It’s no secret that the Cowboys have some patching to do on their offensive line after the departures of La’el Collins and Connor Williams. Most draft analysts seem to believe the team could be looking to spend their first-round pick on one of this year’s top prospects in hopes of landing the next perennial All-Pro to go alongside Tyron Smith and Zack Martin.
Boston College’s Zion Johnson and Texas A&M’s Kenyon Green are the names most commonly being bandied about as a possibility with the 24th overall selection. Northern Iowa’s Trevor Penning gets the occasional mention, as do Alabama’s Evan Neal, North Carolina State’s Ikem Ekwonu, Mississippi State’s Charles Cross, even Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum.
In his final mock exercise for ESPN before the first round on Thursday night, draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. Agrees that the Cowboys need to beef up their front five.
But he does it with Tulsa tackle Tyler Smith.
The pick was met with a collective eleventh-hour freakout from a sizable chunk of Cowboys Nation.
Smith has received second-round grades from most major draft analysts. Cowboys Wire listed him as a third-rounder in our player profile on him earlier this week.
The 6-foot-4 redshirt sophomore is an intriguing prospect, to be sure, but he’s raw. He just turned 21 this month and still has much about his game that he needs to develop.
So to pass on a lineman (or wide receiver or edge rusher) who seems ready to start Week 1 in order to lay claim to a long-term project in the first round would feel like a reach by Dallas, a squad looking to win now.
And while owner Jerry Jones spoke just this week about being more conservative than he used to be with draft picks- especially when it comes to a player’s availability- history shows that if the Cowboys brain trust has themselves convinced they’ve identified a diamond on the rough that no one else sees, it’s not out of the realm of reality that they pull a stunner at No. 24.
The Cowboys traded back in the first round in 2013 and took Travis Frederick in the 31st slot. While Frederick obviously went on to a spectacular career that will send him to Canton, he was, at the time, a second- or third-round prospect. Jones is quick to use him to this day- and did just two weeks ago- as an example of the team sticking to its guns when they believe in a player, despite what the “experts” say.
Perhaps making Tyler Smith an even bigger Day 1 surprise in the 2022 draft, though, would be Kiper’s prediction that Dallas isn’t even looking to move the Fort Worth native to guard- which he can do, and which would fill an immediate need- but instead would be drafting him to play tackle. The Cowboys currently have an eight-time Pro Bowler in Tyron Smith at left tackle and a third-year man on the right side in Terence Steele, a so promising player that they let former first-round talent La’el Collins walk out the door with little more than a goodbye wave.
“I thought about a wide receiver,” Kiper says of his choice for Dallas at No. 24, “but the Cowboys’ offensive line is aging. Smith would play right tackle in this scenario. He was a dominant pass-blocker in college, though he can get a little too physical at times; he was called for 12 penalties last season.”
Would Tyler Smith be ready to start at guard for the time being? Serve as depth at tackle? Mean Terence Steele’s job isn’t safe? Signal come other unthinkable upheaval on the O-line? Goodness knows spending a first-round pick on a tackle of the future doesn’t do anything to fill the holes in the Cowboys roster here and now.
With just a few hours to go before the Cowboys are on the clock, Tyler Smith is a potential curveball that could have all kinds of ripple effects: on the rest of the first round’s draft board and the Cowboys roster and future plans.
Not to mention the psyche and blood pressure of the team’s fanbase.