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Draft class leaves Cowboys with more questions than answers

The Dallas Cowboys came into the NFL Draft with areas to potentially address and come out on the other side with question marks at several positions.
Credit: AP
Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy, left, listens as team owner Jerry Jones responds to questions during a news conference at the NFL football team's headquarters, Monday, April 24, 2023, in Frisco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

DALLAS — The roster for the Dallas Cowboys has 20 players that they didn’t have at this time last week after drafting eight players and signing 12 more undrafted free agents. 

All of these players are tasked with one thing: helping to make the Cowboys better than they were last season. That’s what the offseason is for -- acquiring players and drafting the right fits to get this team to the Super Bowl.

The free agency period was a success, even though the Cowboys didn’t add many outside players. However, they did trade for two veterans who make the team better than they were last year. The moves to add WR Brandin Cooks and CB Stephon Gilmore were largely applauded.

The second part of talent acquisition came from the draft. While there is hope that the 2023 class for the Cowboys can also be contributing factors, there is less confidence in the rookies making a difference. By most accounts, Dallas had a lackluster draft that won’t do much to put the team over the top.

Draft grades and instant reactions before watching the players on the field is silly, but that hasn’t stopped pundits from giving the team average marks for the eight-player haul. Beyond grades, there were also questions about the value of many of Dallas’ choices -- either by where the prospect was selected in conjunction with his consensus ranking or from the positions of the players acquired.

However, after a decade-long stretch of successes in the draft, the Cowboys have earned some leeway in trusting their evaluations. That’s not to say they shouldn’t be questioned but they’ve been right more often than not when it comes to the draft as of late. As the theory goes, it takes three years to truly know how good a draft class is, so there’s plenty of time to decipher who was correct in their assessments.

Aside from the knee-jerk reactions, there are reasons to be encouraged about the team’s draft. Rarely does drafting the best athletes with the best predictive traits go wrong. The way that the Cowboys have been winning the draft is by selecting guys who have elite athleticism and fit who they want to be as a team, those are positives in building a cohesive roster and Dallas continued that trend this year.

Yet, it’s totally understandable to be disappointed in what Dallas did in the draft. At first glance, the organization didn’t do much to help at key positions. That isn’t to say they didn’t draft good players, but they didn’t address a few glaring spots on the roster and that could prove to be costly during the 2023 season.

The biggest failure was not addressing the guard spot on the offensive line. Currently, the team doesn’t have an answer for who will line up at LG when training camp opens. It’s only May, so there’s time to figure it out, but the draft was the best place to get their starter. That didn’t happen, although it was close to happening in the first round.

Almost using their first pick on a guard shows that the team knew they needed help, which makes it strange that Dallas didn’t select a true guard anywhere in the first three rounds. Fifth-round pick Asir Richards will be working out at tackle and guard, but he feels like more of a project than a starter in 2023.

The other options are third-year lineman Josh Ball, who’s been a tackle since entering the league, 2021 seventh-round pick Matt Farniok, and journeyman free agent addition Chuma Edoga. None of those are the long-term answer at LG.

Of course, the Cowboys can use last year’s first-round pick Tyler Smith at LG again, but the organization has been adamant about him being their left tackle all offseason. Moving him back to guard would be the best move to get the top five offensive linemen on the field, but if something were to happen to injury-prone Tyron Smith, the team would be back in the same position. Using a pick on a plug-and-play guard in the first three rounds likely would have solved this issue.

The Cowboys also missed on upgrading the receiver position. Trading for Cooks was a smart move, but he is an older WR coming off a subpar year. If he doesn’t get back to his 1,000-yard self, the offense might lack weapons in the passing game for a second consecutive season. The team is banking on Cooks and a return to form from another veteran WR, Michael Gallup.

If neither of those things happen, which is possible due to age and health concerns, where do the Cowboys turn for receiver help? Last year’s third round pick, Jalen Tolbert, might finally be called upon but his rookie season left much to be desired. Tolbert only had two catches last year and suited up sparingly. A jump in production is needed to put WR fears to rest, because there isn’t much projected help after Tolbert on the depth chart.

Dallas did spend a seventh-round pick on WR Jalen Brooks, but it’s a bit of a dart throw whether or not he makes the roster. The South Carolina receiver had just 58 college catches, so it’s probably too much to ask that he significantly contribute in year one.

The guard and receiver positions are two needs that the Cowboys failed to adequately address in the draft. It’s too early to know if these decisions will haunt the team during the 2023 season, and there is still time to find help at either spot, but it’s fair to wonder why the Cowboys bypassed upgrading two significant holes on their roster.

Do you think the Cowboys brought in a strong draft class? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.

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