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NFL Draft

NFL Draft: What To Look For In OL Prospects

Brian Martin

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Cowboys Headlines - NFL Draft: What To Look For In OL Prospects

We have previously covered the quarterback, running back, wide receiver, and tight end position in this 10 part series. Today, we will dive head first into what I think is one of the more difficult positions to scout, offensive lineman.

This is the last of the offensive positions and instead of breaking down each position along the offensive line I decided to give more of a broad observation of what I look for when analyzing offensive lineman.

Scheme Fit

Like I previously stated when discussing the tight end position, the scheme that a particular team uses is extremely important when scouting the offensive line position.

Does the team use a zone blocking scheme or a man blocking scheme?

A zone blocking scheme like the Dallas Cowboys use relies on more athletic offensive lineman that can play in space. These types of linemen are usually smaller and use their quickness and athletic ability to secure their blocks.

A man blocking scheme relies more on bigger linemen that tend to use their strength and power when making their blocks. These types of players usually aren’t quite as athletic and the majority of their blocks are determined pre-snap, whereas in the zone blocking scheme the linemen have to use their vision to know which player to block.

Determining whether an offensive lineman prospect is best suited in playing a man or zone blocking scheme will go a long ways in deciding how they fit in with the team.

Athletic Ability

When studying offensive lineman and trying to figure out their athletic ability, I like to start from the ground up.

Cowboys Draft - NFL Draft: What To Look For In OL Prospects

N.C. State vs USF Football

An offensive lineman needs to have really good “feet”. They need to be able to get out of their stance quickly in order to engage a player in the running game or slide their feet to cut off a defender in the passing game.

It doesn’t really matter to me if the prospect is a center, guard, or tackle because if an offensive lineman can’t move their feet they are going to be a liability at the NFL level. An offensive tackle has to be able to use his kick slide to cut off a pass rusher and a guard/center has to have smooth footwork when pulling to make a block.

Athletic ability may be a little more important for offensive lineman in a zone blocking scheme, but I believe that having smooth footwork is something that cannot really be taught. It’s either something you have or you don’t.

Technique

One of the traits I look for in an offensive lineman is where they are at on their technique, because at the NFL level they are not going to be able to get away with just having good athletic ability like they did in college.

Technique is something that can be coached up and learned at the NFL level, but properly identify whether or not an offensive lineman is already technically sound can determine how early and often they can play at the next level.

Offensive lineman are asked to make several different types of blocks in the NFL so they have to be able to use their athleticism and proper technique in order to become a fundamentally sound NFL player.

Run Blocking

Athletic ability and technique are the two traits I really look for when analyzing an offensive lineman’s run blocking prowess.

Cowboys Draft - NFL Draft: What To Look For In OL Prospects 1What I like to look for is whether or not the lineman is in control of his movements when engaging with a defender or if he is continuously ending up on the ground.

I want to see him engage with his assigned defender and move him out of the running lane. I look to see if his hands are inside the shoulder pads of the defender and if he was dropping his weight and driving his feet.

I also look to see if he is firing out of his stance once the ball is snapped and playing with an intensity and aggressiveness. Leverage is a term that is often used in the running game and I like to analyze if a lineman is maintaining his leverage when engaging with a defender or getting washed down out of the play.

Pass Blocking

Like run blocking, an offensive lineman’s athletic ability and technique need to be up to par, otherwise your quarterback is going to be running for his life in the NFL.

Protecting the quarterback is the number one priority when pass blocking and one of the reasons the Dallas Cowboys invested so highly in their offensive line.

I like to analyze if a lineman knows where his QB is at during the play and whether or not he can adjust if the quarterback has to scramble to buy time. I like to see a lineman playing with patients and a readiness to be able to adjust to exotic blitzes.

One of the most important things I look for when pass blocking is whether or not a lineman is using his hands. When pass blocking lineman have to be able to use their hands because they are catching defenders instead of firing out and trying to impose their will.

Lastly, I like to see how quickly an offensive lineman can get in his set, with his eyes up searching for the defender. This is an area where the battle can be won or lost in the blink of an eye.

Strength

A lot of people look at the bench press numbers that offensive lineman put up at the NFL Scouting Combine and use that as a reference to how strong a player is, but I think those numbers are somewhat inaccurate when judging a prospects strength.

Cowboys Draft - NFL Draft: What To Look For In OL Prospects 2Personally, I think strength for an offensive lineman starts in their base because that will ultimately determine whether or not they can hold up against a defender trying to overpower them with a bullrush.

I like to see a player anchor down in the passing game and hold their ground when a defender is trying to overpower him.

In the NFL, offensive lineman are not going to be going up against very many 225 pound defensive lineman, so that’s why I’d don’t like to use the bench press as a measuring stick to determining a player strength.

I think the strength starts with their foundation and then works itself up.

Summary

The offensive lineman position to me is the most difficult to scout and that’s why they are usually drafted so highly.

Athletic ability and technique are the two most important traits I look for when analyzing the offensive line position, but you always have to keep in mind the type of scheme that the player will fit best in once they are drafted into the NFL.

