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Dallas Cowboys Quarter-Season Grades: Offensive Line

Jonathan Bales

The bye week comes at an inconvenient time for a Cowboys team that, although a bit banged up, would love to get the bad taste of a 24-point collapse out of their mouths.  For me, though, the timing is good to conduct a review of the first quarter of the season.  Over the next week, I will analyze the performance of each major player on the team, broken down into four parts (offensive line, offensive skill positions, defensive front seven, and secondary).

Quarter-Season Review: Offensive Line

  • Doug Free

After a very promising 2010 season, Free has regressed badly this year.  I really think there is something physically wrong with Free, and there have been rumors of a shoulder injury of some sort.  I have him “credited” with two sacks and a team-leading 10 pressures.  That puts him on pace to give up nearly three times the sacks and twice as many pressures as in 2010 (three and 21, respectively).  On top of that, Free has also been penalized three times already.

In the run game, Free has been poor as well.  He has failed to move well in space, and the offense is averaging just 3.0 yards-per-carry when running behind him.  Until Free picks up his level of play in a significant way, this offense will fail to maximize on their potential.

  • Bill Nagy

Nagy has been the Cowboys’ worst offensive lineman.  He has yielded seven pressures, which puts him on the same pace as Free since the rookie has played 70 less snaps.  The problem is that Nagy plays guard, not the more difficult left tackle position, so that rate is far, far too high.  As a comparison, Leonard Davis gave up 16 pressures last season to lead all interior linemen.  Nagy is on pace for 28+ if he plays the remainder of the year.

So Nagy must have been superior as a run blocker, right?  Not really, as running backs are averaging just 2.4 yards-per-rush when Nagy is at the point of attack.  Yikes.

  • Derrick Dockery

Dockery played hurt for the majority of his 70 snaps, so it is difficult to provide him with a definitive grade.  The good news is that, even hurt, Dockery has played better than Nagy.  Well, that might not necessarily be good news, especially since Dockery’s one pressure yielded in 70 snaps still puts him at around the same pace as Davis last season.  The ‘Boys have a real problem at left guard.

  • Phil Costa

We all know about the horrific snaps, and there is no real way to put a number on that.  What we can put a number on is Costa’s pressures: seven.  Freaking seven!  Andre Gurode gave up eight in all of 2010.  Don’t forget this article.

Costa has blocked fairly well in the run game (the team is averaging 3.5 yards-per-rush behind him, although I think he’s blocked better than the numbers indicate), but his pass protection has to be of major concern to Jason Garrett.  He’s perhaps the largest disappointment on the team to date.

  • Kyle Kosier

Kosier has allowed four pressures, which isn’t stellar, and his ability to get to the second level is in question.  I’ve noticed an obvious decline in production from Kosier this season as compared to 2010.  The major question for Dallas is if that loss of production stems from a decline in ability, or if Kosier has simply played worse than average.  I think it’s the latter, but the remainder of the season will be very telling in terms of Kosier’s future in Big D.  He has given up four pressures and a sack thus far.

  • Tyron Smith

Ah, the lone bright spot on the offensive line.  I’ve seen a few criticisms of Smith in the comments, but the rookie has managed to get off to quite the start, in my view.  Let’s start with the film.  Tyron has simply looked the part thus far in 2011, displaying great fluidity, power, and versatility.  He is truly a do-it-all offensive tackle who probably projects to be the favorite to start at left tackle in 2012.

Now to the numbers.  I have credited Smith with yielding one sack and four pressures.  For an offensive tackle, those aren’t poor numbers.  Actually, they’re quite good.  As a comparison, Marc Colombo gave up nine sacks and 40 pressures last year in the same position.  By the way, Colombo is again leading the league in pressures with 16 through four games, while Smith’s four rank eighth among tackles with 150+ snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.

There’s really no question Smith has been the offensive line’s best run blocker, too.   The 4.0 yards the Cowboys are totaling on each rush behind Smith isn’t great, but it is the highest on the offensive line, unfortunately.  Let’s not forget Smith’s toughness, as he miraculously returned to play in the opener after hyperextending his knee just prior to the game.

Grades

  • As always, I will weigh the final grade for each player 60/40 in terms of pass protection over run blocking.

