A primary goal for the Dallas Cowboys the last several years has been building and maintaining one of the league’s best offensive lines. That evergreen objective requires constant attention, and could mean that Dallas will spend one of their premium 2020 draft picks on the o-line. One potential target is Boise State offensive tackle Ezra Cleveland.
Cleveland checks a few boxes for the Cowboys this season. With veteran swing tackle Cam Fleming headed to the Giants, Dallas is looking for a new primary backup. Ezra has been a standout left tackle for the last few years with the Broncos.
The Cowboys do have Brandon Knight as a potential swing option but his experience is on the right side. Can he step in and play left tackle if Tyron Smith goes down?
Another prospect on the roster, Mitch Hyatt, was a left tackle at Clemson but went undrafted last year. He spent 2019 on the practice squad.
Ezra Cleveland isn’t going to go undrafted. In fact, he should be off the board before Saturday. He is widely considered a mid-round prospect and has been mocked as high as the late first round, but mostly in Rounds 2-3.
In addition to a higher perceived upside than Knight or Hyatt, at least coming out of college, Cleveland played at the Cowboys’ favorite feeder school. The Cowboys have drafted more players out of Boise State than any other program the last 12 years, going back to CB Orlando Scandrick in 2008.
You may be thinking, “Dallas has bigger needs right now. This would be a wasted pick!” But really, both short-term and long-term, it could make a lot of sense.
In the short-term, Cleveland may be able to walk onto the roster and provide superior depth at left tackle than other current options. But his real value could come in the not-so-distant future.
Tyron Smith is still one of the top left tackles in football but has been struggling to stay healthy for a while now. He’s missed three games every year from 2015-2019 and had to leave a few others injured.
While only turning 30 this December, Smith’s put in nine seasons as a full-time starter. And after what we just saw with Travis Frederick’s retirement, who knows how much longer Tyron wants to play?
Even if Smith wants to keep going, the Cowboys may not be in for the long haul. in 2021, Smith could be released for about $10.5 million in space. Those savings increase to about $13.5 million in either 2022 or 2023.
Again, think about what just happened with Frederick. While re-signing Joe Looney appears to be the immediate solution to losing Travis, Connor McGovern is another option. Last year’s third-round pick, McGovern should at least be able to fill in as a key backup at center and guard if he doesn’t push for a starting job.
Having Ezra Cleveland, or a comparable mid-round tackle prospect, already on staff would help protect Dallas against a similar future issue at offensive tackle.
Yes, there are bigger needs. Wide receiver and cornerback are chief concerns and I expect will be addressed in the first two rounds, though with defensive end, linebacker, and safety all also on the board
But if Ezra Cleveland slides into Round 3, depending on who the Cowboys have already drafted and what else they do during the next four weeks of free agency, then I think he will definitely be on Dallas’ radar. It would be consistent with their recent draft behavior and their predilection for Boise State products.