Cowboys Draft Needs Analysis: The Offensive Line

romo sacked
Last year too often it seemed the middle of the offensive line was playing like they were on skates instead of cleats as they would get pushed back into Romo’s lap and he then would scramble trying to salvage the play. So I have to start with the offensive line when looking at draft needs.

Pro Football Focus ranked the Cowboys 2012 offensive line 22nd down from 15 in 2011. They allowed 36 sacks which wasn’t even the weakest part of their game. The Cowboys rushed for only 79 yards a game which was 31st out of 32 teams. That was the weakest rushing performance in the history of the franchise.

To say the least. the Cowboys must get better at rushing the ball and protecting their QB Romo.

Guards:
Last season Jerry Jones plugged in Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernedeau who he got from the Bengals and Panthers. These two do not appear to be long term solutions at all. Jerry Jones liked the way undrafted guard Ron Leary moved in preseason camp HERE Leary spent 2012 on the practice squad. Leary will be expected to compete for a guard position next year however, he has yet to play in an NFL game and has knee issues.

I believe the Cowboys need to come out of the draft with a guard that can start on day one. There are three guards that meet that criteria but one of them, Chance Warmack of Alabama, is expected to be long gone off the board when Dallas picks, so I’m going to focus on the remaining two.

1. Jonathan Cooper, UNC- Expected to go off the board right about 18 (according to CBS Sports rankings) where the Cowboys happen to be making their first pick. Cooper is very athletic for a guard, and his strengths are pulling and moving out on screens. If you are running a finesse offense, Cooper is your guy.

I watched a lot of video of Cooper and his pass blocking looked solid but I think he gets a little too high upon contact and that could use some coaching at the NFL level where it’s not as easy to out muscle pass rushers. While Cooper does a nice job of pulling and getting out in front of the runner, occasionally I saw him run past defenders and not block anyone.

2. Larry Warford, Kentucky– Expected to go in the 2nd round and his stock is on the rise after a strong Senior Bowl performance that really got him noticed. Russ Lande of National Football Post said of Warford, “After his display this week, there is no doubt that Warford will be a first round pick because he will be a day one starter.”

Warford was an all SEC guard in a conference that has some of the best defensive linemen in college football.

Warford is a smash mouth guard that demonstrated some of the best pass blocking I have seen of a prospect. In fact, he didn’t allow a sack last season. He’s the kind of guard you can get behind in short yardage situations and pick up that needed yard. That’s been a problem for Dallas.

Watching video of Warford, he displays a bit of a nasty streak as he runs down the field, looking for players to blow up in the open field. Cooper in comparison, was caught running down the field watching his running back, run. Against Florida, on one run play, I saw Warford block 4 defenders on the same play.

I don’t think Warford will be as good on screens as Cooper but he will be very good in the pass and run game. He is just more physical and delivers knee buckling hits on defenders.

Warford in my view, is the better selection particularly if you can get him in the 2nd round. Besides, the Cowboys could use a mauler on the line. My conclusion is that Cooper appears to be a “show horse” while Warford appears to be more of a “work horse.” Both would be a great pick and could immediately be the best guard Dallas currently has on the roster.

Tackles:
Tyron Smith moved to left tackle and had mixed results last season but he is not going anywhere. Doug Free on the other hand, had an awful season at right tackle. Pro Football Focus gave Free a very low rating of (-10.1) because defensive ends beat him on a regular basis.

So far, Free has proven he can’t hold down either side of the line, so the next logical spot for him would be the bench. But things in the NFL aren’t so simple. Free has a big contract and he may not be going anywhere just yet however, I think Dallas needs to get a tackle at some point in the draft. Serving up Free again will not get it done.

Eric Fisher and Lane Johnson would be great draft picks but they are not likely to be around at 18 when Dallas picks. So I will focus on picks within the Cowboys reach.

Offensive Tackle Prospects:
1. DJ Fluker, Alabama– Expected to go late in the first round. A pure right tackle prospect that is an excellent run blocker. Earlier, I pointed out Dallas had about the weakest rushing year ever. They could use a big maulin’ tackle (6-5, 355) leading the way for Murray, like Fluker.

Fluker will need some development at pass blocking but he will likely be a very good NFL lineman. I like this pick for Dallas who needs to move on from Free and get more physical in the run game.

2. David Quessenberry, San Jose State– An intriguing tackle that converted from TE. Moves very well and was a team captain in college. He performed well in the Senior Bowl and I noticed that he actually is moving up prospects ranking boards. David can also play guard which adds value to selecting him.

I’m not convinced he is ready to start day one but he looks like he could provide depth and develop into a starter after a season. A solid mid draft selection.

3. Justin Pugh, Syracuse Pugh also played well in the Senior Bowl and is expected to go around the 3rd round. He is a left tackle that some think may end up at guard but in the Senior Bowl, I think he actually proved he can play tackle in the NFL. If he can play the left tackle, then Dallas could consider moving Smith back to right tackle where he is at home.

Center:
The Cowboys found themselves auditioning centers during the season after injuries. They found Ryan Cook who was cut by Miami and he played decent but is not likely a long-term solution. Phil Costa had a very tough season in 2011 but when he returned from injuries in 2012, he played better than 2011. I think the Cowboys plan to keep Costa at center although he is an unrestricted free agent. It just makes sense for the Cowboys to get a center in the draft if possible.

To be honest, there aren’t many centers to get excited about in this draft but one did catch scouts attention at the Senior Bowl.

1. Brian Schwenke, California– Expected to be picked in the 4th round according to some rankings. Schwenke displayed an ability to block some good defensive linemen in the Senior Bowl. He held his ground nicely in pass blocking and in run blocking, he did a nice job of getting to the next level. Moves his feet real well.

Schwenke could provide Dallas depth at center while perhaps developing into the middle anchor, their offensive line desperately needs.

Conclusion: Back when the Cowboys were winning super bowls, they had a dominant physical offensive line that crushed opponents. If Dallas is ever going to get their swagger back and move into the post season again, it will likely come through a physical and dominating line.

I don’t think anyone could fault Dallas if they were to use their first two picks on offensive linemen in the draft. Not saying they will as there are other needs, but if they took OT Fluker in the first, then OG Warford in the second, and placed them on the right side of the line, I could picture Murray having an all pro season running behind those two big guys.

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2 thoughts on “Cowboys Draft Needs Analysis: The Offensive Line

  1. You’re absolutely right about the huge, dominating line the Cowboys had during their Super Bowl run in the mid-90s. One of them, Larry Allen, is being inducted into the HOF.

    Romo or Murray have no chance to excel with their present o-line…if the Cowboys will draft an NFL-ready OG & LT, they could bench Free & move Smith back to his regular position at RT–where he played in college.

    Then, with the switch to a 4-3 defense, they will need to find a DE opposite Ware (since I don’t believe they can afford to re-sign Spencer) and a couple more DTs. Also an upgrade at safety is badly needed…

    • Exactly right and I’m glad that you mentioned the defensive line because I’m posting a blog very soon about that topic.

      Congratulations to Larry Allen for a deserved HOF recognition. Allen was found as a small college prospect that was one of the strongest men to ever play in the NFL. He came into the league as a tackle originally right?

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