Doug Free

  • Run Blocking:  C-
  • Pass Protection: D-

Overall: D (64.0)

Bill Nagy

  • Run Blocking: D-
  • Pass Protection:  F

Overall: F (67.0)

Derrick Dockery

  • Run Blocking: C
  • Pass Protection: C

Overall: C (75.0)

Phil Costa

  • Run Blocking: C+
  • Pass Protection: F

Overall: D (65.0)

Kyle Kosier

  • Run Blocking: C-
  • Pass Protection: C-

Overall: C- (70.0)

Tyron Smith

  • Run Blocking: B-
  • Pass Protection: B+

Overall: B (86.0)

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Seven Cowboys Who Need to Step Up in 2011

Jonathan Bales

7.  Phil Costa

While I don’t agree with the release of Andre Gurode, I think Costa is ready.  He looked good in the preseason and should be an upgrade over Gurode in the run game.  Remember, despite the notion that Gurode’s strength was as a run blocker, I gave him a “D” in that category in 2010.  Instead of impacting the center position, Gurode’s release indirectly affects the guard position (as Costa probably would have started there over rookie Bill Nagy).

6.  Abram Elam

I didn’t talk much about Elam during the preseason, but I wasn’t impressed with his play.  I like his athleticism and on paper he appears to be a good fit, but I didn’t see the sort of range in coverage this team desperately covets from the safety position.  As of now, I am holding out hope that Rob Ryan knows Elam well enough to understand he’s a good fit here.  Either way, he’s a more vital cog in the defense than most realize.

5.  Sean Lee

In my 2010 Inside Linebacker Grades, I gave Sean Lee a “B-“–the highest grade of any inside ‘backer.  Lee beat out Bradie James and Keith Brooking in regards to tackles-per-play, missed tackle percentage, yards-per-attempt against, and yards-per-snap while in coverage (despite playing the majority of his snaps in passing situations).  He was underwhelming in the preseason, but I think you’ll see a really effective player in 2011.

4.  Felix Jones

Jones led Cowboys running backs in every significant category in 2010, which is why he received an 86.3% from me in my 2010 Running Back Grades.  Jones is the team’s best inside runner, outside runner, pass-catcher, and short-yardage runner.  His presence on this list is less about his talent and more about his health.  The Cowboys need Jones to stay healthy throughout the season to have any shot of making the playoffs.  DeMarco Murray looks promising, but the play-making ability of Jones cannot be replaced if he goes down.

3.  Tyron Smith

Smith is questionable this week against the Jets, and I think Dallas should sit him if he isn’t 100% ready to go.  This is certainly an important game, but not as important as Smith’s future health.  For a rookie, the Cowboys are leaning on Smith about as much as is possible.  He’ll be an upgrade over Marc Colombo from a year ago, and perhaps a significant one.  If Tony Romo has even an average amount of time to throw the football this season, this offense will be dangerous.  Smith and fellow bookend Doug Free are big parts of that.

2.  Mike Jenkins

After a 2009 season in which he received one of my highest grades, Jenkins regressed badly in 2010.  I gave him a 64.6% overall grade, including a D- against the run.  Jenkins allowed a 67.4% completion rate (higher than his grade, which is sad), six touchdowns, 11.17 yards-per-attempt, 1.07 yards-per-snap, and missed 12.9% of tackles.  The lack of pass rush certainly contributed to Jenkins’ struggles last season, but there is no doubt he needs to improve in a big way.  With Terence Newman currently down, Jenkins’ play is more vital than ever.

1.  Anthony Spencer

The player who just claimed he “mailed it in” at times in 2010 is perhaps the player the Dallas Cowboys need to improve the most in 2011.  Rob Ryan’s scheme should help some, as should the push from backup outside linebacker Victor Butler.  Look for Ryan to place Spencer, Butler and DeMarcus Ware on the field at the same time often this season, as well as create innovative looks that should help Spencer get to the quarterback.

I didn’t think Spencer’s 2010 play was atrocious, but it can undoubtedly improve (click here for 2010 Outside Linebacker Grades).  His success is strongly linked to the play of the secondary.  Maybe I’m being naive, but I think Spencer racks up double-digit sacks this season.

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Dallas Cowboys 2011 Draft Picks: Their Impact This Season and Beyond

Jonathan Bales

Some (including me to a degree) have criticized the Cowboys for selecting players at certain positions, even if those prospects were the highest on their board at the time.  Second-round pick Bruce Carter is a highly-talented player, for example, yet there’s really no doubt that the Cowboys could have secured a player at the No. 40 overall selection who will contribute more in 2011 than Carter.  Clearly the organization though Carter’s long-term value was enough to bypass more immediate value.

We could debate the efficiency of this strategy all day, but regardless, I wanted to take a look at the potential impact of the Cowboys 2011 draft class this season and beyond.

  • Tyron Smith, OT, USC

2011 Impact: Smith will immediately start at right tackle, where he played the last two seasons at USC.  I think this is the right move to allow Smith to get accustomed to the NFL, while also giving Doug Free the opportunity to continue his development on the left side.  Smith is a huge upgrade over Marc Colombo.

