Let’s Kick This NFL Draft Around

FRISCO, Texas – Let’s kick around a few post-NFL Draft thoughts as we come up for air after three pretty darn intense days at the tail end of April.

And we start at the position kicking off every NFL game: Kicker. The Cowboys needed one or two of them to go with Chris Naggar’s one kick of the NFL experience.

Bring on Texas Tech’s Jonathan Garibay being signed as an undrafted rookie free agent, somewhat of a bigger kicker (6-1, 210) for starters.

Drafting one was not out of the question, something the Cowboys have done nine times in their now 62-year draft history, most recently David Buehler in the fifth round of 2009 and Nick Folk in the sixth of 2007. Why, the highest of those nine drafted kickers is one Max Zendejas, a fourth-rounder in 1986 as insurance just in case veteran kicker Rafael Septien’s back problems dictated a change.

Septien’s back held up for another season and Zendejas went on to kick a combined three years for Washington and Green Bay in a short-lived career.

Remember, the Cowboys had four fifth-round picks in this year’s draft.

“I would have used one if (I didn’t think) I had one to use on something I thought was better than a kicker,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. “Seriously. I watched the success (Cincinnati) had this year with the draft pick on the kicker (Evan McPherson, fifth round).

“I went into this thing thinking we might use a pick on a kicker, but we had a better choice.”

Well, one of the guys the Cowboys probably were keeping an eye on was LSU kicker Cade York from Prosper High School just down the road. But somewhat surprisingly, Cleveland nabbed him in the fourth round, and then high for the Cowboys’ liking. And after 262 draft choices, York became the only kicker drafted.

So comes Garibay, a Juco transfer to Tech with only one and a half seasons of Power 5 experience. But in 2021, Garibay went 15 for 16, his only miss from 53 yards. Most importantly, other than his 62-yard, walk-off field goal to beat Iowa State, 41-38, and clinch bowl-eligibility for the Red Raiders, Garibay connected on all 14 attempts between 20-49 yards.

And in 2020, kicking in just three games, he became the hero in his Tech kicking debut, making all four of his attempts, including a 46-yarder late in the fourth quarter before a walk-off 25-yarder to beat Baylor, 24 -23, with his family from California surprisingly arriving the night before the game to witness his kicking debut.

Now, Garibay says he’s hit from 63 or 64 yards in workouts without any West Texas wind, and a 70-yarder while training at Riverside (Calif.) City College.

As for his demeanor, after hitting the 62-yard game winner, the longest in FBS history to win a game with less than a minute to play and the third longest since kicking tees were disallowed in 1988, he had this to say:

“I feel like everybody contributed to this.… I just did my part.”

Definitely, a shot heard ’round Lubbock for sure.

