Cowboys: How soon is too soon to draft an offensive lineman?

GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 25: Quarterback Dak Prescott
GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 25: Quarterback Dak Prescott /

It’s possible no position disappointed the Cowboys more in 2017 than the much vaunted offensive line. As such, is it possible to draft a linemen too soon?

Everyone in Cowboys Nation has their own priority checklist as they enter the offseason. Some fans point to the wide receiver position. Finding a deep threat is top priority to many of them. Others worry about the linebacking corps above all. They saw how exposed the Cowboys were without Sean Lee and want to protect Dallas from getting exposed again.

Others prioritize the middle of the defensive line, the tight end position, safety, and even the quarterback spot as the top offseason objective here in 2018. Whatever camp you fall in, valid points can certainly be made to support your opinion. Such is the nature of disappointing season.

But no position group disappointed the Cowboys more than that of the offensive line.

Heralded as the most dominant unit in the NFL, it’s safe to say the expectations were through the roof for the Cowboys offensive line. Perfection was expected because it served as the backbone of Dallas’ run-heavy attack.

Yet, the Cowboys rolled the dice in 2017 when they attempted to replace 40 percent of that line with unproven role players. That’s 40 percent churn to their “backbone”

I’ll bet on a lot of things in life but one thing I’m not betting on is Tyron Smith’s health. And that’s really what this all is coming down to.

Suddenly the NFL’s strongest unit looked disorganized and clumsy. Ezekiel Elliott found himself dodging tackles in the backfield all-too often.

Despite averaging roughly 30 points per game the first half of the season, it was clear the line was not performing as well as it had in the past.

When All Pro left tackle, Tyron Smith, was eventually lost (missed all or portions of eight games), the offensive line went from an asset to a certifiable liability. It no longer mattered the Cowboys had Pro Bowlers Travis Frederick and Zack Martin on the line when all the other spots were taking turns playing the role of human turnstile.


The Cowboys moved La’el Collins to right tackle early in the offseason. Despite all of the preparation, Collins struggled transitioning back to the position he played at LSU (right tackle). Through the first half of the season, Collins was the lowest rated linemen on the team. He struggled in pass protection and the running game. But as the season progressed so did Collins. And the last five games Collins proved to be one of the Cowboys’ best linemen.

Under contract for the next two seasons, the Cowboys can breathe a short sigh of relief when it comes to the future of tackle. As long as they don’t have to think about Tyron Smith’s injury history, that is…

Since inadequately replacing Tyron Smith essentially doomed the Cowboys entire offense in 2017, shouldn’t it be the top priority entering the draft this spring?


Jonathan Cooper and Chaz Green took their shots at locking down the left guard position. Cooper would eventually win but he won largely by default rather than strong play. Green had trouble staying healthy and competing and was asked to bounce between guard and tackle — to the detriment of himself (and Dak Prescott’s blind side).

Cooper logged some good games but in no way did he even approach the quality of play his predecessor Ron Leary provided a season before. Cooper served as nothing more than a Band-Aid for 2017 and subsequently leaves the Cowboys in the same shape this season as they were last season.

To put it bluntly: No unit did more to doom the Cowboys in 2017 than the offensive line. They melded slowly, not hitting stride until a month into the season. And they fell apart without their leader, Tyron Smith, in the season’s second half, taking the running game and passing game with them.

Long Term Fix Needed

Continuity is key in developing the synergy necessary to execute the type of zone/trap blocking scheme the Cowboys often employ. Knowing your teammate allows you to know what hat to cover on a run and what adjustment to make on a blitz or stunt.

While shuffling in new replacement parts at guard every year is economically friendly, it comes at a cost to the overall performance of the unit. It’s in everyone’s best interests to solve this situation with a more long-term solution. Perhaps someone who can grow into the role.

Tyron Smith

While it’d be easy to prioritize the left guard spot in the draft this year, it may be ignoring the elephant in the room. That elephant’s name is Tyron Smith. Smith has been plagued with injuries the past few seasons and some have been of the “significant” variety. Back injuries have a way of ending careers and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if Smith’s back ended his career sooner rather than later.

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As we saw firsthand the second half of this season, the Cowboys are ill-prepared to replace Tyron. I would argue the loss of Tyron was MORE significant than the loss of Zeke. It exposed the entire left side of the line, distracted Prescott, disrupted the timing of passes and forced the Cowboys into too many 3rd and long situations

Since inadequately replacing Tyron Smith essentially doomed the Cowboys entire offense in 2017, shouldn’t it be the top priority entering the draft this spring?

It’s typically thought of as bad business to draft a backup high in the draft. But what exactly did the Cowboys do when they selected Taco Charlton last season?

Teams do it all the time with receivers and quarterbacks. They use first round picks on backups — they groom them, develop them, and get them ready for the future. They do it because the position they play is THAT important. Why not offensive tackle?

We need to accept that no spot in the draft is too high to draft an offensive linemen. The offensive line has proven their worth. It’s a lesson we’ve all learned the hard way. While it would be fun to draft some flashy new toys this spring, it’s offensive line (particularly tackle) that should be the priority.

Next: 5 Free Agent WRs to target

How high is too high to draft an offensive linemen this spring? I would argue it’s never too high considering the impact a poor offensive line had on the Cowboys this past season. Dallas cannot make the same mistake again in 2018. I’ll bet on a lot of things in life but one thing I’m not betting on is Tyron Smith’s health. And that’s really what this all is coming down to.