Best Case Long-Term Scenario: The sky is the limit for Smith.  He has the natural talent and athleticism to be a Hall of Fame player.  I’m not saying that is what he will be, but he’s one of the best tackle prospects I have ever seen.  Certainly Smith will need to work hard to become elite, but being a hard-worker was one of the reasons Dallas drafted him.

Most Likely Scenario: You can never project a guy to make the Hall of Fame, but I don’t think it is outrageous to suggest it is likely that Smith will be a Pro Bowl player.  As long as he remains healthy, I simply can’t see how Smith isn’t a multiple-time Pro Bowler.  That stems more from confidence in his work ethic than his ability.  And his ability is off the charts.

  • Bruce Carter, LB, UNC

2011 Impact: There is concern about Carter’s knee health, but he should be ready for training camp.  The Cowboys will still bring him along slowly.  Carter will play primarily on special teams in 2011, with the possibility of receiving some snaps in nickel packages.  I’d love to see him beat out Bradie James for the nickel job alongside Sean Lee, providing him with experience and James with much-needed rest.

Best Case Long-Term Scenario: Smith is widely considered a first-round talent, so his upside is tremendous for a second-round pick.  First-round players are supposed to be able to make Pro Bowls.  If everything goes as planned, Carter will be a Pro Bowl player three or more years down the road.  Health will be key.

Most Likely Scenario: The most likely scenario is that Carter takes over the starting inside linebacker gig in about two years, supplanting James.  I’d place his chances of making a Pro Bowl at about 30 percent–he’s a great talent, but he has a long way to go.

  • DeMarco Murray, RB, Oklahoma

2011 Impact: I think you’ll see Murray almost immediately supplant Tashard Choice as the No. 2 back (assuming Marion Barber is cut).  I’m not saying that is what I want to happen, but I have a hard time believing Garrett is going to give a ton of snaps to a player he clearly doesn’t care for (Choice) over the first skill position player he ever drafted as a head coach (Murray).  That means Murray will probably receive around 25 percent of the touches among running backs, including plenty of receptions.  He is also the leading candidate to return kickoffs and, if he can learn to do so, punts as well.

Best Case Long-Term Scenario: The ultimate goal is probably to have Murray become a feature back, or at least a 1B type player alongside Felix Jones.  I think he has that potential, but will he be able to hold up?  He’ll never be a true workhorse back, but those are few and far between nowadays.

Most Likely Scenario: Murray will probably see a role similar to that of Jones.  He will receive a modest amount of touches as a rookie and play special teams.  That role will gradually increase as he gains more experience.  Like Carter, health is the main concern with Murray.

  • David Arkin, G, Missouri State

2011 Impact: Arkin will not start in 2011.  At best, he will be the primary backup guard, although that is even a stretch.  He will take 2011 as an opportunity to learn behind veterans.

Best Case Long-Term Scenario: Arkin has the potential to be a starter, perhaps as soon as 2012.  With starters Kyle Kosier and Leonard Davis on their last legs, the future belongs to Arkin and Phil Costa.

Most Likely Scenario: I would say it is likely that Arkin will be a starter at some point in his career.  I don’t see Pro Bowl potential in him, but I think he can be a solid player in the mold of Kosier.

  • Josh Thomas, CB, Buffalo

2011 Impact: Special teams.  Thomas may be inactive a large portion of the time, but his best bet to get playing time is as a returner.  Punt returns and solid play as a gunner and on kickoff coverage are how he can get noticed in his rookie season.  He won’t see time in defensive packages unless there is an injury.

Best Case Long-Term Scenario: I really, really love Thomas’ upside and I think he has starter potential.  He’s obviously nowhere near that yet, but he possesses the size, speed and work ethic to make it on the outside.

Most Likely Scenario: Perhaps more likely than becoming a shutdown guy is playing in nickel packages.  While I think Thomas will surprise a lot of people within a few years, the odds are still against him being a top-flight cornerback at this point.

  • Dwayne Harris, WR, East Carolina

2011 Impact: This is tough.  Harris will have to prove he is superior on special teams to players like Sam Hurd, Jesse Holley and Kevin Ogletree (the latter shouldn’t be too difficult).  His return ability will help, but he will also have to fight off fellow rookies Murray and Thomas (as well as second-year player Akwasi Owusu-Ansah) to garner return duties.  He’s the Cowboys’ only “true” slot receiver, but he won’t see many offensive snaps outside of Roy Williams being released.  I don’t think that will happen.

Best Case Long-Term Scenario: At best, Harris will be an effective slot receiver.  He doesn’t have the ability to play outside, but that doesn’t mean he can’t have a major impact on offense.  Wes Welker’s impact from the slot is monumental, and I see a bit of Welker in Harris’ game.

