FRISCO, Texas – They say it takes years to fully and accurately evaluate an NFL Draft class, and that's entirely true. But who really waits that long?
Our staff here at DallasCowboys.com does its best to comprehensively cover the draft each year, so we asked the writers to give a very-early impression of this year's class: their favorite picks, some potential head-scratchers, and more.
- Tyler Smith Pick: Obviously, time will tell. I think it'll be a solid pick if he can start right now at guard and be similar to Connor Williams. It'll be a good pick if he's already better than Williams and gives the team needed size in the middle. If he can eventually move to tackle and start, then I think it turns into a great pick.
- Favorite Pick: Do I really have a choice? The Cowboys haven't picked an Arkansas guy in 14 years. But I do think adding John Ridgeway late in the fifth round will turn into a good pick. I can see him having the role the Cowboys intended for Brent Urban last year.
- Best Value: I believe the best value will be in the last pick. Devin Harper might play more snaps than a lot of these other guys because he should step right in on special teams. A linebacker in the 4.4 range? He has the chance to be a core member of the kicking game.
- Not Sure About: For the second year in a row, I'm scratching my head about the second-round pick. In getting Sam Williams, it's not really off-the-field but more about how he can help on the field. Let's see if he can do more than just rush the passer. But I'm confident Dan Quinn can figure it out.
- Tyler Smith Pick: I don't believe the Cowboys would have made the pick if they didn't think Smith could immediately compete to start at left guard and then eventually move to left tackle down the line. He hasn't played guard since his senior year of high school, so there's some projection here. But his size and power are exactly what they need at the position.
- Favorite Pick: Tyler Smith. The day after the playoff loss, I said on Talkin' Cowboys that offensive line should be the primary draft focus. They've potentially addressed two of their top needs (LG and backup OT) with their top pick, and according to their board, it wasn't a reach. Some really good players got picked right after Smith, so time will tell if this works out. He just turned 21; there's still some growth needed. But the Cowboys haven't missed at this position in the first round over the past decade.
- Best Value: Linebacker Devin Harper. The Cowboys had a fourth-round grade on Harper and drafted him in the sixth. He has a chance to help on special teams immediately and maybe get some snaps in the linebacker rotation, too. Also, wide receiver Jalen Tolbert was part of the second-round conversation and the Cowboys drafted him 32 picks later in the third.
- Not Sure About: Damone Clark's timetable. The Cowboys say it's roughly a six-month recovery process from his March spinal fusion surgery, so there's a chance he can be back to play this season. If all goes well, he could be an excellent pick in the fifth round. The team has experience with players who successfully returned from this type of surgery, so they felt comfortable with the pick.
- Tyler Smith Pick: I think two things can be true at the same time. From what I've learned about this guy, I'm awfully intrigued by the potential. He's so young and so talented, and I'm so impressed by his approach. I think he's got what it takes to turn into something special down the line. But does that mean he'll be a star in 2022? I have my doubts. I'm excited by Smith's future, but there could be a steep learning curve in the present.
- Favorite Pick: There was some consideration of drafting Jalen Tolbert at No. 56, and it would have been a good decision. Waiting another round and still getting their guy at No. 88? That's some quality drafting. I think Tolbert has the exact skillset that Dak Prescott values in his receivers. Much like CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup, he can move all over the formation, he can stretch the field and he also runs great routes. I think this is the most readymade pro player in the entire draft class.
- Best Value: If he hadn't needed surgery this spring, Damone Clark would have been a Day 2 pick. He's a tackling machine who has pass rush ability and is no slouch in coverage. He won't be ready right away, but this could be one of the steals of the draft if he recovers as expected. Adding Clark to the duo of Micah Parsons and Jabril Cox gives the Cowboys an incredibly bright future at linebacker.
- Not Sure About: We all know how this goes. Everyone around this team winces when they hear the name T.J. Watt. This isn't so much about Tyler Smith as the guys that went off the board right after him. Tyler Linderbaum, Jermaine Johnson and Devin Lloyd – three of the most high-profile names in this class – were selected immediately after Smith. For that matter, George Karlaftis was picked just a few spots later. Those guys all plays positions that the Cowboys were looking to address during this draft. We won't just be watching Smith's progress over the next few years. If any of those guys turn into superstars, we'll assuredly be having conversations about it.
- Tyler Smith Pick: The more time I spend thinking about the selection, the more I like the possibilities. Smith projects as a short-term plug-and-play at guard and a long-term investment in the future at left tackle, while the rest of the league had him pegged as only a tackle. He was a tremendous run-blocker in college who struggled while in space. Luckily for him, he won't be in a ton of space and should be an immediate upgrade in the run game.
- Favorite Pick: Jalen Tolbert in the third round was as good as it gets for me. I like the value they received on defense later in the weekend, but Tolbert will make an immediate impact. He first caught my eye in the first Senior Bowl practice as a tough, gritty blocker in the one-on-one drills, before impressing me just as much as a pass catcher. Has the ability to win at the line of scrimmage and will create plenty of separation for Dak Prescott to throw the football to.
- Best Value: Damone Clark, while he is a pick for the future, is a fantastic value. His tape is as good as some of the top off-ball linebackers in the class when healthy. He'll most likely miss significant time as a rookie due to a neck injury, but when he's ready to pair with this young nucleus of linebackers, he'll be an immediate contributor. I wouldn't have made that selection with premium picks in rounds one through four, but he has a chance to be a premium player for a low cost.
- Not Sure About: I'll be interested to see just how much LaRon Bland can fit into the mold as a young cornerback. His speed and agility are off the charts, and you can see that on film, but the back end of the cornerback room will be a tough place to be. There are three starters at the top, followed by Kelvin Joseph and Nahshon Wright who were top-100 picks last season. Where does Bland fit in? He'll have to show his worth and versatility early.