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NFL Draft

Cowboys Draft: Time for OL in Round 1 Again?

Sean Martin

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Cowboys Draft: Time for OL in Round 1 Again?
Brad Loper / The Dallas Morning News

Four of the five starting offensive linemen for the Dallas Cowboys were first round selections in the NFL Draft. Left Tackle Tyron Smith, Center Travis Frederick, and most recently Right Guard Zack Martin have all done their part in establishing the Cowboys' identity up front -- collectively signaling a culture change in Dallas as the team has thrived with their running game.

Considered a bust prior to starting alongside Frederick and (mostly) Smith at left guard for the Cowboys this season, Jonathan Cooper is also a former first-round pick who will now enter free agency. Add in the once projected first-round status of RT La'el Collins, and the Cowboys offensive line is truly a modern football masterpiece -- a crafty collection of talent that does well to not handicap the team's salary cap.

Coming off of a 9-7 season defined by who wasn't on the field through crucial stretches, a serious case could be made that no absence set the Cowboys back more than that of Tyron Smith in 2017. Lingering back issues remaining a concern, Smith missed three games entirely this season, also exiting the Cowboys' final home loss to the Seahawks after one series.

Without Tyron Smith in the lineup, the Cowboys did their best to get franchise QB Dak Prescott killed. In a loss that began with a stretch of three straight in week 10 at Atlanta, Prescott was sacked eight times with Chaz Green unable to hold up at LT.

Chaz Green

Dallas Cowboys OT Chaz Green

Thinking all the way back to training camp in Oxnard, Green was originally the favorite to be the Cowboys' starter at LG, after Collins made his transition to RT. Starting Cooper allowed the Cowboys to instead keep the injury-prone Green as tackle depth off the field, having Collins as additional insurance inside should the line be forced to reshuffle.

Of course, Cooper also did not survive 2017 without injury, departing the Cowboys' meaningless week-17 win in Philadelphia with a knee injury. All indications are that he should be ready for next season, whether he is with the Cowboys or elsewhere.

This sudden uncertainty on the Cowboys' offensive line warrants this question:

Should Dallas use the 19th pick on another offensive lineman?

The Cowboys could get maximum value out of this pick by drafting a tackle with the ability to start his career at guard. In a draft class that lacks "star power" at the top, where the best overall player may be Notre Dame Guard Quenton Nelson, making this safe pick at 19th overall is far from the worst thing the Cowboys could do.

In doing so, there is no hiding the fact the Cowboys would have to ignore more pressing needs elsewhere on both sides of the ball. Plugging Jonathan Cooper back in at left guard, and looking for depth behind Smith later in the draft or in free agency could open up the board elsewhere in the first round. If recent history is any indication, this will basically be the Cowboys approach leading up to the draft.

The Cowboys don't like entering the draft pigeonholed at any one position, allowing them to draft the best player available.

Last year's draft also tells us a pure "BPA in round one" approach is far from reality for the Cowboys, as Head Coach Jason Garrett made his winning pitch for Michigan DE Taco Charlton over other highly graded prospects in Dallas.

Dallas Cowboys: What's The One Thing That Makes The OL Great? 1

Dallas Cowboys LT Tyron Smith, RG Zack Martin, C Travis Frederick

Knowing how well this current front office and scouting staff evaluates offensive line talent, making the greatest strength even stronger feels like one of the most reassuring ways for the Cowboys to return to form in 2018. Expecting 16 games out of Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys could be much closer to the 13-win team they were in 2016, or 12-win team of 2014 with a better-than-ever OL and healthy defense.

As the Cowboys roster stands currently, there aren't many positions where immediate starters could be drafted in the first round or beyond.

Defensive tackle, linebacker, safety, and wide receiver stand out as four potential areas in need of young talent.

Whether or not the team feels like they can wait to continue building their fast-developing defense or add weapons for Prescott until later in the draft -- or wait to risk seeing their offensive line actually hold them back again -- is going to be a difficult decision that will leave some fans unhappy, no matter the outcome.

For a talented team with ten picks in this 2018 NFL Draft, starting the roster build in April by hitting on a potentially needed OL pick at 19th overall feels like a great way to get the Cowboys back on track.

Tell us what you think about "Cowboys Draft: Time for OL in Round 1 Again?" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Boro Panther, Montclair State Red Hawk, and most importantly a proud member of Cowboys Nation! I host "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Bill

    January 22, 2018 at 6:20 am

    Pick the best left tackle you can get and play him at right tackle. (eventually Smith replacement) Move Collins back to guard. Find a better swing tackle. Make the offensive line great again!

    • Sean Martin

      Sean Martin

      January 22, 2018 at 9:53 am

      They’ve already committed a full year to La’el Collins playing right tackle, a position he looked very good at throughout the season. I don’t see him moving, but the need for a swing tackle is still there. Thank you for reading and commenting, Bill!