Most Likely Scenario: I’ve heard Patrick Crayton comparisons, and I think they’re valid.  Crayton should have been in the slot from the beginning.  If true, a Crayton-like career isn’t bad for sixth-round pick.

  • Shaun Chapas, FB, Georgia

2011 Impact: Chapas is probable to make the roster either in place of current fullback Chris Gronkowski or alongside him.  I think it should be the former, as Chapas is a better lead blocker.  I don’t put much stock in receiving ability for fullbacks–they just need to blow people up.

Best Case Long-Term Scenario: What’s the best case scenario for any fullback?  A long career?  You normally wouldn’t say a seventh-rounder has Pro Bowl potential, but so few are selected that the round is really irrelevant.  They’re all low-round draft picks, if they get drafted at all.

Most Likely Scenario: As long as he makes the roster, Chapas should be in Dallas for a few years.  You know the coaching staff likes him.

  • Bill Nagy, C, Wisconsin

2011 Impact: Nagy’s main concern should first be making the roster.  In my initial 2011 53-man roster projection, I predicted he will.  He will almost certainly be inactive on gameday if he makes the team.

Best Case Long-Term Scenario: The best case scenario for Nagy is to be a starter.  There aren’t many expectations for a seventh-round pick, so Nagy has an opportunity to fly under the radar, especially as an interior lineman.

Most Likely Scenario: In my opinion, Nagy will probably be released within a few years.  I know that’s pessimistic, but he’s a seventh-round pick without a ton of upside.  His best bet is to work at center and hope to eventually replace Andre Gurode.

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Tyron Smith: “The Cowboys want me to play left tackle.”

Jonathan Bales

In Tyron Smith’s conference call with the Dallas media, he said the Cowboys told him they want him to be their left tackle of the future.  It seemed as though the Cowboys drafted Smith to play right tackle, at least in 2011, but Smith’s answer may have raised some questions.  There is no doubt that Smith’s body type and skill set are probably a better fit for the left side of the line, but he did play right tackle at USC.  Plus, Doug Free, despite a few struggles, played fairly well at left tackle in 2010.

But don’t rule out the possibility of Smith and Free “switching” positions, even as soon as this season.  Remember that Free played well on the right side in limited action in 2009.  With Smith’s size and athleticism, it isn’t unreasonable to think that the Cowboys want to get him to the left side as soon as possible, even if it means moving Free back to right tackle.

Personally, I think Smith has All-Pro ability on either side of the line, but his future is at left tackle.  I really believe he has the potential to be one of the best left tackles in the league.  Let’s take a look at some more of his game film. . .

I think the Cowboys should play Smith at right tackle in 2011.  He is comfortable there now, and it will give him time to get acclimated to the NFL before moving to the more difficult left tackle position in subsequent years.  That’s not to say that Free is not or should not be part of the Cowboys’ plans in 2012 and beyond.  He’s a very capable offensive tackle who could become one of the best in the league. . .on the right side.

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Dallas Cowboys 2011 Draft Trade Scenarios: Your Ultimate Guide

Jonathan Bales

Despite a much earlier draft slot than usual in 2011, the fluidity of this particular draft class and the multitude of needs for Dallas has made predicting their draft choice a difficult task.  The “consensus” seems to be that they will end up with USC offensive tackle Tyron Smith, but that is far from certain.  I actually think there is a solid chance that Smith gets selected before the ‘Boys are on the clock, either by a team currently ahead of them or another looking to move up (Washington, perhaps).

Either way, Smith is far from a sure thing.  I do think he’s the most likely of all the prospects to come to Big D (as evidenced by my last 32-team mock draft and Cowboys-only mock draft), but the abundance of targets and draft scenarios shifts Smith’s potential arrival from ‘likely’ to ‘most likely.’

So what are the Cowboys’ true plans?  I really think it depends on how the top of the draft plays out.  I wouldn’t rule out a trade up, a move down, or remaining at No. 9.  Each situation could present the best value depending on how the prior picks pan out.  Listed below are potential targets for the Cowboys if they do decide to make a move, along with suitable trading partners.

Moving Up

  • Possible Trade Partners

Cleveland Browns No. 6

To move up three spots, the NFL’s draft value chart suggests the Cowboys would need to relinquish their third-round pick.  Is it worth it?  Perhaps for P-Squared.

San Francisco 49ers No. 7

If you have not deciphered it yet, I am writing the team names in their uniform colors.  Why?  I honestly don’t know, but enjoy it while it lasts.

The Cowboys would probably need to relinquish their third-rounder to move up to San Fran’s spot, but they would receive a pick in return (likely a fourth).  Not a bad exchange if the right guy is still on the board.  The problem is that the Niners will likely have interest in the same sort of prospects as Dallas.  Why would they move back if Peterson or Dareus fell, for example?

