There are few areas of the 2009 Dallas Cowboys that can be depicted as being "soft", but there is one area in particular that is of great concern, moving forward. The offensive line of the Cowboys must be better next year in order for this team to continue to progress.
Last Sunday in Minnesota, Tony Romo spent the majority of the afternoon running for his life, and the rest of the day on his back. To put it mildly the Cowboys offensive line played miserably in every way.
The players would probably say they just had a bad day, and they would be wrong. Marc Colombo, Doug Free, Andre Gurode, Kyle Kosier, and Leonard Davis were outplayed, out worked, and just downright beaten.
I've heard fans discussing their displeasure with the play calling of Jason Garrett, and specifically his supposed fascination with the delayed runs. Jason Garrett fell in love with that type of running play for only one reason—it was/is the best way he could think of to disguise the Cowboys' problems along the line.
For being one of the largest lines in the league this line plays extremely soft and lacks a nasty streak.
Marc Colombo was supposed to be a big lift for this unit, if for no other reason than his nasty streak. Unfortunately, for everyone involved, that did not happen. Vikings defensive end Ray Edwards (a solid DE, but far from being All Pro) repeatedly blew past Colombo like he was a street walker begging for change. And let's be honest, as well as Doug Free played in his absence, he would have no chance against Jared Allen.
The Cowboys tried to slow the bleeding by keeping extra blockers in—the Vikings just pinned their ears back and attacked the soft interior of the Dallas line.
The Cowboys have some work to do here, and that work is going to start with upgrading the tackle position.
Flozell Adams has been one of the best left tackles in the game for a long time, but his best years are far behind him. The time is now to find his successor.
Marc Colombo has been great for the Cowboys (outside of last week in Minnesota) but his spot will be heavily evaluated by the coaching staff.
Last year Dallas drafted Robert Brewster with the hope that he could come in and eventually take over one of those tackle spots. However, Brewster went down early with an injury and never played a snap in 2009.
The Offensive line will most assuredly be addressed in this year’s draft. But just who are the most viable players?
Let's take a look...
Russell Okung - Senior Tackle from Oklahoma State 6'5" 300 lbs.
Graded by many as the best Tackle in this year’s draft, some throughout this year even said that he may have a shot at being the first overall selection. While he was not the starter at the beginning of his freshman season at OSU, by game 6 of that year he was and he never looked back. Okung is an athletic tackle with quick feet. He's able to handle the edge-speed rushers, yet still strong enough to handle the bull rush. Coming from the pass happy Big 12 afforded him the opportunities to hone his pass protection skills, but don't think for a second that he's a one-trick-pony.
He is an excellent run blocking tackle and his agility and quickness allow him to get out in front and open huge holes.
Russell will be long gone by the time the Cowboys make their first selection as it stands now, but if management feels that they need to replace Flo quickly, this would be the guy to move up in the draft for.
Anthony Davis - Junior Tackle from Rutgers 6'6" 325 lbs.
Anthony Davis is one of the top offensive linemen in the nation, and before that he was one of the top prep offensive linemen in the nation, and odds are very good that he will be a top offensive lineman in the NFL.
Davis has been a man among boys in the Big East conference.
As a sophomore in 2008 he was second team all conference. As a freshman he was a First Team Freshman All America at Rutgers.
Anthony Davis is the Prototypical NFL Left Tackle—he is big, strong, agile, and moves extremely well for a big man. Davis will likely be on the board in the vicinity of where Dallas selects in the first round, and if he is there, Dallas would have a very difficult time letting him get away.
Bryan Bulaga - Junior Tackle from Iowa 6'6" 312 lbs.
Bryan Bulaga is just another outstanding offensive lineman to come out of Lineman U. (Iowa). Bryan began his collegiate career as a Guard and he started five games at that spot as a freshman.
The following spring he became the starting left tackle at Iowa, where he has remained the last two years.
