The Dallas Cowboys had two big needs going into the 2022 NFL draft, offensive line and wide receiver. Both of those positions got picked up rather quickly with six receivers and six OL choices going in the top 19.
This left a few big names slipping down the board and set up a fundamental draft question. Do teams lean more towards best player available, or do they take a lower player on their board to fill a need at a certain position? For Dallas, the answer appears definitive based on both prior evidence and their selection on Thursday night.
The Cowboys admitted that last year they were prepared to take the cornerbacks (Patrick Surtain and Jaycee Horn) despite having Micah Parsons graded higher. This year, Dallas definitely needed a starting left guard, and they could also need a future left tackle soon to replace Tyron Smith. With all the first-round options on OL drafted ahead of them, the team chose to select a developmental lineman to hopefully coach up into a quality starter in Tyler Smith.
The choice, as is the case with all draft picks, will be met with differing opinions. Many fans will be asking what else could the Cowboys have done instead? Here is the top two alternative options Dallas could’ve drafted.
Improving defense instead
The Cowboys were hoping to get someone like Kenyon Green, Zion Johnson, or Trevor Penning to fall to them at 24. Unfortunately, they were all gone in the top 20. Reports are that the Tennessee Titans tried to trade with Dallas to select Tyler Smith themselves, but the team had him graded as the 16th best player on their board according to Jerry Jones and they decided to rely on their offensive coaching staff to build up the developmental offensive lineman themselves.
An alternative plan could’ve been to take two falling defensive players and just go with the best player available strategy.
Going into the 2021 season the defense was hoping to improve enough that the offense could carry the team to wins and eventually playoff success. That is what happened to start the year too, with quarterback Dak Prescott as an MVP candidate.
By the end of last season Dan Quinn had turned the poor Cowboys defense into the strength of the team. Dallas could’ve looked to reinforce the team strength by taking a pass rusher to replace Randy Gregory, or by taking a linebacker that could free up Micah Parsons to rush the passer himself.
Jermaine Johnson, Edge, Florida State
(AP Photo/Hakim Wright Sr.)
The Cowboys could have drafted one of the top edge rushers in the class to pair with Demarcus Lawrence, and Micah Parsons. Johnson had a long journey to getting truly noticed by scouts. He started as a JUCO, before transferring and being a rotational piece at Georgia where he had moderate success. Last season Johnson broke out at Florida State, accumulating 70 tackles, 17.5 for a loss and 11.5 sacks.
This could’ve been the new war daddy Jerry Jones always talked about. He could’ve taken the defenses pass rush to the next level. Instead, soon after the Cowboys passed on him, the New York Jets traded up to select Johnson two picks later to pair with Carl Lawson.
The knock on Johnson, and potentially a reason why he slid, was that he’ll be 24 before his rookie season is completed. Was he just more physically mature than the competition and that’s why he finally hit his stride in 2021? With Smith only being 21, this will be something to keep an eye on.
Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah
Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports
Lloyd could have been a weapon for defensive coordinator Dan Quinn to utilize that could open up the Cowboys defense to a multiple array of attacks from the LB position. Micah Parsons could be the best edge rusher in the league when he is sent after the QB. Cox has the athletic ability to be an impactful blitzer, safety Donovan Wilson is at his best when attacking the QB, and Lloyd can also be a good pass rusher.
That set of weapons in Quinn’s hands to attack the opposing QB could’ve been game changing. Dallas was locked into the offensive line and went a different way. Lloyd was taken three picks later by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Lloyd is also 23 and will be 24 before the season begins, though he would have satisfied one of the Draft Commandments in Dallas loving to get the highest-rated player at a position, although Georgia’s Quay Walker was the surprising first LB off the board.
Did the Cowboys make the right decision, or will they live to regret the choice like when they chose Taco Charlton over TJ Watt just a few short seasons ago?
Tyler Linderbaum, center, Iowa
Iowa offensive lineman Tyler Linderbaum (65)
Perhaps the player who will most be linked to Smith is the one selected right after him. Iowa’s Linderbaum went to the Baltimore Ravens, who after trading with Arizona was one spot ahead of the Cowboys. They swapped with the Buffalo Bills the No. 25 and then took a center many fans would’ve loved to see in Dallas.
To be clear, it was spoken about widely that Dallas didn’t have much pre-draft interest in Linderbaum. He wasn’t an official 30 visitor and it was clear they didn’t see his smaller stature as a fit for what they wanted to do under OL coach Joe Philbin. It will remain to be seen whether or not this was a smart idea.
The lack of club interest in Linderbaum could be seen as a vote of confidence in now-third-year center Tyler Biadasz.
CB Kaiir Elam, Florida
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
It’s been speculated that in the end, Baltimore did Dallas a favor. Apparently the Tennessee Titans tried to leap frog the Cowboys in order to select Smith at No. 23. Tennessee later tried to get No. 24 to select Smith.
However Baltimore may have thought that if they let the Titans snag Smith, then Dallas or Buffalo may have considered drafting Linderbaum before the Ravens got back on the clock at No. 26.
The question is why did Buffalo think they needed to jump Dallas in order to secure Elam? Or did they think that the Titans’ true target was the long Gator corner?
Regardless, it adds the son of former Cowboys’ DB Abram Elam into this web of players who will always be linked with Smith.
You can find Mike Crum on Twitter @cdpiglet or at Youtube on the Across the Cowboys Podcast.