  • Possible Targets

Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU

The Cowboys are rumored to have Peterson at the top of their board.  I don’t think he will fall, but if he drops to Cleveland, look for Dallas to at least inquire about a trade.  The Browns could very well have interest themselves, but it is highly unlikely the Niners would move back if Peterson drops to them.

Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama

This is a tough call for me.  I have Dareus rated as the No. 2 overall player on my board, but I don’t think the Cowboys should trade up for him.  My reasoning for this is lengthy, but I previously wrote an in-depth article on why selecting the best player available is a myth.  In short, it deals with position scarcity.  There aren’t any elite offensive tackles likely to be around in the second round, so grabbing one in the first (with such a huge need at right tackle) makes more sense.

Is Dareus’ value too much to overlook?  It depends on how highly the Cowboys have him rated, but I am hearing they like Smith just as much, if not more.  Thus, moving up even two spots for Dareus doesn’t seem that likely to me.

Tyron Smith, OT, USC

No one is talking about this, but I don’t think Smith’s presence when the Cowboys select at No. 9 is a foregone conclusion.  With all of the Smith/Dallas connections floating around, why is it implausible to think a team will look to jump the ‘Boys for the USC tackle?  The most likely candidate to do that, in my mind, is Washington.  They could easily move up two or three spots to secure Smith.  If the ‘Boys catch wind of this and truly covet Smith, they will need to make a move themselves.

Moving Down

  • Possible Trade Partners

Minnesota Vikings No. 12

According to the chart, the Cowboys could swap their current fourth-rounder for Minnesota’s third if they elect to move back in the first round.  The Vikings haven’t been mentioned as a potential trade partner for Dallas, but it could happen if either Cam Newton or Blaine Gabbert shockingly falls.

In my opinion, any move down all but eliminates Smith from contention, so the Cowboys will need a backup plan.

Detroit Lions No. 13

The difference in compensation between Minnesota and Detroit highlights a flaw in the NFL’s draft value system, in my opinion.  Instead of swapping third and fourth-round selections, the Cowboys would simply acquire the Lions’ third-round pick if they alternated first-round selections.  With the Lions possibly interested in Prince Amukamara or even Robert Quinn, they appear to be a more likely trade partner for Dallas than Minny.

St. Louis Rams No. 14

Can you even read the yellow font?  Oh well.  The Rams are known to have interest in Alabama receiver Julio Jones and may want to jump Washington to secure him.  They are the most likely partner for the Cowboys, in my view, and would need to relinquish their third and fifth-round round picks to make the move.

New England Patriots No. 17

Am I even choosing team’s true colors at this point?  In any event, the Patriots are known to stockpile draft picks, but they already have a bunch, including two first-round selections.  To swap first-rounders with Dallas, they would need to yield their second-round pick.  Like St. Louis, a possible target for New England in this scenario is Julio Jones.

  • Possible Targets

Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin

Carimi is listed first for a reason–if the Cowboys move down, it is Carimi who I think they will target.  I have heard this “rumor” from a number of sources.  I would personally rather have Anthony Castonzo or even Ben Ijalana, but Carimi is no slouch–he’s still No. 14 overall on my latest board.

Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College

I find it hard to believe the Cowboys have divulged as much information (about their views on Smith, for example) as they have without a reason behind it.  I have heard very little linking Castonzo to Dallas, however.  Of course this shouldn’t be used as evidence that the ‘Boys are definitely interested in him, but he will certainly be on their radar if they have him rated as I do.

J.J. Watt, DT/DE, Wisconsin

Watt is considered a prototypical 3-4 defensive end, and only one team (Washington) between the Cowboys and Miami at pick No. 15 runs a 3-4 defense.  The ‘Skins have a bunch of holes, so Watt may not be a priority for them.  I don’t personally want Watt in the first round, but if he is the player the ‘Boys covet, I think he will still be around at St. Louis’ 14th overall selection.

Cameron Jordan, DT/DE, Cal

See Watt, J.J.

Conclusions

Overall, I think the Cowboys need to be flexible in their draft plans.  They should have a list of players for whom they would be willing to trade up, a group they would select at their current spot, and a list of prospects to target if they slide back.  Those lists need not be long.

I wouldn’t consider trading up unless one of two scenarios plays out.  The first is if Peterson drops to Cleveland.  If the Browns are willing to deal, I would sacrifice a first and a third for the top player on my board.

More likely, Peterson won’t drop, and the Cowboys will target Smith.  If he is truly the No. 2 rated player on their board, I would actually trade up for him (if possible).  I think the depth of this draft class is solid enough that yielding a third for an early fourth is worth the ability to acquire an elite offensive tackle with the ability to play either side of the line.  Here are four other reasons to target Tyron Smith.