  2. John Williams

    John Williams

    January 25, 2018 at 3:04 am

    #InOnWynn

  3. Chris

    January 25, 2018 at 9:54 pm

    they should not draft an OT or OG in the 1st round. Watching the Senior Bowl practices, we could get a good OT or OG is the 2nd-4th rounds. Will Hernandez and Isiah Wynn could both be there in the 2nd to name a couple that you folks have recent articles on.

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NFL Draft

Should the Dallas Cowboys Make Offensive Tackle a Draft Priority?

Brian Martin

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Should Dallas Cowboys Make Offensive Tackle a Draft Priority?

The 2019 NFL Draft will be an interesting one for the Dallas Cowboys. From the outside looking in it doesn't seem as if they have any clear "needs" that need to be addressed. But, if you were to dive deeper into their roster you'd probably discover things might not be as stable as we'd like to believe.

The Dallas Cowboys could obviously stand to upgrade several positions. So far this offseason wide receiver, tight end, and safety have been at the forefront of the discussion, but one position not being mentioned is offensive tackle. Why?

There has to be growing concerns within the organization about Tyron Smith's inability to stay healthy for an entire season. He has a bothersome back and it has continued to make him unavailable for at least two or three games these past few seasons. How much longer can they afford to roll the dice with his back issues?

Then there is La'el Collins, who is entering a contract year in 2019. Collins' best attribute during his time with the Cowboys is probably his availability. He's battled through some injuries himself these past couple years, but managed to play through it. Unfortunately though, his career has been up-and-down since taking over as the starting right tackle. It's probably time to find his successor.

La'el Collins

Dallas Cowboys RT La'el Collins

Sadly, Dallas doesn't have much offensive tackle depth behind Smith and Collins. Cameron Fleming, the Cowboys swing tackle in 2018, is now a free agent and is probably looking to join a team where he can earn a little more playing time. The only other OT candidate on the roster might be Connor Williams, but even that's an unknown sense he's never played tackle in the NFL.

I don't know what the Cowboys brass thinks of all of this, but I find it more than a little concerning. We know all too well what happens when the OT play isn't up to par. Chaz Green anyone!? That game alone against the Falcons is one we would all like to forget, but serves as a reminder of just how important it is to have an emergency plan in place.

The Cowboys of course have one or two ways of solidifying their tackle position. They can use free agency once again to find a swing tackle like they did with Cameron Fleming last year, or they can use one of their draft picks this year. The latter seems to be the wiser move, especially with Collins' contract coming to an end.

The Dallas Cowboys may have Tyron Smith and La'el Collins as their starters for the upcoming 2019 season, but it's never too early to start preparing for the future. That's why it wouldn't surprise me at all if Dallas used one of their draft picks this year on an offensive tackle. In fact, I'd encourage it.

I really like the idea of providing some competition at the RT position. If La'el Collins wins out fine. The rookie OT can then serve as the swing tackle and take over next season when Collins' contract expires. But, if the rookie wins Collins could also be become a trade asset. Sounds like a win-win to me.

Do you think offensive tackle should be a Dallas Cowboys draft priority?



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NFL Draft

Cowboys Draft Target: Kentucky CB Lonnie Johnson Jr.

Kevin Brady

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Cowboys Draft Target: Kentucky CB Lonnie Johnson Jr.

Since Kris Richard has taken over the back-end of the Dallas Cowboys defense, they have clearly shown a bias towards a "type" of cornerback. Richard, looking to build this Dallas unit in a similar form to his Seattle teams, has prioritized long corners both in height and arm length.

As his responsibilities within the organization increase, it's only fair to expect Kris Richard to have more say in who the Cowboys' defense acquires in terms of talent. This means we should anticipate more defensive backs who fit his type, such as Kentucky Wildcats cornerback Lonnie Johnson Jr.

The Player

So why does Lonnie Johnson fit the mold of what Kris Richard tends to look for? Well, for starters, he is 6'3" and 206 lbs with 32 1/4" arms. He's a long corner with excellent size and the trait profile which indicates he could be the perfect candidate to play cornerback in Dallas.

But while he might look great on paper, the tape is always the most important factor for evaluating and projecting talent. And, for Johnson, the tape isn't all-that great. Despite his length, Johnson struggled mightily in press-man coverage at Kentucky. Too often he is late or ineffective with his hands, leaving him susceptible to being blown by by the opposing receiver. He often loses balance due to poor footwork, and is rather average with his hips and quick change of direction.

Where Johnson was his best in college was in zone coverage, playing his deep third of Kentucky's cover-three look. Rarely did he allow receivers behind him in zone coverage, and displayed good instincts when deciding whether to jump routes or play more conservatively when playing in that deep third. He was not nearly as comfortable underneath, and Kentucky didn't ask him to play in that role too often. Because of how big he is, Johnson is able to contest at the catch point regularly, yet he only deflected 9 passes in 2 years.

