Draft Central | 2022

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Spagnola: Life In The NFL Lands OL In First


FRISCO, Texas – Welcome to the NFL.

That is, if you needed a reminder.

This is socialism at its best, where the intent is to make sure everyone gets a piece of the pie, leaving no one behind. That pertains to shared revenue, shared talent and a salary cap ensuring the rich don't just get richer.

Why the meek shall inherit.

And we saw that play out at its finest during Thursday night's first round of the annual NFL Draft, an inverted operation where the teams with the worst records from the previous season are given top priority to select the best available college talent, and the teams with the best records are left with whatever remains in the barrel.

The Cowboys paid the price for finishing with a 12-5 record, tied for second best in 2021, only Green Bay and Tampa Bay better at 13-4. And the price became even more painful on Thursday – as painful as the local gas prices leaping 20 cents a gallon to $4.00 (OK, sorry, $3.99.9) – for not accomplishing more in the playoffs with that kind of record.

And in this draft, short of quarterback and running back and linebacker talent, a combined three at those positions being selected among the top 32 picks, the Cowboys ran out of real estate by the time they were on the clock at pick No. 24.

Wide receivers? Six of them gone within the first 18 picks.

Cornerbacks? Four of 'em gone in the first 23 picks.

Defensive ends? Three gone among the first five picks, two of them going one-two.

There was not one "wow" pick among the top 23, one of those I-can't-believe-that-guy-was-taken-that-high shockers. There was only one quarterback selected, not the four some of the mockers had projected. Not one running back.

So, slim pickin's come 24, but that should come as no surprise since the Cowboys gave us a two-day warning when revealing they only had 14 to 16 players with first-round grades. That's eight short of 24 at best.

No, the Cowboys did not have a first-round grade on Tyler Smith when he became their selection at No. 24, an offensive tackle capable of making the switch to guard this season from just down the way in Fort Worth. But they had designated the young 6-5, 324-pound, just-turned 21-year-old draftable in the first round.

Let's not be anal about all this if not happy with this pick. Otherwise, you should have demanded the Cowboys traded out of the first round. No, it's not a sexy pick. Usually never is when drafting an offensive lineman in the first round. Heck, Smith becomes just the seventh offensive lineman the Cowboys have ever selected in the first round, obviously Zack Martin the most recent (2016), along with Tyron Smith (2011) and Travis Frederick (2013), all in the previous 11 drafts.

And let Frederick be the cautionary tale for the Debbie Downers. The Cowboys were roundly criticized for taking the Wisconsin center in the first round, even after they traded down from 18 to 31, critics saying they could have gotten him in the second or third round. But could they have?

Big ha on that one, one and all wishing that rare Guillain-Barre syndrome had not cut short his career.

Look, my premise all along was for the Cowboys to draft a wide receiver if available in the first round. All were gone by 18, those, uh, considered first-round draftable. There were those who wanted the Cowboys to draft a pure guard, something they only had done previously twice in their history. I didn't want a pure guard, and even at that, Zion Johnson went to the Chargers at 17.

And as for Kenyon Green, the guard from Texas A&M, the Cowboys had red-flagged him for medical reasons, a knee causing longevity concerns.

As for center, this Tyler Linderbaum was under-sized, purely a center and they weren't ready to throw in the towel on the young Tyler Biadasz after just his first full season to start.

About the only guy of potential interest remaining after the Cowboys took Smith, who vice president of player personnel Will McClay called "a big, athletic, physical man," would have been Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd.

However, Cowboys COO Stephen Jones gave us their pre-draft strategy about picking for need when he said, "I think if the grades are in there very similar, I think you pick what your need is. I think if there is a big disparity you don't go a half a round down to scratch an itch if you will.

"But I think if they are in there close, and the grades are really close, a couple points here or there, then, you know, I think you would take a look at your need over the best grade, just pure best grade."

And that, in essence, is how one Tyler Smith came walking into The Star late Thursday morning. Of course, the Cowboys had a need on the offensive line. No arguments there. My voiced opinion against taking an offensive lineman in the first was based on taking a guard who could only play guard. I wanted a tackle capable of playing guard his first year or two and eventually transitioning to tackle when Tyron Smith's days are numbered.

They aren't just yet, and as head coach Mike McCarthy says, the Cowboys will train their newest Smith on the left side of the offensive line. Let him get some of Tyron's resting snaps during the offseason and training camp at left tackle, but enough at the vacant left guard spot to compete with Connor McGovern for that starting job.

Perfect scenario for the big guy. Got no problem with that.

And also note, there were a couple of teams trying to trade up to the Cowboys spot with the idea of taking Tyler Smith themselves, and one of those was possibly the Jets, since Stephen said he got a text from a friend on one of those teams saying they would have taken "your guy."

So look, just because Tyler Smith's name rarely, if ever, came up in those "mock" drafts, please, if those mocking were so good at it, they would be getting paid to actually do this draft stuff as fulltime guys, not as a hobby. Heck, saw one mock draft recently posted that went oh-for-32 predicting first round picks.

Funny thing about Tyler Smith. Really hadn't heard his name mentioned until a day or so before the draft. But all along, the Cowboys had him on their mind. Even had a private workout with the kid from North Crowley High School. This was not one of those, oh-no panic picks. They were on to him.

And after meeting him Friday afternoon, sensed even more reason why the Cowboys got their guy at No. 24.

"I'm a young guy," Tyler said with his mother, Patricia, watching closely from the side of the interview room, knowing he just turned 21. Like, old enough to legally buy a drink in this country if he so desires.

"I'm just scratching the surface of what I can be."

While thanks to the NFL system, the Cowboys found themselves happily scratching an itch.

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