Draft Central | 2022

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What Might A Defensive Draft Class Look Like?

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FRISCO, Texas – This is the time of year for reading tea leaves, and right now those tea leaves look pretty clear.

While the Cowboys' front office will remind you that free agency is an ongoing process, it's easy to look at their roster right now and recognize that there's work to be done on the offensive side of the ball.

To this point, most of their work has been done on defense. Jayron Kearse is the headliner, but the Cowboys also signed Dante Fowler Jr. and retained both Dorance Armstrong and Leighton Vander Esch.

With all of that in mind, it's easy to see the team's minimal activity at the offensive line spots, as well as wide receiver, and draw conclusions about their upcoming draft strategy. The logic makes sense, though Cowboys chief operating officer Stephen Jones cautioned against it.

"I felt we have done a really good job on the defensive side of the ball of not having a lot of major issues there," Jones said last week at the NFL owners meetings. "It doesn't mean we wouldn't pick a great defensive player, though."

It's fair to point out that this is also lying season, as teams seek to throw outsiders off the trail of what they might do in the draft. But it's worth mentioning that the Cowboys have bucked expectations in the recent past.

They spent much of the 2020 draft cycle doing homework on pass rushers and cornerbacks, only to wind up with CeeDee Lamb when the star wide out slid to the No. 17 pick. They were also widely expected to draft a corner last spring, but were pushed toward Micah Parsons when the top two cornerbacks in the draft went off the board in front of them.

In light of that, what might it look like for the Cowboys to consider defense in 2022? Despite the additions they've made in free agency, it might not be that far-fetched. Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy went to a familiar well when asked about it last week.

"You can never have enough pass rushers. You are always looking for pass rushing and cover corners," McCarthy said. "They are premier positions that you always have to take more time. And the numbers in the draft look to be high this year."

The Cowboys' 24th overall pick isn't typically an ideal spot to land either of those positions – but then, No. 17 overall was never supposed to be a possibility for Lamb. Perhaps they could have some more good fortune if a highly-touted prospect like LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. or Florida State defensive end Jermaine Johnson were to fall to them.

If not, the Cowboys clearly feel good about their options later on. The team has been heavily linked to Ole Miss pass rusher Sam Williams, who most regard as a Day 2 draft pick. As the front office has also noted on numerous occasions, the Cowboys are also enamored with the depth of a draft class that has seen its numbers swell with players who were granted added eligibility by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I don't know how it's going to sort out. But those are all part of the opportunities that we are looking at," McCarthy said. "Pass rusher seems to have some depth in this draft. We are definitely cognizant of it."

It seems unlikely that 2022 will play out like 2021, when the Cowboys spent eight of 11 draft picks – including their first five selection – on the defensive side of the ball. But it'd be a mistake to take anything off the table.

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