The argument can be made that the left tackle position is the most important on the offensive line. With the majority of quarterbacks in the NFL today and in the history of the sport being right-handed, protecting their blind side is essential.
Since entering the league a decade ago, Tyron Smith has been a standard-bearer for the left tackle spot as he's provided elite-level protection for Tony Romo and Dak Prescott. His last five seasons have been ravaged by injuries, but according to ESPN, he's still one of the league's best at his position, coming in at No. 9 on their list for top offensive tackles.
Jeremy Fowler on Smith's ranking:
“Last year's No. 1-ranked tackle has missed too much time to be a factor atop the rankings this time. A neck issue sidelined Smith for 14 games last season, and he hasn't played more than 13 games in a season since 2015. Still, he's only 30 despite spending a decade in the league.”
It's been a tale of two careers so to speak for the former USC Trojan. During his first five seasons, Smith started 79 out of 80 games and received Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors three times, establishing himself as the best left tackle in the sport. Since 2016, Smith has added four more Pro Bowls and an All-Pro selection to his resume, but his availability has diminished. He missed three games for four consecutive seasons (2016-2019) with back, knee, and neck injuries. In 2020, his neck issues became too much to bear as he needed surgery to fix the ailment and missed 14 games.
Even though the injury bug has been a nuisance for Smith over the last half-decade, he still gets the ultimate respect league-wide, as one high-ranking league official stated.
“He still has dominant traits, big hands, probably not the power and flexibility he once had,” he said. “But still very effective.”
When Smith is healthy he's still one of the NFL's best left tackles. Once he gets his hands inside a defensive lineman's shoulder pads, rolls his hips, and extends his arms it's Goodnight Irene. The Cowboys are simply better as an offense and team with Smith on the field, as Fowler mentioned.
“Dallas is 11-12 without Smith since 2017, and the offense's total QBR dips from 67.3 to 60.3 when he's not in the lineup, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Cowboys allow pressure on 29% of their offensive snaps without him, 24.6% with him. The sack rate balloons from 5.5% to 7.3% when he's on the sideline.”
Dak Prescott and Blake Jarwin are looking to return strong from injuries last season. Ezekiel Elliott is on a mission to erase the only bad season of his career, CeeDee Lamb will attempt to elevate his game after a stellar rookie campaign, and Michael Gallup is playing for a new contract. The performance of these players will depend heavily on protection, and the elder statesman of the Cowboys offensive line, Smith, will have a lot to do with that.