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Cowboys Draft Blog #4 Offensive Tackle

April 12, 2013

With Eric Winston in town this week for a visit this position could very soon go from urgent need to not even on the draft board yet as of this article’s writing the right tackle position for the Cowboys was in flux. Mind you it shouldn’t be as when a team spends a Top 10 pick on one tackle and a 4 yr $32 million deal on another tackle 2 years later the team should still have two capable starters on their hands but last season Doug Free was anything but that and has the team contemplating taking another offensive tackle in the 1st round. Even with Free’s struggles it’s an unlikely scenario for the Cowboys as there are 3 top level tackles in this year’s draft and all of them are currently projected to be drafted in the Top 10. With all of them gone the Cowboys would then be looking at players like Menelik Watson that have great potential but aren’t experienced enough to be considered worthy of a mid round pick. Interestingly enough the player Watson reminds me of the most is Tyron Smith and he has a similar grade (late 1st/early 2nd) as both showed elite athleticism and great length but mediocre strength and limited experience. If the Cowboys trade down from #18 I could see Watson as their target as they clearly like the high upside/high risk tackle and might be interested in pairing him with Smith so they would have two players of similar style and ability. Yet even in a trade down I doubt the Cowboys go offensive tackle in this draft as Jerry just doesn’t like to do it. It’s too simple, it’s too boring, it’s not Jerry’s style, and history says he won’t do it. In 24 drafts that Jerry Jones has been a part of as owner only once have the Cowboys taken an offensive lineman in the 1st round (Tyron Smith-2011). That is an astounding fact and is unlikely to change this year when listening to Jerry’s comments regarding whether the offensive line needed to be addressed, “If you’re going to have a guy…that can handle a porous offensive line, it’s Tony,” Jones said. “Tony has some of the best percentages operating behind pressure situation of anyone in the NFL. If there were a place theoretically that you had to have a weakness with Tony Romo at quarterback, that might be a place to have it. You just can’t’ have it all.” Comments like that insinuate that Jerry thinks there are other holes on his roster more important to address than the ones on the offensive line so it’s unlikely the Cowboys address the OL in Round 1 yet despite these comments I will still break down the offensive tackle position as it will for sure be address at some point in the upcoming draft.

 

Players possibly available for the Cowboys at pick #18

Luke Joeckel

Positives: One of the 5 best tackles I’ve ever graded due to his elite consistency, technique, and balance. In 2010 he was a freshman All-American, in 2011 he dominated the Big 12 as a true sophomore and in 2012 he dominated the SEC as a true junior. His game tape is downright boring as he just gets the job done and erases the player across from him.

Negatives: The only two offensive tackles in the past 6 years I’ve graded higher than Joeckel (Joe Thomas, Matt Kalil) received higher grades due to elite athleticism that Joeckel doesn’t have. He projects as a top level OT as a rookie yet doesn’t have a “ceiling” of a superstar tackle and likely will have a career similar to Jordan Gross who has been a Top 5 tackle for about a decade but never was considered the best in the league.

Fit for the Cowboys: He’d be a perfect fit but in reality it’s almost a waste of space even writing about him as there is no way he gets outside of the Top 5 let alone drops to #18. I just profiled him because, like me, he’s an Aggie and also because if we’re talking about 1st round tackles he must be mentioned. A blue chip prospect if there ever was one, he is the #1 player on my board in this entire draft.

Eric Fisher

Positives: A superior run blocker to Joeckel who has good enough feet to likely hold up at LT. He’s physical, athletic, and had a dominant week of practices at the Senior Bowl which really boosted his stock.

Negatives: Going on tape alone I didn’t even have a 1st round grade on him and while there are positive cases of players “surprising” scouts at the Senior Bowl and then using that as a spring board into a great career (Clay Matthews) there are also negative cases where a player didn’t have a high draft grade but 1 week of impressive practices moved him up only for that player to disappoint down the road (Danny Watkins). To me Fisher’s best spot is at RT not LT and I think he could really struggle against the elite pass rushers in the NFL. I don’t see him as a Top 5 or even Top 10 pick and think he’s more of a mid 1st round type talent.

Fit for the Cowboys: Just like Joeckel, Fisher is unlikely to get out of the Top 5 so it’s almost a guarantee that he doesn’t fall to the Cowboys at #18. That’s fine as I consider him a little overrated and actually have him as the #3 OT on my board with the #2 guy (Lane Johnson) having a better chance at falling to the Cowboys anyway.

Lane Johnson

Positives: One of the most physically gifted players in this draft, Johnson reminds me of a cross between Nate Solder and Jason Peters. He ran the 2nd fastest 40 time ever by an offensive tackle and combines that pure athleticism with ’35 arms, quick feet, and improving strength. He not only has the highest upside of any OT in this draft class but has Joe Thomas level talent.

Negatives: He’s raw and I mean raw for a guy widely considered a lock as a Top 15 choice. He played one season at RT and one season at LT yet is just a few seasons removed from being a QB at the JUCO level. That uniqueness has caught the fancy of GMs across the league as he’s unlike any OT I’ve ever graded but also makes him more likely to be a bust. 

