Few, if any, analysts do more homework in the leadup to the NFL draft than Dane Brugler of The Athletic. With less than two weeks to go before the draft arrives, Brugler released a 7-round mock of the process.
This isn’t your usual mock draft, as not only does Brugler conduct extensive research on over 1,500 prospects, he thoroughly understands team needs and preferences for all 32 clubs. The draft guru gave us a glimpse into his criteria, noting that he focused on “scheme fits, organizational trends and reported interest level (30 visits, formal meetings, etc.)”
Brugler also happens to be a former writer for the Dallas Morning News, and a frequent co-host on The Draft Show, hosted on the Cowboys official YouTube channel, so it’s safe to say he is one of the pundits whose work Cowboys fans should pay extra attention to.
Here’s a closer look at all nine of the prospects selected by Dallas in Brugler’s first and last 7-round mock draft of 2022.
Round 1, pick 24: Zion Johnson, OG, Boston College
Mar 4, 2022; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Boston College offensive lineman Zion Johnson (OL22) goes through drills during the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
I’ll be surprised if this pick is anything other than an offensive lineman or wide receiver. Treylon Burks will be an enticing option for Dallas, but I’m giving the edge to the plug-and-play left guard who will help bring stability to an inconsistent unit. – Brugler
Brugler’s first pick for Dallas should come as no surprise to those who have been following the draft process, as few prospects have been more consistently linked to Dallas than Zion Johnson.
It’s no secret that the Cowboys are after help along the offensive line, especially left guard, where Johnson would slide in seamlessly.
The Cowboys used one of their official 30 prospect visits on Johnson, and if the past is any indication, then Dallas likely has the Boston College guard on their shortlist of preferred first-round picks. CowboysWire Managing Editor K.D. Drummond noted the serious weight Dallas puts on these meetings, pointing out that “from 2006 through 2018, every first-round pick except for Morris Claiborne had been brought in for one of the 30 pre-draft visits.”
Of course the draft can play out many different ways, but there is a real possibility that Johnson rounds out the Cowboys offensive front at the start of next season.
Round 2, pick 56: Sam Williams, Edge, Ole Miss
Baylor Bears quarterback Gerry Bohanon (11) is pursued by Mississippi Rebels defensive lineman Sam Williams (7). Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
Williams must improve his discipline to be a more consistent edge-setter and rusher, but he has the upfield acceleration and attacking mentality to affect the game as a quarterback hunter. He is an exciting pass rush prospect in subpackages with potential to be more. – Brugler via ‘The Beast’ 2022 NFL Draft Guide
After losing defensive end Randy Gregory, Dallas re-signed Dorance Armstrong and added Dante Fowler, but Brugler believes the Cowboys could look to add a spark to their edge position early in the draft, this time in the form of Ole Miss’ Sam Williams.
Like Johnson, Williams was also one of the 30 prospects to travel to Dallas for an official visit, meaning Dallas saw something of interest in Williams and wanted to know more.
Williams’ best trait is his extreme athleticism, as the 6-foot-3, 260 pound edge rusher ran an astounding 4.46s in the 40-yard dash at the combine in March of this year, good for second amongst all defensive ends.
While he has some work to do on his run defending by all accounts, the SEC product would be an intriguing, explosive addition to the Cowboys defensive line.
Round 3, pick 88: Jelani Woods, TE, Virginia
Virginia tight end Jelani Woods runs the 40-yard dash during the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine. Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Woods needs to tighten up his route-running and overall consistency, but his size, blocking potential and catch point upside are an attractive package. A prototypical Y tight end at the next level, he caters his game after Marcedes Lewis and it shows. – Brugler via ‘The Beast’ 2022 NFL Draft Guide
In the third round Brugler gives the Cowboys yet another member of their 30 pre-draft visit list, as Woods is one four tight ends that met with Dallas.
It’s easy to see what NFL teams like about Woods. The Virginia product stands at over 6-foot-7, 250 pounds, and preformed at the combine and his pro-day like few players that size ever have, as he notched a 4.61s 40-yard dash, a 6.95s in the three-cone drill and a 37.5 inch vertical jump.
Woods has potential to blossom as both a blocker and receiver, and with Dalton Schultz only under contract for one more season, it makes sense for the Cowboys to plan ahead at the position as they do here with Woods.
Round 4, pick 129: Erik Ezukanma, WR, Texas Tech
Texas Tech wide receiver Erik Ezukanma (13)
Ezukanma is a predictable route runner with only average speed, but he is a natural ball-tracker with toughness and talent down the field. He projects as a WR4/WR5 who could see opportunities and move up the depth chart in the right situation. – Brugler via ‘The Beast’ 2022 NFL Draft Guide
Dallas traded Amari Cooper, and lost Cedrick Wilson and Malik Turner in free agency. While the club did re-sign Michael Gallup, there is still some snaps up for grabs by any Cowboys draft selection, especially considering that Gallup may miss time at the start of the season.