If the Cowboys miss out on Peterson and Smith, I would desperately seek a trade down (assuming Dareus does not fall).  Castonzo would be the player I target, but the ‘Boys will probably seek Carimi.  The largest positive from a trade back is the possibility of moving up into the very top of the second of even the back of the first to acquire another instant impact player, such as Baylor NT Phil Taylor, Temple DT/DE Muhammad Wilkerson or Texas CB/FS Aaron Williams.

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Five Reasons the Dallas Cowboys Will Draft USC OT Tyron Smith

Jonathan Bales

5.  Patrick Peterson is not going to drop.

Peterson is No. 1 on the Cowboys’ board and you can bet Jerry Jones wants to make a splash by drafting him.  If Peterson somehow drops to the Browns at No. 6, look for the ‘Boys to make a move.

The chances of Peterson dropping, however, are remote.  All five teams ahead of Cleveland have some kind of interest in Peterson, with Cincinnati being a sleeper.  Cornerback Jonathan Joseph is a free agent and a Peterson/Leon Hall tandem could be dynamite.  Even though Jerry loves headline players, he isn’t going to sacrifice his entire 2011 draft to jump into the top five.  There are simply too many holes on this Cowboys squad.

4.  Smith is the future of offensive tackles.

If this was 1995, Smith might not be a top-20 selection.  He never played at more than 285 pounds and, as a finesse offensive tackle, a lot of teams would have shied away from Smith.

Fast-forward to 2011, though, and Smith is all the rage.  With some NFL teams approaching a 70 percent pass rate, slim, athletic tackles like Smith are in vogue.

For the ‘Boys, running more screens, tosses and counters to the right side of the field (something that used to be all but off-limits) will be valuable.

3.  Sam Young and Robert Brewster are projects.

The Cowboys have a lot of hope for Young, while Brewster played okay at right tackle (not left tackle) in the 2010 preseason.  Still, these aren’t yet players in whom Dallas can trust as starters.  Developing both players (especially Young) behind a guy like Smith would allow for a formidable backup in the event that Smith (or Doug Free) gets injured.

2.  Smith has experience at right tackle, but can play both tackle positions.

With Free playing well on the left side, the Cowboys would likely want Smith to play on the right side.  Despite his “small” stature, that is actually where Smith gained experience in college.  His versatility, though, would allow him to be a “swing” tackle for Dallas–he would start at right tackle, but move to the left side if Free would get hurt, allowing Young to play move into the right tackle spot.  As of now, the Cowboys have no suitable backup to Free.

1.  Marc Colombo

This is really the only reason needed.  Colombo allowed nine sacks, 11 hits, and a ridiculous 40 quarterback pressures in 2010.  With a 63 percent in my 2010 Offensive Line Grades, he received the worst grade I have ever given a Cowboys player.  He needs to be replaced, and Smith is the top candidate to do so.

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Dallas Cowboys 2011 Mock Draft, Version 2.0: Rounds 1-7

Jonathan Bales

You can see my first Cowboys-only mock draft here.  Both that mock and this one contain a built-in assumption that the Cowboys will sign a veteran free safety in free agency.  Michael Huff (Raiders) and Eric Weddle (Chargers) are two guys I love, but pretty much anyone can beat Alan Ball and his 67.7 percent overall grade for the 2010 season.  You can see all of my safety grades here.

The Cowboys may target UCLA’s Rahim Moore in the second round, but I don’t think the team should put all of their eggs in the rookie safety basket.  This class is awfully weak at safety, and filling that hole via free agency will allow the organization to concentrate on other needs, such as right tackle and defensive end.

It is becomingly increasingly obvious that USC tackle Tyron Smith is a legitimate option, and probably the favorite, for the Cowboys at No. 9 overall.  The team desperately needs an upgrade over right tackle Marc Colombo, and Smith played right tackle during his time at USC.

Smith is an extremely athletic player and the future of NFL linemen.  His selection would be a good indicator the Cowboys are moving in the right direction.

The ‘Boys may try to trade up for Patrick Peterson or Marcel Dareus if either player falls past the fifth pick, but that may be unlikely.  Smith was the pick in my last 32-team mock draft.

  • Round 2: Kenrick Ellis, NT, Hampton

I recently performed a March Madness-style “tournament” with 16 prospects who could get selected by Dallas in the second round.  I concluded that, if the ‘Boys do not plan on signing a veteran free safety, Rahim Moore is the most likely candidate to go No. 40 overall.  The other “Final Four” prospects were Miami CB Brandon Harris, Baylor guard Danny Watkins, and Ohio State defensive tackle Cameron Heyward.

But what if the Cowboys go “off the map” in the second round?  Who is someone we are all overlooking who could potentially land in Big D?  Enter Kenrick Ellis.

