FRISCO, Texas — Jerry Jones held up the color-coded paper and asked: “Can you see that?”
The Cowboys, the owner asserted, had graded their newest player higher than a pair of prospects fans widely expected and preferred at the 24th overall selection of the 2022 NFL draft. What better way to corroborate his claim than by flashing the team’s typed-up draft grades to reporters and a live-streaming news conference as proof?
“Don’t show them that!” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said, swatting his father’s arm. “Put that thing down.”
The Cowboys selected Tulsa offensive tackle Tyler Smith after entertaining three trade offers to move down, they said. The team praised Smith’s position flex along the line, describing him as a “left-side position player” who will compete at left guard, where Dallas has a starting vacancy, and left tackle, where aging perennial Pro Bowler Tyron Smith has encountered injuries in his 30s.
Tyler Smith played in 25 games, starting 23, in three years at left tackle for Tulsa. He said the Cowboys didn’t discuss his position specifically during a private workout and pro day film session but that he’s up for the challenge to become more versatile.
“I played tackle in college, but I’m willing to play wherever they put me,” Smith said by phone. “I’m going to take the coaching and I’ll practice it all.”
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Smith added that he’d bring “120% to infinity” effort while embracing the aggressive mentality he honed as a high school defensive lineman. The Cowboys touted his nastiness as a top quality that piqued their interest.
“He’s a big, athletic, physical guy that’s going to play in a big, athletic, physical league,” vice president of player personnel Will McClay said.
Dallas’ offensive line struggled in 2021 with run-lane cohesion, identification of coverages in pass protection and excess penalties. No team outpaced the Cowboys’ 141 total flags and no player outpaced the 14 penalties left guard Connor Williams drew. The Cowboys allowed Williams’ rookie contract to expire, the Texas product signing with the Miami Dolphins in free agency.
Smith, who could replace him, fell prey to penalty-inducing plays last season as well. In his final collegiate year, as a redshirt sophomore, he drew 16 flags, including 12 holding calls, The Athletic’s Dane Brugler reported.
Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said he wasn’t worried about Smith’s penalty penchant, discerning between combative penalties and pre-snap offenses.
“We need to focus on penalties (and) we’ve taken those steps already in our offseason program, as far as the emphasis on what we need to do better, particularly in the area of fundamentals,” McCarthy said. “Tyler will be a part of the program when he gets here. I don’t have any concerns.”
Jerry Jones said the Cowboys strongly considered drafting a defensive player after early runs on offensive linemen and wide receivers. But with Smith, whom Jones said was the team’s 16th-graded player, still available at 24, Cowboys brass reached consensus quickly.
They declined offers to trade down on a swap-happy NFL evening.
An executive from a team who had offered a trade texted Stephen Jones shortly after, he said. The message: “Be glad you didn’t trade down with us. That was our guy.”
Smith, who grew up in nearby Fort Worth, said he is eager to learn from Pro Bowl-caliber offensive linemen like Tyron Smith and right guard Zack Martin. The 6-5, 325-pound prospect impressed NFL evaluators with his physicality and footwork but is considered raw with his hands.
Tyler Smith said he’ll work to ensure he refines his technique while maintaining his mentality. Blocking, he says, isn’t meant to be passive.
The Cowboys said this week they had no “must”-address draft positions, but offensive line was arguably their direst need. They’re expected to address receiver soon, too, after trading four-time Pro Bowler Amari Cooper (865 yards, eight touchdowns in 2021) to the Cleveland Browns and losing Cedrick Wilson (602 yards, six touchdowns) in free agency to the Miami Dolphins.
The Cowboys also seek depth at pass rusher and tight end.
But on a night in which division rivals bolstered their defensive fronts, the Cowboys believe they spent a wise investment on a versatile depth option for the left side of the line and their eventual valuable left tackle of the future.
“It feels to have gotten a player of this caliber in with that offensive line,” Jerry Jones said. “This is a good move, and we’re proud of it.”
McCarthy and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore told Smith by phone that they were “fired up” to bring him into the locker room. Smith, in a nearby Frisco Airbnb with his family, echoed the sentiment.
Then the North Texas native told Moore: “Thank you for bringing me home.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.
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