Fit for the Cowboys: To me he’s a perfect fit both value and fit wise as he could start at RT as a rookie and shore up that spot and in 2 seasons when Tyron Smith hits free agency the Cowboys would have leverage as Johnson could be moved to LT so if Smith demands an exorbitant contract they could move on. Also the Cowboys are a passing team so having two young bookend tackles with great athleticism, length, and upside would be the envy of many teams and likely improve Romo’s passing stats. At this point Johnson appears to be set as a Top 15 or possibly even Top 10 pick but he’s close enough to the Cowboys at #18 that it’d only take a few surprise selections for him to fall into the Cowboys lap. If Geno Smith is taken by the Raiders and another QB is taken by the Bills that would push 2 more players the Cowboys are intrigued with into their range. Other scenarios would be if OL needy teams chose an OG over an OT as the two OGs (Warmack, Cooper) are considered special enough to warrant taking them despite playing a less valuable position or if teams desperate for WRs would take one in the Top 15. Right now the only WR expected in the Top 15 is Tavon Austin yet Cordarrelle Patterson, Justin Hunter, and Keenan Allen all have 1st round grades on certain boards so there’s a chance a WR needy team like the Rams at #16 would reach to fill a need. Lane Johnson is a few surprising moves by teams ahead of them away from being available at #18. If he falls it would be a slam dunk pick in my opinion and is what I hope happens 2 weeks from now.

DJ Fluker

Positives: He is the best run blocking offensive tackle in this draft class as he combines elite length (36 ¾ arms!) with rare strength. When the action is in front of him there is no offensive tackle in this draft class that will be more feared in the NFL as he will be putting NFL veterans on their butt regularly.

Negatives: For most of his career I considered him an OG not an OT but in 2012 he showed improved foot quickness and at the Combine he measured nearly ’37 arms which was borderline historic. Both attributes make me think he could be an adequate pass protector yet when a player’s best case scenario is only adequate it shows just how much of a red flag that area is. Fluker will struggle if not given help against quality NFL pass rushers and needs to go to a run oriented offense.

Fit for the Cowboys: I don’t see it as the Cowboys are a passing team and Fluker is a player that will dominate in the run game and struggle in the passing game. With his incredibly long arms I think a team needs to try him first at RT before moving him inside to OG but in the end I think he’ll end up being a Pro Bowl OG or only an above average RT and the Cowboys don’t fit.

 

Players possibly available for the Cowboys at pick #47

Menelik Watson

Positives: A long armed, quick footed offensive tackle that has the skill set to eventually be a LT in the NFL.

Negatives: With only 1 season of college experience beyond the JUCO level he’s even more raw than Lane Johnson. Also he’s never played a snap at LT and it always concerns me when a player is being drafted to play a position he has no experience at. At 24 years old he’s a pretty old prospect for a player with only 1 season of Division 1 football and if he takes a year or two before he develops into a starter a team will be looking at possibly having a 26 year old making his first career start. Also he’s only played football for a few seasons, lived in England previously, so there is a question of whether football is a passion for him or just a job.

Fit for the Cowboys: Despite all the negatives Watson has grown on me as the draft process has unfolded. I initially viewed him with skepticism as he only had 1 year of experience at FloridaState and wasn’t even 1st team ACC yet still left early for the NFL. I eventually came around on him though as there is just too much talent in him and I view him as a future starter at LT. He’d be a good fit and great value at #47 yet his Combine performance really impressed GMs and now it appears like he’s more of a late 1st round guy rather than the early to mid 2nd rounder he appeared to be previously. It’d be a surprise if he was still there at #47 and he’s risen so far up the board he might even be somewhat in play at #18 for the Cowboys though that’s a stretch in my eyes.

Terron Armstead

Positives: Despite running the 2nd fastest 40 time ever for an OL Lane Johnson didn’t even run the fastest time THIS year for an OL as Armstead bested his number by 1/100th of a second. His Combine performance was spectacular but he isn’t just a workout warrior as he was dominant at the East-West Shrine Game and very good at the Senior Bowl. Also his toughness can’t be questioned as he tore his labrum early in the 2012 season yet played through it and never missed a game. That toughness is valued by OL coaches and likely improved his draft stock

Negatives: His biggest negative is where he went to school as the level of competition at Arkansas Pine-Bluff vs. the NFL is night and day and even though he looked up to the task at the All-Star games he still likely will need a year of adjustment before starting for an NFL team.

Fit for the Cowboys: With Joeckel, Fisher, and Johnson all likely gone by #18 and with Watson not quite good enough to be in the discussion at #18 but for sure gone by #47 the most likely scenario of the Cowboys taking an OT in the 2013 NFL Draft is with Armstead in the 2nd round. He likely will be there, he has incredible upside, and if the Cowboys could sign Eric Winston to a 1 year deal he would be in a perfect scenario to learn for a season and then in 2014 slide in as the starting RT.

 

Other intriguing players later in the draft

Brennan Williams-Similar in style to DJ Fluker in that they excel in the run game but are mediocre as pass protectors Williams brings a fierceness and attitude to the game that the Cowboys OL lacks. As a developmental player in the 3rd-5th round area he’d add depth and toughness at OG and RT and should develop into a starting RT down the road.

Tanner Hawkinson-When you play for Kansas no one cares about you. Yet he started 48 consecutive games, is 6’5 300 lbs, tested out very well at the Combine, and has the nickname of Ricky Bobby due to his similarities to Will Ferrell in Talladega Nights. He’s got the makings of a future LT and just needs to add weight and experience. The Cowboys would be smart to grab him in the 5th round or later.

Vince Painter-While Terron Armstead and Lane Johnson are expected to go in the first few rounds due to spectacular Combines the numbers show that Painter put up pretty similar measurables. Out of HS he was a blue chip recruit yet never saw the field until 2012 as a senior so there are two schools of thought about him. One is that the light finally came on and if so the Cowboys could draft him in the late rounds and get an absolute steal. The other is that he’s never been more than a workout warrior and the coaches were just polite to give him one final chance to become something more than that when they let him start last season. If that’s the case he’ll be a waste of a pick yet as a late round guy he’s worth a shot as a boom/bust type selection as the talent is there.

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