The Dallas Cowboys are pretty much set along the offensive line, but they still need quality depth at nearly every position. That is why I really like Joe Thuney out of NC State. He has played every position along the offensive line and that would be a huge benefit for the Cowboys.

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Level C2/C3 quadriplegic. College graduate with a bachelors degree in sports and health sciences-concentration sports management. Sports enthusiast. Dallas Cowboys fanatic. Lover of life with a glass half-full point of view.

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NFL Draft

Cowboys Draft Target: Michigan DT Maurice Hurst

Kevin Brady

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Cowboys Draft Target: Michigan DT Maurice Hurst

Heading into the 2018 NFL Draft, it’s pretty clear defensive tackle is toward the top of the Dallas Cowboys’ needs. Dallas has invested multiple draft picks and resources into the secondary, linebackers, and defensive ends, but their interior defensive line still needs to add depth and talent. One potential target to fill this need is Michigan Wolverines Defensive Tackle Maurice Hurst.

Over at Slant Sports I completed a full scouting report on Hurst, giving him a first-round grade and ranking him atop this defensive tackle class.

At 6’2″ and about 280 pounds, Maurice Hurst clearly projects as a three technique at the professional level. Hurst played the under-tackle most of the time at Michigan, but he did kick down over the center or inside the guards at times. Still, I wouldn’t expect a team to draft Hurst to be their one tech of the future.

Hurst is an explosive beast at defensive tackle.

Playing with a nonstop motor, Hurst won off the ball often, but also created effort and hustle plays behind the line of scrimmage during his college career. Hurst’s first step, quick hands, ability to win with leverage, and overall explosiveness shine through on film.

nfldraft2018 maurice hurst 5 – Streamable

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“Here’s an example of that explosive first step. Hurst is lined up as the 3-technique on the far side. Winning with his first-step quickness and burst, Hurst gives the offensive linemen absolutely no chance to block him. He then powers through the recovery attempt by the lineman to make the tackle in the backfield.” ~Slant Sports

Hurst clearly doesn’t have the prototypical size of a defensive tackle in the NFL, but his play style suits his body well.

His explosiveness and burst off the ball make him incredibly dangerous, and his quick hands, low pad level, and strong lower body help him to win against any offensive lineman.

He obviously isn’t at the same level, and may not deserve eye-to-eye comparisons with this player, but Maurice Hurst’s play style and body type remind me of a young Aaron Donald. (I’m not saying he’s better than Aaron Donald, save the comments).

nfldraft2018 maurice hurst 8 – Streamable

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In terms of his fit with the Cowboys, Hurst would compete with Maliek Collins for playing time at three technique.

Respected draft guru Dane Brugler, has mocked Hurst to Dallas in his latest mock draft, but the way they handle both Collins and impending restricted free agent David Irving will play a huge role in determining if Hurst would even fill a need.

Regardless, Maurice Hurst is a name deserving of first-round buzz, and Cowboys Nation should keep their eyes on him this offseason.

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NFL Draft

Sean’s Scout: Memphis WR Anthony Miller a Needed Weapon for Cowboys

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: Memphis WR Anthony Miller A Needed Weapon For Cowboys
AP Photo / Jessica Hill

Slotted to pick 19th overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys find themselves in position to add a first-round talent to a team that fell just short of the playoffs at 9-7 in 2017. Faltering entirely on offense without RB Ezekiel Elliott too many times this season, it’s hard to argue this asset is not best spent on new talent at WR.

The Cowboys haven’t drafted a wide receiver in the first round since 2010, trading up for Oklahoma State’s Dez Bryant. Frequent injuries and the inability to develop with QB Dak Prescott have diminished Bryant’s status as a star receiver in Dallas, and it may be time to overhaul the position entirely.

After scouting Memphis WR Anthony Miller, he may be just what the Dallas Cowboys need. Let’s take a closer look at his fit in the Cowboys’ offense in the first draft-season edition of Sean’s Scout.

WR Anthony Miller 2 – Streamable

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With 96 receptions for 1,462 yards and 18 touchdowns in his final season at Memphis, Senior WR Anthony Miller is one of the top players at his position in the 2018 NFL Draft. These inflated numbers in the Tigers’ pass-happy offense do little to highlight Miller as a next level prospect…

This film clip and quote from my full scouting report on Miller shows the pure play-making ability Miller has. Miller wouldn’t fill the Cowboys need for an over-the-top burner at WR, but he has no problem tracking the ball with ease and adjusting in the air to make big plays down the field.

…Miller is as tough of a cover as you’ll find thanks to his explosive and concise release off the line.

Anthony Miller is certainly a “Dak-friendly” pass catcher, as he possesses the catch radius to snag passes away from his frame using his exceptionally strong hands. Even when he is covered, Miller is open vertically.

With that said, Miller has more than enough ability to separate with good initial quickness and elite balance through his routes.

WR Anthony Miller 4 – Streamable

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…he wastes no time accelerating through the secondary, and running with a powerful stride that makes it difficult to bring him down.

There may be better technical route runners in this draft class, but few set up defenders as consistently well as Miller — who has the production to match these NFL traits.

