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Draft Central | 2022

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Stephen Jones: No 'Musts' Heading Into Draft


FRISCO, Texas – With so much at stake in this weekend's NFL Draft, it's often a futile endeavor to find useful information in a pre-draft press conference.

Even knowing that this is the season for smoke screens, one comment stands out from the Cowboys' 40-minute session with reporters on Tuesday afternoon.

Asked whether there were any glaring positions of need, specifically a thin-looking offensive line, heading into this draft, Cowboys chief operating officer Stephen Jones went the other way in his assessment.

"I wouldn't say we have any 'musts' left in terms of having to take a particular position at some point," Jones said. "Obviously, you'd like to look up nine picks later and hope that you really helped yourself across the board in terms of not only improving yourself with front-line players but also depth and things of that nature. I don't think we have any 'musts' going into the draft."

That comment is bound to raise some eyebrows heading into three of the most important days of the offseason. The Cowboys have noticeably not added any veteran offensive linemen to their roster after losing Connor Williams to free agency and releasing La'el Collins, prompting plenty of speculation about who will start at left guard and who will serve as the team's swing tackle.

It's also fair to wonder if the free agency additions of James Washington and Dante Fowler Jr. are enough to offset the high-profile losses of Amari Cooper and Randy Gregory.

To that end, Jones noted that there's still plenty of time between now and the start of training camp to continue adding talent.

"I will say this: Free agency's not over. There's different waves of it," he said. "There's still going to be opportunities to improve different areas of our team other than the draft or college free agency. I think that still can happen and probably will happen."

It's easy to forget that aspect of the free agent process. Starting on Monday, free agents added to NFL rosters will no longer count toward the league's compensatory pick formula, which means that the Cowboys can sign veterans after the draft without losing whatever comp picks they gained back during March.

The team reportedly visited with veteran offensive tackle Sam Tevi last week, and there are various other routes they could pursue depending on how the draft unfolds.

Even still, it's hard to take anything said at this time of year at face value. The Cowboys have expressed interest in plenty of offensive linemen up and down the draft board, and wide receivers are among their most high-profile targets in this draft cycle.

Jones did acknowledge that, as long as the grades on a prospect are somewhat close, it makes sense to acknowledge the holes in the roster – as long as they're close.

"If there's a big disparity, you don't go jump half a round down to scratch an itch if you will," he said. "If they're in there close and the grades are really close, couple of points here or there, I think you certainly would take a look at your need over the best grade, just pure best grade."

On the bright side of things, the Cowboys seem to think his draft class lines up well with their situation. As many have said throughout this draft cycle, this isn't a top-heavy class, as the Cowboys only expect to have "between 14 and 16" first-round grades on their final board.

While that might diminish the intrigue on Day 1, it should lead to a glut of players with good draft grades on Day 2. On top of that, the Cowboys are encouraged about the depth even further down the board, with the two COVID-affected seasons expected to produce an abnormally high number of draftable players in this class.

"It's impossible to project but I will say this about the draft, I think it's very middle of the draft heavy, third through the fifth round," Jones said.

For those keeping score at home, that figures to be right in the Cowboys' sweet spot, as they boast six picks between Round 3 and Round 5.

So perhaps it's true that the Cowboys don't believe they have any 'musts' heading into this draft. Even if they do, this weekend will present plenty of opportunities to address them.


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