Bulaga is big and has exceptionally quick feet for his size. He has very long arms which he uses superbly to run speed-rusher’s right of the play. While he is not as strong as a Joe Thomas or Jake Long, he's still very young and has the body to accommodate some added bulk. Bulaga is an excellent pass blocker—his main priority will be to focus on his run blocking. As with Anthony Davis, he will be in the Cowboys area code and it'll be hard to pass him by.
Trent Williams - Senior Tackle from Oklahoma 6'5" 318 lbs.
Trent Williams is a very large human being. He has all the physical attributes that one would look for in a Left Tackle. Trent started his career at Oklahoma as a right Tackle, and was only just moved to left tackle before the 2009 season. He's a very solid Tackle but in my opinion he's an underachiever.
This was the year he was supposed to be a dominant force for Oklahoma, but if any of you watched any Sooner games this year what you saw was an extremely porous line, and it was Trent Williams leading the charge.
Trent Williams will more than likely be drafted among the first four or five linemen taken, and will more than likely never make any kind of contribution. Please Dallas, stay away.
Charles Brown - Senior Tackle from USC 6'5" 290 lbs.
Charles Brown is yet another athletic lineman to emerge from USC.
While at USC he played as a "light" tackle (light as far as NFL standards go) but he has the frame to accommodate some extra bulk without it affecting his athleticism. He's very fast and agile coming out of his stance, and has above average mobility, body control, balance, and change of direction skills.
His major flaw, however, is his lack of physicality, power, and mass.
He struggles with holding his ground against the bull rusher. Brown has a ton of upside and could step right in and perform well in pass protection. But it will take time, bulk, and strength to improve his run blocking. He could be a very nice 2nd or 3rd round selection for Dallas.
Bruce Campbell - Senior Tackle from Maryland 6'7" 310 lbs.
Campbell has all the tools—length, athleticism, size, and good footwork—to be an exceptional tackle in the NFL.
He sets up quickly, is able to correct and recover, gets to the second level, and is exceptional in space.
As a run blocker he seals very well and get this folks, he is the perfect tackle fit for a team that likes to run screens and delayed runs! However, where there is good there is always bad. Campbell is still pretty raw. Yes, he is an elite pass blocker, but his run blocking needs quite a bit of work.
He's just not aggressive enough in the run game.
He sometimes gets lazy with his technique and has been known to lose the leverage battle. There were a few times at Maryland that he appeared to have a case of the don’t want to's but that team was awful and he was young. But he'll have to prove his dedication. This guy is the wild card of the bunch, he could be a top 20 pick or he could fall to the 3rd or 4th round.
Potential RB Prospects Dallas Cowboys Could Target in Each Round
The Dallas Cowboys have been pretty forthcoming about their desire to add another starting caliber running back to pair with Ezekiel Elliott at some point in the 2019 NFL Draft. That would suggest they are prepared to take one as early at 58th overall in the second-round, or at some point in the rounds in which they hold a draft pick beyond that.
Depending on what the Dallas Cowboys mean by "starting caliber", this year's RB draft class offers some pretty intriguing candidates. It's almost impossible to know at this point which RBs might have caught their eye, so I thought it would be a good idea to share with you some of these potential candidates they could target in each round. With maybe the exception of Josh Jacobs, every other running back could be in play for the Cowboys.
Let's take a look…
Damien Harris, Alabama
Damien Harris was a three-year starter during his time in Alabama and led the team in rushing in each of those three seasons. He is one of the more complete running back prospects in the 2019 draft class and the most pro-ready. He has excellent vision and instincts, allowing him to evade would be tacklers despite his lack of explosion. He actually reminds me of a slightly less explosive version of Ezekiel Elliott, and if paired with Zeke would give the Dallas Cowboys the best RB duo in the NFL.
David Montgomery, Iowa State
David Montgomery was a three-year starter and an every down back in a heavy zone-read offense at Iowa. He is an ultra-competitive back who broke a lot of tackles during his time in college. He is elusive in short areas with quick, active feet and is quicker rather than fast. He is a good receiver out of the backfield and solid as a pass protector. Overall, he is a starting quality RB capable of handling a heavy workload in the NFL. He would make a formidable 1-2 punch if paired with Zeke.
