NFL Draft Day 3 picks crucial for Cowboys' long-term roster flexibility

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After filling critical needs on the first two days of the NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys used their remaining six picks on Day 3 to bolster the roster’s depth.

DALLAS — After months of preparation for the team, and months of anxious speculation from fans, the 2022 NFL Draft for the Dallas Cowboys has come and gone. Now, the team moves forward with the upcoming season in their sights.

The Cowboys surely expect their Rounds 1-3 picks to step in and become starting caliber players, but it’s the Day 3 picks that can make or break a draft class. The Cowboys had spent the last few days before the draft telling everyone that Rounds 4-7 was where they felt the draft was strongest.

After patching up the major holes on their roster with their first three picks, Dallas set out to add depth and seek hidden gems. The Cowboys had six picks on Day 3 and the team used every one of them. Trader Jerry (Jones) was nowhere to be found on the day.

Round 4

Day 3 began with a tight end in Round 4. Wisconsin TE Jake Ferguson will come in and compete for the backup spot behind starter Dalton Schultz. There is little in the way for depth at the position as far as pass catching goes, so Ferguson’s selection was as much about need as it was about depth. Ironically, Ferguson’s profile is similar to what the Cowboys already have in Schultz.

Round 5

In the 5th round, the Cowboys were armed with four picks and ready to inflict some damage. The team went about adding depth at key positions, especially targeting highly athletic players.

Despite using their 1st-round pick on offensive lineman Tyler Smith, Dallas went about getting more help for the rebuilding unit. The selection of North Dakota’s Matt Waletzko was made with an eye on the future.

Waletzko should get the benefit of a learning year with the Cowboys, but he could eventually be the answer at one of the starting tackle positions if he’s a quick study. At worst, Waletzko has the makings of a coveted swing tackle. It’s difficult to find a tackle with Waletzko’s mammoth frame and length, but he also has outstanding athletic ability.

The Cowboys also strengthened their stock at cornerback by drafting Fresno State’s DaRon Bland with pick No. 167th overall. Due to the uncertainty of the availability of last year’s 2nd round pick Kelvin Joseph, Dallas was wise to find another CB in the draft.

Standing at just over six-feet, weighing 197 pounds with 32-inch arms, Bland’s length and speed fits what defensive coordinator Dan Quinn covets in his corners.

Bland should fit in immediately on special teams, but his skillset and speed – 4.48 40-yard dash at his pro day – suggests the tools are there to develop into a contributor for the defense. Bland had five passes defensed and two interceptions last year as a senior.

Perhaps the most intriguing selection of the day was one for a player who might not see the field at all in 2022. With the 176th pick, the Cowboys drafted LSU linebacker Damone Clark. A highly productive player during the 2021 season, Clark totaled 135 tackles, including 15 tackles for a loss, 5.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception during the 2021 season.

Perhaps even more impressive, Clark wore number 18 at LSU, a number only given out to the best leaders in the program.

With numbers and accolades like that, it seemed unlikely that the Cowboys would land him in the 5th round, but the issue for Clark is that he underwent spinal fusion surgery in March which could sideline him for his entire rookie season.

Clark and the Cowboys seem to believe he’ll be ready around mid-season, but even if he’s not, Clark has the talent to eventually earn a starting place at LB if he makes a full recovery. Grabbing an expected late-1st round talent in Round 5 was a gamble worth taking for the Cowboys. The potential reward was too good to pass up.

Two picks after Clark, the Cowboys went to the SEC well again and selected defensive tackle John Ridgeway from Arkansas. Unlike many of the Day 3 picks for the Cowboys, Ridgeway doesn’t have elite athleticism, but he makes up for it with outstanding effort.

The Cowboys, forever in search of a run stuffing DT, turned to Ridgeway who was thought of as a 3rd or 4th round talent coming into the draft, so Dallas potentially got a bargain with their fourth and final 5th round pick.

Ridgeway will join the competition for playing time in the middle, but his vaunted relentless hustle gives him a chance to stick around and become a valuable rotational piece on the defensive line.

Round 6

The Cowboys opted for another Cowboy with their final pick of the draft with Oklahoma State linebacker Devin Harper being called at pick No. 193. One of the thinnest positions on the roster, it was clear that Dallas needed depth at LB, and Harper can provide a swiftness that the team wanted to add to the group.

Harper ran a 4.49 40-yard dash at his pro day, giving him the ability to run sideline to sideline and make plays. He was also a team captain for the Pokes last season and an Academic All-Big 12 honoree. However, the easiest way for Devin to make an immediate impact is on special teams, which feels like the initial reason for the selection.

If there was a mandate for the Cowboys on the last day of the draft, it was to select players who fit two pieces of criteria, they had to be athletic and they had to be leaders on the field. Dallas came into the offseason trying to enhance the team’s youth and speed and on Day 3 of the 2022 draft, they accomplished that mission.

Only time will tell if the Cowboys struck gold deep in the late rounds, but the team knew what they were drilling for. That’s half the battle when it comes to the draft.

Of the six Day 3 picks for the Cowboys, which was your favorite? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.

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