A willing run blocker too, Miller could walk into Dallas and immediately earn snaps as an X, Z, or Y receiver. Miller’s best fit to start his career is likely as a Z receiver, drawing less attention in coverage while being allowed to run a full route tree.

…Miller gets on cornerbacks in a hurry, setting them up with his fluidity and size to track the football through contact.

A potential replacement for Terrance Williams with the Cowboys, Miller is somewhat of a similar player in the way he wins with mostly size.

The Memphis product would still be an upgrade over Williams though, as it is much easier to get the ball in Miller’s hands. Add in the red-zone ability that Anthony Miller has to box out defenders, and the run-after-catch burst as an inside target, and Miller is a weapon the Cowboys could desperately use.

WR Anthony Miller 1 – Streamable

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…I found myself constantly impressed with the speed at which Miller gets up the field when taking the ball underneath.

Miller will have nothing but opportunities to raise his draft stock over the coming months. He will be at this month’s Senior Bowl, receiving NFL-level coaching to refine his game. The Scouting Combine will also be critical for Miller’s testing numbers to confirm the athlete seen on tape dominating at Memphis will take the next step.

Earning a second round grade on my 2018 NFL Draft Board, there is a chance the Cowboys have to use their first round pick if they truly want Anthony Miller in Silver and Blue. A very complete player that fills a need, Miller as the Cowboys first pick could make plenty of sense in April.

Tell us what you think about “Sean’s Scout: Memphis WR Anthony Miller a Needed Weapon for Cowboys” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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NFL Draft

Luxury or Need for Cowboys to Draft Another 1st-Round OL?

Brian Martin

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Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, Travis Frederick, offensive line

Due to growing concerns about Tyron Smith‘s availability and future health, due to reoccurring back injuries, there seems to be a growing consensus among Dallas Cowboys fans that there’s a need to draft an offensive lineman with the first-round pick. But, is it actually a need, or would it be more of a luxury?

There is legitimate concern about Tyron Smith and his future health.

Back injuries have a way of flaring up at the most inopportune times. It’s also not an injury that’s going away anytime soon, if ever. This is the unknown the Cowboys are faced with heading into the off-season, and it could end up having a major impact on the direction they go in the 2018 NFL Draft.

There seems to be a growing consensus around Cowboys Nation that the Dallas Cowboys should seriously consider selecting the best available offensive tackle with the 19th overall pick.

There are probably two reasons for this:

  1. Tyron Smith’s health concerns, and
  2. the need to upgrade the swing tackle position after watching Byron Bell and Chaz Green play in 2017.

But, the question remains: is drafting yet another offensive lineman in the first-round a luxury or need for the Dallas Cowboys?

Personally, I can see both sides of this argument. So, let’s break it down a little and examine each.

Luxury

Zack Martin

Dallas Cowboys RG Zack Martin

The Dallas Cowboys have already invested an enormous amount of resources to build arguably the best offensive line in the NFL.

They’ve spent three first-round draft picks to acquire Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin, two of which have already received long-term extensions with Martin waiting in the wings.

That’s a lot of money devoted to one position, which ultimately means the Cowboys have to go cheaper in other areas in order to fit under the salary cap. This is the money that would be used in free agency to acquire some of those higher-priced free agents fans are always hankering for.

It also can be used to re-sign some of the Cowboys players at other positions, such as DeMarcus Lawrence.

But, it’s not only the money that makes drafting a first-round OL a luxury.

Four out of five of the Cowboys OL are already pretty much set in stone. The left guard position is really the only unoccupied position right now, but that could be filled rather easily. This, of course, is assuming Tyron Smith stays healthy, but regardless, he is the starting left tackle when the 2018 season begins.

Need

Byron Bell

Dallas Cowboys OL Byron Bell

There’s no reason to believe Tyron Smith will be able to play an entire 16-game season going forward. The last two seasons he has had to sit out several games due to injuries, and unfortunately his back issues aren’t going away anytime soon.

To make matters worse, Dallas doesn’t have an adequate backup, which was proven on more than one occasion in 2017. Hence the need.

With the exception of the quarterback, the left tackle position is arguably the most important on offense. They protect the QB’s blindside and are largely responsible for keeping him healthy and upright.

There’s a reason they are drafted so highly and paid so handsomely: they are that important to a team’s success.

There was also a reason the Dallas Cowboys offense started to sputter once Tyron Smith started missing time. Opposing defenses no longer respected the Cowboys LT, and started putting their best pass rusher on that side to get after Dak Prescott.

Prescott ended up having happy feet and it had a ripple effect throughout the entire offense, and not in a good way.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

Quite honestly, I think it would be a luxury to draft any kind of offensive lineman with the Cowboys’ first-round selection, but I wouldn’t be completely surprised if that’s the direction they went. There are positives and negatives to both sides of the argument.

But, if they stick to the draft board and an OL is their highest rated player there, I say go for it.

The only thing we can do is have faith that the Dallas Cowboys know more about Tyron Smith’s health and his availability to play then we do as fans. If they decide to draft an offensive lineman early, I think we should all take that as an indication that they are worried about Smith, at least a little bit.

Luxury or Need: Do the Cowboys draft a first-round OL?

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