Darrell Henderson, Memphis
Darrell Henderson was a three-year starter at Memphis and was the lead running back in their zone heavy offensive scheme. He is built (5'8", 208) more like a complementary back in the NFL and is at his best when he can slash and weave through gaps. He's not a grinder and doesn't have the kind of long speed to be a home run threat, but his agility and instincts should make him an intriguing starter in the NFL. He would be a really good complement RB to Zeke with the Dallas Cowboys.
Trayveon Williams, Texas A&M
Trayveon Williams was a two-year starter at Texas A&M and thrived in the Aggies new coaching staff's zone blocking scheme in 2018. Much like Darrell Henderson, Williams is a bit undersize and projects best as a complementary back in the NFL. He is quicker rather than fast, and shows good vision and competitiveness in both the running and receiving game. Despite his size, he is also solid in pass protection, which should help him get on the field early as a rookie.
Justice Hill, Oklahoma State
Justice Hill was a three-year starter at Oklahoma State and led the team in rushing the last three seasons. He is another undersized running back who projects best as a complementary piece in the NFL. He is a shifty runner with good lateral agility and has shown the ability to be a threat in the passing game as well. His slight frame and small stature is a cause for durability concerns and could limit him as a pass protector as well.
Rodney Anderson, Oklahoma
Rodney Anderson was pretty much a one-year wonder after his breakout season in 2017 at Oklahoma. He has had a run of bad luck throughout his collegiate career due to some unfortunate injuries, but has the size and skill set to become an every down back in the NFL if he can stay healthy. He reminds me a lot of DeMarco Murray with his upright running style and talent as a runner and receiver, but he's not nearly as polished at this point in his career.
Alexander Mattison, Boise State
Alexander Mattison was a two-year starter at Boise State and became the first player in school history to earn the Mountain West rushing title in 2018. He is a crafty runner who runs with good patience and vision, which allows his blocks to develop. He is a big, physical back with only average burst, but his tenacious running style will wear down opposing defenses throughout the game. He is also a factor in the passing game, showing soft natural hands. He would be a solid RB2 and spot starter behind Zeke.
Devine Ozigbo, Nebraska
Devine Ozigbo was a one-year starter at Nebraska and played in a heavy zone read, option offense. He is a hard charging runner who plays with a good burst, but only average long-speed. He is mostly a straight-line athlete, but is surprisingly elusive for a back his size. He has every down versatility due to his skills as a receiver and in pass protection. Like Alexander Mattison, he would be a solid RB2 and potential spot starter behind Zeke.
Elijah Holyfield, Georgia
Elijah Holyfield was a one-year starter at Georgia, but split the workload with D'Andre Swift in 2018. He looks the part of an NFL RB and has pretty impressive film that should get him drafted, but his poor testing numbers at the NFL Combine and his Pro Day will take him off of a lot of teams boards altogether. He is a tough as nails runner, but needs to improve his decision-making and tempo to stick around at the next level. If he can develop his game further, he has workhorse potential.
Bruce Anderson, North Dakota State
Bruce Anderson had a really good four-year career at North Dakota State and was a triple threat as a runner, receiver, and special teams player for the Bisons the past four seasons. He runs with good contact balance and is elusive in the open field, but he doesn't have a real good feel for setting up blocks or choosing the optimal running lane. That could improve with better coaching in the NFL, but right now he's a work in progress. His ability as a runner, receiver, and kick returner is intriguing though and should get him drafted.
Should Cowboys Avoid DL Jaylon Ferguson At 58?
First team All Conference three times. Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year in 2018. NCAA all time leader in sacks. 67.5 tackles for loss over four collegiate seasons.
This guy is a first round pick, right?
Not so fast.
Both in terms of the expression, and when speaking about the player and his ability.
These honors and stats are all held by Louisiana Tech's defensive end Jaylon Ferguson, who played himself into top 50-pick consideration during his college career. Everyone is looking for pass rushers that can get to the quarterback, and Ferguson's college production is second to none.
