Dallas Cowboys cornerback DaRon Bland (26) intercepts Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence, not shown, as wide receiver Christian Kirk (13) looks on during the third quarter of a regular season NFL football matchup Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022 at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville. The Jacksonville Jaguars edged the Dallas Cowboys 40-34 in overtime. [Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union] Jki 121822 Cowboys Jags Cp 75
Grading the Cowboys 2022 draft: Part 2 (Rounds 5-7)
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.
We graded each of the Cowboys’ four picks in rounds one through four – Tyler Smith, Sam Williams, Jalen Tolbert, and Jake Ferguson, in part 1.
Today, we’ll hand out grades for the Cowboys picks in rounds five through seven, explain what went right or wrong for each of those players 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 finish looking back on 2022’s draft from Las Vegas.
Here is part two; let’s go.
Round 5, Pick 12: MATT WALETZKO (Offensive Tackle/North Dakota)
2022 Season Grade: INC.
Reason for the grade: Despite spending most of training camp nursing an injured shoulder, Waltetzko made the roster out of training camp. He played 11 snaps on special teams in the Cowboys’ opening three games of the season but was in for just one offensive snap before injuring his shoulder for the second time since being drafted. Waletzko had surgery to repair a reoccurring dislocated shoulder, and he went on the injured reserve for the rest of the 2022 season. His one snap was as a sixth offensive lineman and resulted in a 1-yard touchdown run for Ezekiel Elliott in a 23-16 win over the Giants in Week 3.
What to expect in 2023: If Waletzko can come back healthy from his shoulder injury, then the Cowboys look good on the offensive line going forward. The hope is that he provides solid depth at both tackle spots while continuing to play on special teams.
5.24: DaRON BLAND (Cornerback/Fresno State)
2022 Season Grade: A+
Reason for the grade: When the Cowboys selected Bland in the fifth round, the hope was that he would be a special-teams player and, with some major coverage improvement, a backup corner, but way down the depth chart. Instead, he played 744 snaps over 14 games in the defensive backfield and led the team in interceptions with five. His first taste came in Week 4, where he played 59 snaps at nickel corner for the injured Jourdan Lewis. Then four games later, in Week 8, he entered the starting lineup for good after Lewis was lost for the season with an Achilles injury. Over the final 10 games of the season, and the two playoff games, Bland was in on 678 snaps. He finished with 71 tackles, including 17 in the playoffs, and seven passes broken up to go with his team lead in interceptions. He was called for just four penalties – one each of Illegal Use of Hands, Pass Interference, Defensive Holding, and Unnecessary Roughness. Without the injuries to Lewis and starting corner Anthony Brown, the Cowboys might not know what they have in Bland. He looks like he could be a solid piece of the Cowboys’ defense for years to come.
What to expect in 2023: With Dan Quinn back to run the defense for another season, the Cowboys will likely play the 4-2-5 that was so successful for them last season. That should put Bland in the starting lineup at nickel corner from the opening snap, where you hope that he will continue to improve on what he did in his rookie season. If free agent cornerback Anthony Brown departs, Bland will probably start opposite Trevon Diggs. Either way, expect a lot more from Bland.
5.33: DAMONE CLARK (Linebacker/LSU)
2022 Season Grade: B+
Reason for the grade: This should have been another INC grade for the Cowboys, but it isn’t. After spinal fusion surgery to repair a herniated disc just weeks before the 2022 draft, Clark’s draft stock to a serious hit. After being projected as a second-round talent, the Cowboys took a flyer on Clark in the fifth round with the expectation that they would stash him away on injured reserve for the season. Clark’s recovery changed that, and by Week 8, the linebacker was ready to make his debut. He played sparingly over the next few weeks, but an injury to starter Leighton Vander Esch early in Week 15 gave Clark the chance to handle the starter’s role. He played 198 snaps in those final four games of the season, finishing with 21 tackles, including leading the team with nine against Jacksonville in Week 15. For a season that should have never left the trainer’s room, Clark played 398 snaps at linebacker, recorded 47 tackles, and forced two fumbles in 10 games. And most importantly, he committed no penalties.
What to Expect in 2023: The Cowboys gambled on Clark, and it already paid off during his rookie season. The Cowboys leaned on Clark over the final four weeks of the regular season, which should set him up for a big second year. While health will always be a concern, Clark showed no effects from the injury that dropped him in the draft. His play count should rise and could more than double if the Cowboys let Vander Esch walk via free agency. Clark is another pick in this draft that looks like he could be a solid player for years to come in Dallas.
5.35: JOHN RIDGEWAY (Defensive Tackle/Arkansas)
2022 Season Grade: C
Reason for the grade: The Cowboys get the ‘C’ grade for losing Ridgeway while playing a game of roster shuffle after Week 2. They exposed him to waivers hoping to put him on the practice squad, but several teams claimed him, and he was awarded to the Washington Commanders. After playing no snaps in the first two weeks of the season for Dallas, Ridgeway would go on to play 280 snaps in 12 games for the Commanders. He played 28 snaps in the two games against Dallas, picking up six tackles. He finished the season with 24 tackles and one forced fumble.
What to expect in 2023: The Cowboys will face him twice next season, as Ridgeway is listed on the Commanders’ depth chart as the second-team defensive tackle behind Jonathan Allen. As a run-stuffing hole-filler, it will be difficult for fans to watch him succeed with the Commanders, knowing how much the Cowboys struggled to stop the run in recent seasons.
6.14: DEVIN HARPER (Linebacker/Oklahoma State)
2022 Season Grade: INC.
Reason for the grade: Another season cut short by injury. Anything the Cowboys would have gotten from Devin Harper would have just been icing on the cake. Harper was drafted to contribute on special teams and provide emergency depth at linebacker. He played 52 snaps on special teams in the first three weeks of the season, but then an Achilles injury sidelined him for four weeks before finally going on injured reserve the day before the Cowboys played against Chicago in Week 8.
What to expect in 2023: Off to a solid start in 2022, a healthy Harper in 2023 should only strengthen the Cowboys’ special teams. Harper could also continue to provide depth at linebacker, but his roster spot will be contingent on his availability to play in the kicking game.
The Cowboys hit a home run with left tackle Tyler Smith and then struck gold again in round five with Bland. Three more solid picks in tight end Jake Ferguson, defensive end Sam Williams, and Clark helps balance out the two players whose seasons were cut short by injury.
All in all, the Cowboys had a special draft, coming away with what looks like a starting left tackle, cornerback, and tight end, as well as rotational players at defensive end and linebacker. Their misses at wide receiver and defensive tackle bring down their overall grade a little, but the Cowboys landed at least five guys that can play in the NFL.