I understand new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said he will keep Jay Ratliff at nose tackle.  Guess what?  I don’t necessarily believe him.  If the Cowboys are on the clock and their highest-rated player is a nose tackle, they would be foolish to pass on him.

The concerns about Ellis are plentiful.  He was dismissed from South Carolina for academic reasons and marijuana use.  He was suspended this season due to assault.  There are concerns about his work ethic and weight (he is reportedly 346 pounds).  All of these issues could lead Dallas to take him off their board.

But you don’t often find true 3-4 nose tackles with Ellis’ athleticism.  He has big-school talent that he used to dominate his competition at Hampton.  He’s a mean player that, despite off-field work ethic concerns, works very hard in games.  Most importantly, he is the two-gap defensive lineman that Rob Ryan covets.  Mike Mayock recently stated Ellis will not get out of the second round.  He’s a “sleeper” to go to Dallas here, but don’t rule it out just yet.

I had Rackley going to Dallas in my last Cowboys-only mock as well.  That’s because I really like him and I know the Cowboys do too.  Actually, Rackley was just in town on April 5 for a visit and lengthy conversation with Jerry Jones (via Rackley’s Facebook. . .he requested me guys, cause we’re tight like that).  I recently interviewed Rackley and I think his versatility to play any position on the line would be huge for Dallas.

In that mock, I had him going in the fourth round, but I really think the ‘Boys will need to spend their third round selection on Rackley to secure him.  He is gaining some steam and a third round pick would by no means constitute an ‘overpayment’ for Rackley.

I see Rackley playing guard in Dallas (especially if the team drafts Smith, obviously).  I’ve been very high on Kosier the past two years, voting him the team’s most underrated player in 2009 and providing him with the seventh-highest grade in 2010.  The Cowboys need an infusion of youth along the entire offensive line, however, and who better than a prospect with legitimate potential to play every position on the line?  From my scouting report on Rackley:

I do think whoever drafts Rackley should at least give him a look at tackle.  He’s quite athletic for a 310-pounder, displaying great knee bend and quick hand movement.  His lateral movement and slide in pass protection are superb.

Rackley’s athleticism allows him to play with tremendous leverage.  He can easily get to the second level in the running game, which is something Dallas is missing right now at right tackle.  It sure would be nice to be able to run a toss or counter to the right side of the field, huh?

Rackley’s mobility is complemented well by his strength.  He has a very thick lower body, and his upper body strength is adequate (29 reps at the Combine).

  • Round 4:  Johnny Patrick, CB, Louisville

Patrick is No. 66 on my revised Big Board (yet to be published).  I recently posted a scouting report on Patrick in which I wrote:

At 6’0”, Johnny Patrick has a long frame that allows him to effectively re-route receivers at the line-of-scrimmage.  He will become even more effective at that when he adds five or 10 more pounds (he’s only 190).  Despite being thin, Patrick is physical in all aspects of the game.  He’s generally a willing tackler.  He could benefit from using better technique at times, but a willing attitude is far and away the most important aspect of tackling.

Patrick has plenty of flaws, but he possesses the sort of upside you want in a mid-round draft pick.

  • Round 5:  Lawrence Guy, DT/DE, Arizona State

Once considered a potential second-rounder, Guy has dropped down boards.  He never tallied much production at Arizona State and his arms are shorter than you would like.  Nonetheless, Guy is a natural 3-4 defensive end with tremendous character and intelligence.

  • Round 6:  Bilal Powell, RB, Louisville

I personally have no interest in Powell.  Despite his production in 2010 (1405 yards rushing and 14 total touchdowns), I think Powell is a better fit for a zone-blocking scheme.  He is a downhill, one-cut runner who doesn’t possess great lateral quickness or burst.  I would much prefer Pitt’s Dion Lewis here, but the Cowboys have shown heavy interest in Powell.  I think Garrett views him as a potential replacement for Barber.  Little does he know, he already has that player on the roster in Tashard Choice.

  • Round 7: Kristofer O’Dowd, C, USC

O’Dowd is a talented player who may not last this long, but centers tend to drop.  O’Dowd has also been horrible since the season ended, getting blown backwards all week in Senior Bowl practices and running just a 5.16 40-yard dash at the Combine.  He has the potential to play any position along the interior line, however.

  • Round 7:  Alex Wujciak, ILB, Maryland

The National Football Posts’ Wes Bunting characterized Wujciak as “tough, instinctive, and hard-nosed.”  He’s not going to ‘wow’ you with athleticism, but he is a good football player.  He’s a hard-worker that, with Sean Lee taking over Keith Brooking’s role, could eventually be the Cowboys’ “new” Bradie James.

