Analysis

Everything You Need to Know about the 2022 Dallas Cowboys

Advance Scouting the Dallas Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys are an enigma.

Long known as America’s team, the Cowboys come off the 2021 season as the reigning NFC East champions. Even though the Cowboys sported the top-scoring offense and 7th-ranked scoring defense, they couldn’t get past the San Francisco 49ers in the Wild Card Round.

As we take a look at the team going into the 2022 season, the Cowboys are filled with boundless potential, but there are some questions that need to be answered.

Here’s a breakdown of the Cowboys’ strengths, weaknesses and important storylines for this season with the help of The 33rd Team expert analysts and T.J. McCreight, The 33rd Team’s Head of Scouting.

Dak Prescott 

Last season was an interesting one for Prescott. One of the top quarterbacks in the NFL, he was coming off a broken ankle suffered against the Giants in October of 2020. The 33rd Team’s Dirk Koetter thinks the critics are “kidding themselves.” 

“People tend to forget that Dak is coming off of a major injury,” Koetter said. “From all accounts at Cowboys Training Camp, he is leaner and more mobile and appears more comfortable on that ankle than he did a year ago.”

The 33rd Team’s Rich Gannon is also high on the Cowboys, mainly due to Prescott. 

“Dak Prescott played all but one game last season after a gruesome ankle injury the season before,” Gannon said. “He threw for a career-high 37 touchdowns. He’s the cream of the crop in this division. If the Cowboys can just take care of business week-in and week-out, they should win the NFC East.”

It’s easy to see why Koetter and Gannon are high on Prescott. He set career highs in completions (410), attempts (596), completion percentage (68.8%) and touchdown passes (37) last season. After losing Amari Cooper, the Cowboys will be leaning on Prescott now more than ever.

Depth in the backfield

“A lot of teams would love to have the one-two punch of Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard in their backfield,” McCreight said.

At 27 years old and entering his seventh season, Elliott has a lot of tread on the tires but can still perform at a high level. History would say Elliott should start trending downward due to the wear and tear on his body, but if he can stay healthy he’s still a threat.

Pollard has a lot of ability and he is a productive player. He can run, catch and block and is an outstanding compliment to Elliott. Football teams must have two backs that can produce. The NFL running back position is not a one-man job.

Behind Elliott and Pollard, there are question marks, making the third back job up for grabs. Rico Dowdle was undrafted and missed all of 2021 with a hip injury. They signed Malik Davis and Aaron Shampklin after the draft and both are unproven and unknown. 

“Unless one of these young players steps up, the Cowboys could sign a back that becomes available after cutdown,” McCreight said. “I know Vice President of Player Personnel Will McClay and Director of Pro Scouting Alex Loomis will be keeping an eye on the waiver wire.” 

The Cowboy’s decision makers will target teams deep at running back and spend a lot of time evaluating the players who could be released.

Who is the Cowboys WR3?

With the departure of Cooper and Michael Gallup entering the season coming off of a torn ACL, the position is more important than ever.

Last season, the Cowboys featured three wide receivers on 65% of their snaps. CeeDee Lamb and Gallup are the unquestioned top-two receivers, and tight end Dalton Schultz will be an important factor in this offense. The question remains on who will be the third wide receiver.

James Washington was signed away from the Pittsburgh Steelers to be that third option. Unfortunately, he fractured his foot at the beginning of training camp putting him out 6-10 weeks. Due to the injury, he could start his season on the PUP list.

Third-round pick Jalen Tolbert could fill in that spot. At South Alabama, he was a vertical threat with the ability to compete for the football in the air. Likely to be used in the slot this season, Tolbert averaged 53.6 yards per game out of the slot last year at South Alabama, which ranked 24th in the FBS.

The other two options are 2021 fifth-round pick Simi Fehoko and 2021 UDFA T.J. Vasher. Both players give the Cowboys’ wide receiver room a different skill set. They are big-bodied receivers who are mismatches for cornerbacks on the outside and can sky over the top of them. They also have the ability to box out defenders on slant and hitch routes.

Building the OL back up

The Cowboys selected Tulsa offensive tackle Tyler Smith in the first round of this year’s draft to help improve their depth and versatility up front. 

“Smith is a raw, but talented player that will play left guard,” McCreight said. “The rookie also has an ability to play tackle and eventually that is where he may end up.” 

Smith will have plenty of talented players around him no matter where he plays. The Cowboys have left tackle Tyron Smith and guard Zach Martin who are top-level players entering 2022. 

However, Tyron Smith has missed games in each of the last three seasons. This could push Tyler Smith into the lineup at tackle quicker than the Cowboys’ brass expected. 

“Martin, in my opinion, will eventually put on a gold jacket, and Smith- when healthy- still can play at a high level,” McCreight said. 

Dallas’ other linemen are right tackle Terence Steele and center Tyler Biadasz, who is coming off a 2021 season where he started all 17 games. 

“Right tackle Terence Steele shows flashes of good play but needs to be more consistent game in and game out,” McCreight said. “Biadasz improved as the season progressed but he will never be an elite player.” 

Besides drafting Tyler Smith, the Cowboys also spent a 5th-round pick on another lineman—tackle Matt Waletzko from the University of North Dakota. 

“Waletzko is a giant man that can engulf people in the run game but needs to refine his technique in the passing game,” McCreight said. “Overall, this unit is more than capable but they need to stay healthy and drastically need to reduce their penalties.”

Creating Turnovers

Last year, the Cowboys’ defense under Dan Quinn showed significant improvement, and he became one of the hottest coaching candidates in the league. The most impactful improvement on the defense was takeaways. The Cowboys were led by cornerback Trevon Diggs and his league-high 11 interceptions.

“The Cowboys defense in 2021 was tops in the NFL with 34 takeaways,” McCreight said. “I was in the NFC East last season and had to play the Cowboys twice. A team that creates turnovers is not fun to play. Wherever you are on the field and no matter how well you are moving the football- that threat of an interception or losing a fumble is always in the back of your mind.”  

Diggs’ ball-hawking tendencies make him another thing quarterbacks have to think about pre-snap, which as McCreight acknowledges, can be difficult given how much QBs are already responsible for. 

“The quarterback has enough to think about- then you add that number seven is lurking and can always snatch the ball and go the other way,” McCreight said. “Diggs has excellent instincts or as most scouts and coaches may say “his eyes work”. He can snatch the ball with ease, he runs fast and he also can align inside or outside. Like most bigger corners, he does have a tad of tightness in space, but it certainly is not terminal.”

Diggs isn’t the only playmaker on the Cowboys’ defense. The reigning unanimous defensive rookie of the year, Micah Parsons, patrols the second level. He finished 2021 with 13 sacks, making him a pass-rush threat offenses must account for. 

“Micah Parson can do so many things on the field,” McCreight said. “He can cover, he can blitz and he can rush. The advantage that DC Dan Quinn has is he can line up Parsons on the weak link offensive lineman.  Every team has a “fifth lineman,” and most defensive players feel comfortable playing in one spot on the field. Parsons can rush over the left guard, off the edge or even drop in coverage using his speed and length. If you want a teaching tape on how to use your hands and take on a cut block watch Micah.” 

There’s also one rookie on the defense that has caught McCreight’s eye: Arkansas fifth-round pick John Ridgeway. 

“A young player to keep an eye on is rookie 5th rounder John Ridgeway,” McCreight said. “I see Ridgeway getting in the defensive line rotation and contributing. Overall, they need to keep taking the ball away. That changes the game.”

Tyler Forness contributed to this report. 

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