  • Neck Ties: Cowboys fifth-round draft choice Damone Clark of LSU, likely a second- or third-round draft choice if not for neck-fusion surgery on March 24, is sure to start the 2022 season on the PUP list, meaning the player must miss the first six weeks of the season that can stretch to five more weeks before he must be activated to the 53-man roster or remain on Reserve / PUP for the season. The Cowboys think Clark could be ready to play by the final month of the season and have some history with this surgery that fuses two vertebrae to combat a herniated disc. Former fullback Daryl Johnston did return to play 16 games in 1998 after the surgery ended his 1997 season. And remember, current Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch returned to play the past two seasons after undergoing a similar surgery at the end of the 2019 season. And from Clark’s viewpoint, how is this perspective facing one of life’s curveballs? “When I got out of surgery, the first person that I thought about was my daughter,” Clark said of his 2-year-old. “I want to play football, but the health of myself and being able to do things with my daughter is more important.” Already a solid pick.
  • Eastern Draft: So many are making such a big deal out of the Cowboys’ NFC East companions greatly improving. Well, heck, they should have. The Giants, Eagles and Commanders had high draft choices with their humble records in 2021 compared to the Cowboys 24th in the first earned with a division-winning 12-5 mark. Those teams are supposed to get better; that’s how the NFL is set up. The Giants in the first had the fifth pick (defensive end Kayvon Thibodeau) and the seventh pick (offensive tackle Evan Neal). Philly had the 13th (defensive tackle Jordan Davis) and the 18th pick (trading their other first, fourth and two fifths to Tennessee for receiver AJ Brown). And Washington, picking at No. 16, got wide receiver Jahan Dotson. Once again, in the NFL the meek shall be inherited.
  • Needy Analysis: See where many of the amateur draft experts are hard on the Cowboys for selecting offensive lineman Tyler Smith in the first round. They haven’t looked at it this way: First, two teams, the Jets and Titans, were interested in trading up ahead of the Cowboys to grab Smith. And in the first round, with four first-round tackles taken ahead of the Cowboys, there wasn’t another offensive tackle selected until the third round. As for guards, the only other one taken in the first was the infamous Cole Strange of UT-Chattanooga. Three more were taken in the second, but all after the Cowboys at 24, evidence of remaining talent lacking. But haven’t seen a tackle taken who could transition to guard until the third round. So, chances are if the Cowboys don’t do what they did at 24, that elusive tackle who could initially play guard and eventually transition to a high-quality left tackle wasn’t there in their opinion.
  • Catching A Bargain: This, for sure, is Cowboys’ third-round pick Jalen Tolbert, wide receiver, South Alabama. Just go watch his highlights. Have it on good advice from a trusted authority outside The Star that this guy is the real deal. Couldn’t figure out why he dropped into the third round, other than maybe playing for South Alabama. Has speed. Has great catch radius. Runs great routes. Sharp guy. Can play all three receiver positions. Bring it on. Steal of the draft for the Cowboys.
  • Draft Leftovers: Hear Ole Miss defensive end Sam Williams might need some “baby sitting,” something the Cowboys have extensive history in, but hey, the guy did manage to get his degree already in multidisciplinary studies… Oh, shucks. The Cowboys are not one of the eight teams selected to play regular-season games this year in Europe, causing distress for the great many Cowboys fans in England, and me, too… Streak ends in 2022, the first time since 2013-14 that no running back was selected in the first round, and no more than three have been picked in the first since five were taken in 2008, the Cowboys grabbing one of those in Felix Jones… As for quarterbacks, this is the first time since 2013 no more than one QB has been drafted in the first round, that distinction going to Kenny Pickett of Pittsburgh going to Pittsburgh at No. 20… And get ready, the NFL is releasing the full 2022 season schedule on May 12, though bits and pieces will be coming out all next week and betting at some point someone will have the entire schedule before officially announced. Like, if the US Supreme Court can’t keep a secret, surely the NFL can’t either.

This will be a little different, but for today’s last word we go to Cowboys vice president of player personnel Will McClay, the draft of his yearly baby. On 105.3 The Fan this week, Will was asked about the Cowboys’ fourth of four fifth-round picks, “Big” John Ridgeway, the 6-5, 321-pound 1-technique defensive tackle from Arkansas. Specifically, what made him so intriguing to the Cowboys?

“It’s a big man’s game, and big men who do the right things and know who they are,” McClay said, meaning Ridgeway knows his responsibility is to clog the middle against the run, take on double-teams. “This guy knows who he is, he knows what he’s all about.

“And that’s something that’s going to be important to our defense, especially in our division. You know, moving forward you’ve got to win the division first, but you’ve got to stop the run first.”

No kidding, and last year the Cowboys were only 16th against the run, giving up 112.8 yards a game, opponents rushing for more than 100 yards 13 times with 12 of those in the final 13 games. And need I point out in the playoff loss to San Francisco, the Niners went for 169 yards and two rushing touchdowns, one Deebo Samuel’s 26-yard run.

Yeah, everyone needs a “Big John” in there to take some shots.

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