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Cowboys Rookies: Could 5 of Them Be Starters?

The Cowboys have signed nearly all of their 2022 draft class, but only a few could be competing for starting spots this season

The Dallas Cowboys' 2022 draft picks and undrafted free agents have taken their first baby steps into the league following the conclusion of rookie minicamp this past weekend. Many of these rookies will get their major first opportunity to shoot up the depth chart when OTA's begin on May 24.

And with fourth-round tight end Jake Ferguson being the only draft pick still yet to sign, Dallas has shown that its ready to get things rolling with this draft class.

Let's categorize five rookies that could be flirting with a starting nod based on team need and overall individual skill:

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Near guarantees:

OL Tyler Smith

Simply put, the Cowboys wouldn't have drafted Smith with their first pick if they didn't think he could start right away. Of course, the expectation is that he should start but every rookie, no matter where they were selected, all take different amounts of time to adjust to the league.

Smith should have a chance to prove himself all over the offensive line. He won't completely take over Tyron Smith's spot at left tackle, even though coach Mike McCarthy said the Tulsa product "will work both left guard and left tackle." Instead, the rookie could find that consistent role at left guard … and maybe anywhere else that could be a position of need due to potential injury.

The coaching staff might see it as a benefit to throw him into the fire early. Just as long as it's not putting Dak Prescott into too much danger from the pass rush.

WR Jalen Tolbert

Dallas' third-round pick out of South Alabama, Tolbert could easily see himself occupying the WR2 role as Michael Gallup is unlikely to return until in-season. The rookie should contribute early and often before sliding back into the WR3 spot that Cedrick Wilson produced in last year.

McCarthy even compared him to CeeDee Lamb and Wilson following the rookie minicamp this past weekend.

"He's somewhere kind of between CeeDee and Cedrick Wilson," McCarthy said. "The ability to play inside and outside."

PFF also released grades of FBS receivers against single coverage last season. Tolbert graded out as the second-best receiver by .1 of a difference at 94.4. He's nearly a lock to see significant playing time.

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Solid chances:

DE Sam Williams

Williams used three seasons to become one of the best pass-rushers in Ole Miss history. He's third in Rebels' history with 22.5 sacks and set the program's single-season sack record in 2021 with 12.5 - and he did it all in the SEC, the conference that routinely boasts the best talent college football has to offer.

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You can't teach the record-breaking pass-rush skills that Williams already has. But as a straight-line pass-rusher, he'll need to develop some finesse along the line to have sustained success in the league. However, not everything needs to happen at once. His power at 6-4, 265 can make an impact early on.

Starting nod? Maybe. Regardless, Williams will certainly get his chance to tally a few sacks early in his Cowboys career.

Unlikely to start:

TE Jake Ferguson

Ferguson will find his role on the roster in some capacity this season. The Cowboys are confident in the ability of starting tight end Dalton Schultz. Despite being franchise-tagged, ESPN reported Wednesday that Dallas could "certainly" ink a long-term deal with Schultz before the July 15 deadline.

Barring an injury from Schultz, the Wisconsin product likely won't get a TE1 start this season. Maybe the Cowboys feel running a two-tight end set would benefit pass protection and/or provide Prescott with an extra security check-down.

Regardless of how the depth chart or scheme will shake out, the 6-5, 244-pound Ferguson is still doing everything he can to make his way into the final 53. At rookie minicamp this weekend, the tight end has been the tough, physical beast that Dallas drafted him to be, according to a report Wednesday from NFL insider Matt Lombardo:

Cowboys tight end Jake Ferguson was a standout at rookie minicamp this weekend. Those around the team believe he “has the chance to be special.”

The @BadgerFootball standout turned heads with his physicality, and “really solid body control in the passing game.”

OL Matt Waletzko

Waletzko figures to be a solid depth piece on the offensive line this season. No real threat to earn starting reps unless, of course, there's an injury. For now, Dallas thinks he might be the swing tackle.

But the Cowboys drafted him for a reason. Waletzko stands out physically at 6-7, 310 pounds and was as consistent as they come at the FCS level his senior year at North Dakota State. In 620 snaps last year, he allowed no sacks and gave up just eight total pressures from his left tackle spot.

Waletzko is a gem that Dallas will hold onto, but it might be some time before he sees his first start.


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