I know we are still a few months from the 2022 NFL Draft and free agency can still change a lot of things, but it never hurts to look at a few young guns that can help out. Being a Dallas Cowboys and Iowa Hawkeyes fan, this is the best of both worlds. The Hawkeyes have a couple of players who could be great fits for Dallas.
The Cowboys head into this off-season with nearly half of the active roster staring down free agency. They have 24 free agents to be exact. While that is a hefty amount and some are sure to be re-signed, these are the realities of the NFL which entail replacements being needed, whether that is from the draft or other free agents outside the team.
My preference is to build through the draft and that is what I want to get into for this article. Free agents can be lucrative signings, don’t get me wrong, but they are often expensive and/or short-term rentals. Hitting in the draft, something the Cowboys do well, thanks to VP of Player Personnel, Will McClay, is one of the best ways to get a young foundation and create a bigger window for success.
Rookies give you youth. They have less expensive contracts, and they allow for more flexibility in areas such as re-signing stars or taking a big swing on someone in free agency. The Cowboys have a glaring need at center that needs to be addressed. They also may have an impending need at safety as Jayron Kearse might have played himself out of the Cowboys’ budget with his outstanding performance this season.
The draft offers two players that come from the Hawkeyes that can be plug-and-play replacements in each of those spots. The Cowboys have hit on some Hawkeyes in recent years with Anthony Hitchens and Chauncey Golston each boosting the defense.
Iowa is a program known for taking in under-scouted and lesser-known players only to turn them into All-Americans and future NFL stars. It’s a program that gives you work ethic, smart football players, and a chip on the shoulder. You know what you are getting from Iowa.
2 Iowa Hawkeyes players who could fulfill Cowboys needs in the 2022 NFL Draft
1. Tyler Linderbaum, Center
Key Facts: 6’3″, 290 pounds, Unanimous First-Team All-American, Unanimous First-Team All-Big-Ten, Rimington Trophy Award Winner
Tyler Linderbaum played against Big Ten interior linemen his entire career at Iowa and was unanimous amongst every first-team recognition possible. Truthfully, that sentence right there could be all you need to know for his scouting report as it really does say it all.
Linderbaum is not going to be the biggest or strongest lineman taken, but he is arguably the most technically sound one in the entire draft. Being sub-300 pounds requires him to have an extra layer of agility to beat defensive linemen to a spot and get in position. That is truly a great strength of his.
At Iowa, Linderbaum was consistently getting to second-level blocks and getting a hat on the linebackers. Coming from an extremely run-heavy offense, his run blocking is something to witness.
Being a center also requires a lot of intelligence. The center is working with the quarterback to align protections and in coordination with his fellow linemen to get the protection scheme set up properly. It may not seem like a big deal, but Linderbaum has been a Dean’s List member at Iowa and carries that natural intelligence into his football IQ.
Sitting at the 24th pick, the Cowboys might need a miracle to get Linderbaum to fall to them. My gut tells me that once teams start talking about him more and his name gets more public, he will get some serious buzz and teams will be eager to bolster their offensive line with what I believe is a future perennial Pro Bowl type player.
The Cowboys’ best bet to go get Linderbaum is to flip with the Browns for the 13th pick. Based on the draft pick valuation, I would switch first-round picks then give the Browns our second and fourth-round picks. The Browns need a wide receiver and could slide back to get that need at 24th overall or snag one later in the draft with an extra pick. I’m not crazy about trading up but this is a situation that leaves the Cowboys set at center for the foreseeable future.
2. Dane Belton, CASH
Key Facts: 6’1″, 205 pounds, First-Team All-Big-Ten
First off, let’s talk about what “CASH” means. Think of Kearse, the exact player Dane Belton could be replacing. His role was to play over the top as a safety, roll down into the box in run formations, and cover tight ends. A bit of a defensive Swiss Army knife. That is exactly what Belton did for Iowa. And he did so extremely well.
Iowa has had recent players enter the NFL after playing in their CASH role. Current Ravens safety Geno Stone and current Titans safety Amani Hooker manned this role before Belton and have carved out nice careers in the NFL. Belton appears to be next in line.
Belton was a staple for the Hawkeyes defense which reeled in 25 interceptions this past season. Belton led the defense with five interceptions and 12 pass breakups. He is a ballhawk and knows how to go get the ball. The Cowboys got their hands on the ball a lot this past season and adding another defensive back with ball skills would be a very welcome addition.
Pairing Belton with Dan Quinn would be a dream scenario for both of them. Quinn gets a new Swiss Army knife and Belton goes to an aggressive defense that can utilize his skill set perfectly.
The Cowboys are more than likely going to need to replenish the safety room. Keanu Neal, Jayron Kearse, Damontae Kazee, Malik Hooker, and Darian Thompson are all free agents this year. The back end of the defense will need an overhaul and a young, yet experienced Belton could be the exact recipe.
Belton is currently trending to be a later-round pick with some projections putting him in the fifth round. Belton did get an invite to the NFL Combine. He is known by his Iowa teammates for his freakish athleticism and a good outing at the combine could propel him as early as the fourth round. The Cowboys shouldn’t need to trade any assets for Belton, but I would have no issue going and getting him with the fourth-round pick.