While many think the Cowboys will draft a wide receiver in round one or two to fill that recently created void, in this mock Dallas first adds to the position in the fourth round with Texas Tech’s Ezukanma.
Round 5, pick 155: Cade York, K, LSU
Apr 17, 2021; Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA; LSU Tigers place kicker Cade York (36) kicks a field goal. Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
The Cowboys moved on from veteran Greg Zuerlein after he had the worst year of his career in 2021. The club has since signed Chris Naggar, who was an undrafted prospect in last year’s draft out of SMU.
The Cowboys won’t enter the 2022 season with no competition at the kicker position, and in this scenario, Dallas adds Brugler’s No. 1 kicker in LSU’s York.
Round 5, pick 167: Abram Smith, RB, Baylor
Feb 5, 2022; Mobile, AL; National Squad running back Abram Smith of Baylor (28) runs with the ball in the first half against the American squad. Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Smith won’t be an ideal fit for every scheme, but he is tailor-made for outside/split zone run game with his one-cut quickness and feel for lane development. He not only brings value to the backfield but is well-versed on defense and special teams to potentially offer three-way versatility. – Brugler via ‘The Beast’ 2022 NFL Draft Guide
While the Cowboys may be set at running back in 2022, that could quickly change.
Tony Pollard is set to be a free agent after the upcoming season, and next offseason marks the Cowboys best opportunity to move on from Ezekiel’s Elliot hefty contract since he signed it.
Many NFL teams are realizing that running back isn’t worth the draft capital that some other positions are, so it’s nice to see the Cowboys pick up a potential contributor in Baylor’s Abram Smith in Round 5.
Smith was Second Team All-Big 12 with over 1,600 rushing yards in 2021 for the Bears.
Round 5, 176: Brandon Smith, LB, Penn State
Oct 31, 2020; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions linebacker Brandon Smith (12) celebrates after sacking Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Justin Fields (1). Credit: Adam Cairns-USA TODAY
The Cowboys have a strong track record when drafting Penn State linebackers in the last decade between Micah Parsons and Sean Lee. Smith isn’t anywhere near the level of those two players, but Dallas will be intrigued with the raw size-speed traits that he offers as a subpackage rusher or backer. – Brugler
Penn State’s linebacker Brandon Smith is one of the more interesting prospects in the draft. Smith has a great combination of physical tools and flashes of talent, but his processing and football IQ leave a lot to be desired for most scouts.
The Cowboys have fellow Nittany Lion Micah Parsons, as well as Leighton Vander Esch back on a 1-year deal, and 2021 draft pick Jabril Cox from LSU. Led by Parsons, it isn’t a bad linebacker corp, but is relatively thin and has plenty of room for improvement.
Once the top recruit in the nation at his position, Smith in the fifth round could be a low-risk, high reward addition to the Cowboys linebacker room.
Round 5, pick 179: Ryan Van Demark, OT, Connecticut
East offensive tackle Ryan Van Demark, of UConn, (74) during the East West Shrine Bowl football game at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)
Van Demark must continue to develop his core strength and pad level concerns, but he has the quickness, handwork and intelligence to earn an NFL roster spot as a swing tackle. – Brugler via ‘The Beast’ 2022 NFL Draft Guide
The Cowboys are thin at tackle after releasing La’el Collins earlier in the offseason, with really just Tyron Smith and Terence Steele locking down the ends of the line. The Cowboys do still have last year’s fourth-round pick, Josh Ball, but the only proven tackles are the two mentioned above.
That lack of depth combined with positional importance and Smith’s injury history means the Cowboys could realistically draft a tackle at any point in the draft.
Here they pick up one of Brugler’s favorite late-round tackle prospects with their second-to-last pick, UConn’s Van Demark.
Round 6, pick 193: DaRon Bland, CB, Fresno State
Fresno State Bulldogs defensive back Daron Bland (1) celebrates after intercepting a pass against the Nevada Wolf Pack. Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Bland is the Cowboys last selection in Brugler’s 262 pick experiment, and the only member of the secondary mocked to Dallas. He is yet another of the club’s 30 visitors.
Bland is a good-sized cornerback, something Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is known to target, standing 6-foot, 197 pounds, with 32 inch arms. The Fresno State prospect spent the first two years of his career at Sacramento State.
Dallas spent two Day-2 picks on cornerbacks last year with Kelvin Joseph and Nahshon Wright, and although neither has yet to make a major contribution, the Cowboys still have their trio of starters in Trevon Diggs, Anthony Brown, and Jourdan Lewis.
It wouldn’t be surprising if Dallas waited a while to add a corner, but depending on how the Cowboys front office feels about the recent news surrounding 2021 second-round pick Joseph, cornerback could be more of a need than Brugler realized while making this mock over the last few weeks.