games, including the final five games as the Cowboys pushed for the playoffs. He was also inactive for both playoff games and didn’t find the end zone in his first NFL season.

What to expect in 2023: Expect the Cowboys to draft a wide receiver. After they do that, if Tolbert is still on the team, he has made it past the first hurdle. At that point, Tolbert will have to show improvement in all areas – route running, separation at the line of scrimmage, and catching the ball, during OTAs and training camp to earn a second season on the 53-man roster. More likely, Tolbert ends up on the Cowboys practice squad or is released altogether.

Round 4, Pick 24: JAKE FERGUSON (Tight End/Wisconsin)

2022 Season Grade: B+

After letting Blake Jarwin go in the offseason, the Cowboys desperately needed a tight end to pair with Dalton Schultz in an offense that utilized two-tight end formations more than almost any other team in the NFL. As luck would have it, they found one in Ferguson with the 129th pick in the draft. He came right in and earned the trust of the quarterback and coaches, playing 430 total snaps in 16 games this season. It was the fifth-most snaps by rookie tight ends, behind only Cade Otton (803), Daniel Bellinger (574), Trey McBride (539), and Greg Dulcich (497). Ferguson caught 19 passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns in the regular season and added one catch for 34 yards in the playoffs. He was called for just two penalties – a false start against Detroit and holding against Indianapolis, best among Cowboys tight ends.

What to expect in 2023: Expect more from the second-year tight end. He will need to improve in the blocking part of his game to be an every-down fixture, but his route running and pass-catching abilities are already weapon-grade. That should make him an excellent option for Dak Prescott as the Cowboys switch to a west coast offense this offseason.

Three of the four picks – Smith, Williams, and Ferguson – look like they should be a big part of the team’s future, while Tolbert might not be on the team come training camp. We grade the Cowboys’ five picks in rounds four through seven in part two on Monday, Feb. 20.

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