Overall Thoughts

You can see this mock draft is heavy on both the offensive and defensive lines.  If the Cowboys came out of the 2011 Draft with high-upside prospects at tackle (Smith), guard (Rackley), and center (O’Dowd), I would be thrilled.

Plus, the Ellis/Guy combination would do a lot to strengthen the defensive front.  With Ellis and Josh Brent manning the nose, Ratliff would upgrade the defensive end spot.  He would join forces with (perhaps) Stephen Bowen and/or Jason Hatcher (Bowen is more likely to stay, in my opinion).  With Guy as a prospect for the future, the line is suddenly looking okay.  Throw in improved play from Anthony Spencer and the continued emergence of Victor Butler, and the Cowboys’ potential pass-rush looks a whole lot more formidable.

Personally, I would pass on Powell.  I do think the ‘Boys should address the running back position late in the draft, but there are an abundance of talented second and third round talents who will drop.  Taiwan Jones (Eastern Washington), Graig Cooper (Miami), Dion Lewis (Pitt), Shane Vereen (Cal), Kendall Hunter (Oklahoma State), DeMarco Murray (Oklahoma), and Jacquizz Rodgers (Oregon State) are all players I really like and have rated anywhere from No. 34 to No. 63 on my Big Board.  A few of those backs will go later than they should, and Dallas can and should benefit from that.

By

Dallas Cowboys Potential Draft Pick in 2011: Tyron Smith, OT, USC

Jonathan Bales

I recently completed my 2010 Offensive Line Grades for Dallas, and the results weren’t pretty.  Although I do think Doug Free is the most talented lineman on the team, Kyle Kosier ended up with the highest grade.  Still, it was only a “B” (86.2 percent).

Marc Colombo’s 63 percent, however, was the worst grade I ever gave a player.  If the Cowboys don’t upgrade the right tackle spot this offseason, they deserve another playoff absence in 2011.  Colombo yielded a ridiculous nine sacks, 11 quarterback hits, and 40 pressures in 2010.

I already dissected the game of Colorado offensive tackle Nate Solder and Wisconsin offensive tackle Gabe Carimi.  Both of those players are “prototypical” Dallas Cowboys linemen.  Today’s feature, in my opinion, represents the offensive tackle of the future. . .

Scouting Report

At only 285 pounds, Tyron Smith is incredibly light on his feet.  He slides laterally with ease and has absolutely no problem with speed rushers.  He’s one of the more athletic offensive tackles I’ve seen in awhile.   He reminds me a ton of USC’s top offensive tackle a year ago: Charles Brown (scouting report here).  Smith is actually 10 pounds lighter than Brown.

Like Brown, Smith could get overpowered in the NFL.  With Doug Free on the left side for Dallas, Smith’s lack of strength could become an even bigger issue if he would be moved to the right side.

Unlike Brown, however, Smith nearly always uses great technique in pass protection.  Take a look at his play against Cameron Jordan & Co. below (by the way, he’s at right tackle). . .

Smith utilizes a solid base and quick feet to succeed.  The game above was an up-and-down one for Smith, as he was able to neutralize Jordan at times but got exposed at others.  Take a look at the 1:55 mark when Jordan simply tosses Smith to the ground.  With a frame that can and will add bulk, however, I don’t see Smith’s lack of current size as a huge issue.

Others will since, on paper, Smith is the exact opposite of what the Cowboys traditionally look for in an offensive tackle.  He’s undersized and played in a zone-blocking scheme at USC.  There’s a fine line between drafting players who fit your scheme and selecting the best player available and tailoring the system around his skill set.  I think the best teams implement both tactics.

Smith will excel on screens, counters, and so on at the next level because of his athleticism.  Jason Garrett usually runs lead dives in short-yardage situations and rarely calls power plays behind tackle anyway, so perhaps now is the time to make a switch to the new breed of linemen.   Plus, Smith has right tackle experience.

Projection

Because of his pass protection ability, I think Smith will rise up some boards.  He’s likely to be a top 25 pick because some team will see a dominant left tackle in him.

For Dallas, Smith would have to play right tackle.  Because of that and the fact that he’s not dominant in any aspect of tackle play, I don’t think he’s good value anywhere in the top 15.

Don’t get me wrong–I really like Smith’s potential.  If the ‘Boys could slide down to the late teens or early 20’s,  I think they should at least take a look at a player who doesn’t necessarily fit what they already do in Big D, but rather what they should do.

Other Potential Cowboys Draft Picks in 2011

Nebraska CB Prince Amukamara

Cal DT/DE Cameron Jordan

UNC DE/OLB Robert Quinn

Ohio State DT/DE Cameron Heyward

Colorado OT Nate Solder

Wisconsin OT Gabe Carimi

Iowa DE Adrian Clayborn