What gives me the most hope for Lonnie Johnson as a prospect (besides his length) is his Senior Bowl performance. Johnson impressed daily at the Senior Bowl, looking more comfortable in man coverage and playing much better in his press technique.

Was this Johnson becoming more comfortable over time and a sign of things to come at the next level, or was it an anomaly that we shouldn't read too much into? The answer to that question is up to the individual teams, but his combine performance will play a huge role in how those teams answer.

The Fit

As I've discussed already, Lonnie Johnson Jr. fits what Kris Richard tends to look for in his cornerbacks. He is long, tall, and relatively athletic, making him a clay piece for a coach like Richard to develop.

The question is, however, how much development can really occur? The highs for Johnson are rather high when he maximizes his natural abilities on the field. But too often he is sloppy in technique, or looks lost in man coverage. Whether or not Richard can "fix" Johnson completely may never be seen, but teams (especially this one) could fall in love with him as a prospect for what he can become if it all comes together.



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NFL Draft

Cowboys Draft Target: Oklahoma Sooners RB Rodney Anderson

Brian Martin

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Cowboys Draft Target: Oklahoma Sooners RB Rodney Anderson

NAME: Rodney Anderson

SCHOOL: Oklahoma

CONFERENCE: Big 12

POSITION: Running Back

CLASS: RS Junior

JERSEY: No. 24

RECRUITMENT RATING: 4-star

HT: 6'1"

WT: 219

D.O.B.: 9/12/96

Highlights:

Rodney Anderson || 2017-18 Highlights ᴴᴰ || Oklahoma

Rodney Anderson || 2017-18 Highlights ᴴᴰ || Oklahoma Like, Comment, and Subscribe for More! Follow my Instagram: @szhighlights Songs: - "Don't Know Me" by Trae Tha Truth - "Better Days" by Trae Tha Truth I do not own any of these highlights or music clips.

Before we get into the player, we should really try to get to know Rodney Anderson the person. He attended Katy High School in Katy, Texas, one of the powerhouse HS football programs in the state. He was a four-star recruit who received offers from Auburn, Baylor, Texas A&M, and Oklahoma. He originally committed to Texas A&M, but changed his mind and decided to go to Oklahoma instead. He had an up-and-down career on the football field at Oklahoma because of injuries, but did graduate with a degree in Arts and Sciences in May 2018 and is pursuing his Master's in Human Relations.

Pros:

Rodney Anderson has the ideal size and athleticism to become a featured back in the NFL. He shows good patience and vision on film to allow his offensive lineman to secure their blocks before sticking his foot in the ground and exploding through the hole. He runs behind his pads and shows good strength, loose hips, and balance to run through arm tackles. More than capable of picking up those "dirty yards" and is surprisingly slippery as a runner in the open field.

Anderson is capable of playing in a power scheme or a zone heavy scheme like the Dallas Cowboys deploy. He has been featured in a number of rushing concepts including gap/power, read action, and power sweeps. His talent also carries over to the passing game. He possesses soft hands and looks natural catching the ball both out of the backfield and down the field as a receiver. Solid in pass protection, but this is an area of his game where he can improve.

Cons:

The biggest negative about Rodney Anderson is his injury history at Oklahoma. He is basically a one-year wonder because of three separate season-ending injuries, but bad things happen in three so maybe that's behind him. Durability will be a question mark entering the NFL though.

His vision is sometimes questionable, especially on inside and outside zone reads. Has a tendency to to try to bounce runs to the outside too often or cut back too quickly. Shows good explosiveness, but only average burst through the hole. Seems to have adequate long speed on tape, but is 40 yard dash time will be heavily scrutinized if he's able to run at the NFL Scouting Combine.

In the passing game he needs to improve his route running and pass protection if he wants to be a three-down back in the NFL. The talent is there, just not the production and consistency. Will also have to prove he can be productive against stacked boxes at the next level since he rarely saw any in college due to Oklahoma's spread offense.

Cowboys Fit:

If the Dallas Cowboys are looking for a running back capable of being a featured back in the NFL, while also spelling Ezekiel Elliott from time to time, then Rodney Anderson is there guy. His combination of power, balance, explosiveness, and scheme diversity could come in handy as their RB2. Not only would he provide a good insurance policy if the unthinkable were to happen to Zeke, but he could take over if they decide not to give No. 21 a contract extension.

There is a lot to like about Rodney Anderson's game and his ability to contribute in the running and passing game, but he is not by any means a clean prospect. Despite his immense talent, his injury history and lack of consistency in college is bothersome. But, as a mid-round pick the reward far outweighs the risks. Paired with Elliott, the Cowboys could have a formidable one-two punch in their backfield and could pound opposing defenses into submission.



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