So why is he not talked about as a top tier edge rusher? For starters, people have questions about his level of competition in college. Playing mostly against offensive tackles who will work 9-5 jobs next year, it's sometimes difficult to evaluate just how good small school pass rushers are.
This is small concern, however, as Ferguson played well against bigger schools in college as well. The real problem scouts, and I, have with Jaylon Ferguson and the possibility of the Cowboys selecting him 58th overall, are his athletic traits.
Ferguson ran an 8.08 second three-cone at his Pro Day. According to Pro Football Reference's combine indexer, only two other defensive ends or edge rushers have ran an 8 second or greater three cone at the combine since 2000. Neither was even drafted.
8.08 seconds is downright horrible, and Ferguson's lack of bend and explosion is shown on his tape as well. Ferguson is a grinder. He's a very powerful rusher who uses his length and strength to his advantage to beat blockers and get to the quarterback. He's not going to show off an incredibly impressive get-off or really turn the corner.
But will this work consistently enough in the NFL to take Jaylon Ferguson with your first pick of the entire draft?
Personally, I wouldn't consider Jaylon Ferguson at 58. I'd start thinking about taking him in the third round, where the expectations for his future as a rusher will be tempered a bit more.
Jaylon Ferguson is too good a football player to flame out of the league or go undrafted, but his traits tell me his ceiling is nowhere near as high as the Cowboys should be looking for with their first draft pick.
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Draft Needs: Defensive End
We've been discussing the Dallas Cowboys' 2019 draft needs throughout the last week, working our way up to the most critical positions. Today we're going to look at defensive end, which could've been a major need if not for some of the Cowboys' recent free agent moves.
The biggest move was, of course, getting DeMarcus Lawrence signed to a long-term deal. Dallas avoided a holdout situation with its key defensive lineman, and hopefully soon enough that his shoulder surgery will be fully healed by Week One.
Before getting Lawrence's contract done, the Cowboys sent a 2020 sixth-round pick to the Miami Dolphins for veteran Robert Quinn. They've also signed Kerry Hyder, a hopeful reclamation project from the Detroit Lions.
These moves were partly necessary as insurance against a stalemate between Lawrence and the team over his contract. But more directly, they were needed after Randy Gregory wound up back in suspended status for another backwards step in the NFL's substance abuse program.
The team is hopeful that Gregory will return at some point in 2019, but they're too close to Super Bowl contention to count on it. And with 2017 first-rounder Taco Charlton having yet to emerge as a reliable player, Dallas knew it had to add some different options at defensive end. But with Gregory and Charlton still in the mix, the Cowboys are now about as loaded at DE as they've ever been.
In fact, we haven't even mentioned a few other options yet.
Last year, Dallas spent a fourth-round pick on pass rusher Dorance Armstrong from Kansas. He didn't get much playing time last year but flashed potential, and he may be in line for more snaps on passing down this year.
There's also versatile veteran Tyrone Crawford, who can help one the edges if needed. The Robert Quinn addition means we'll probably see Crawford more at defensive tackle this year, but he's also a factor in the Cowboys' overall security at DE.
As we can see, Dallas clearly has a stocked cupboard right now at defensive end. That allows them to not worry about the position in this week's 2019 NFL Draft, but it won't stop them from taking one either.
After all, Quinn and Hyder are only here on one-year contract. Crawford is likely going to be released next year to clear cap space. And again, we don't know how much we can rely on Gregory or Charlton now or in the future.
The Cowboys would be justified in drafting a DE if a good value pick falls to them somewhere in the middle rounds, particularly if they see that player as having more potential than Armstrong or Hyder.
Thankfully, though, Dallas' offseason activity so far has given them draft-day freedom. Their hand won't be forced at any position, and especially at defensive end thanks to their free agent moves. They can afford to wait for exceptional value this year, or until 2020 if needed.
Draft Likelihood: 20%
Projected Round: 5th-7th
~ ~ ~
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