Even though they are coming off a 6-10 season that included a midseason firing of head coach/defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, the Dallas Cowboys will enter the 2011 draft considered by many as one of the most talented teams in the NFL.
Jason Garrett has firmly established himself as both the head coach and offensive coordinator while owner Jerry Jone, has brought in Rob Ryan to recraft a defense that fell to 23rd in the league in 2010.
With Tony Romo returning from injury, priority No. 1 must be protecting their franchise quarterback and that means focusing on the offensive line. With the exception of Pro Bowl center Andre Gurode and starting left tackle Doug Free, the Cowboys current depth chart is made up of free agents and trade acquisitions. Dallas has not drafted an offensive lineman with a first-round pick this decade, and with the exception of Gurode (second round, 2002), none of the three lineman taken in Day 2 of the draft is still with the team.
Dallas is picking ninth overall and should have a couple of really good options should it decide to fill this need with its first pick. In my estimation, none of the teams ahead of Dallas are in the market for offensive lineman, therefore the Cowboys will have their pick of the litter. As usual, it is also a possibility that Jones will be looking to move back and add later picks if he determines there are lineman of value in later picks/rounds.
Defensively, Ryan should have plenty to work with anchoring around DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff along the front seven. Inside linebacker, Keith Brooking is likely on the back end of his career so they make look to find his future replacement on Day 2 of the draft.
Like the rest of the NFL East, the Cowboys catch a break with the NFC West on their schedule, but will also face the tough AFC East and up-and-coming Detroit and Tampa Bay.
I have said earlier that Derek Sherrod is the best value pick all of the offensive tackle prospects. Sherrod was a three year starter at Mississippi State and served as team captain.
During those 35 college games, he showed that he plays with a lot more finesse than he does power. He plays with good overall balance and slides his feet well while engaged in a block.
He is a positional run blocker who seals his man more often than he does drive him off the ball, but where Sherrod will make his money is in pass protection. He has great quickness in his pass set and rarely is beaten by a speed rush off the edge. HIs uses his lower body well to keep a firm base and a heavy inside leg.
Often, NFL speed rushers are so fast that a left tackle will set so quickly that they turn their shoulders and give up a secondary inside rush. You see this with Dwight Freeney of the Indianapolis Colts all the time. He influences the tackle to turn and then uses his patented spin move to beat him inside.
Because the NFL is becoming such a pass oriented league, Sherrod’s finesse play and superior pass protection will be a valuable commodity. I see him as late first-round to early second-round selection who will be a great fit for a pass first offensive system.
Wisconsin’s Gabe Carimi is a totally different prospect than Sherrod. While I just described how Sherrod is a finesse player who uses body position and quick feet to secure his opponent, Carimi uses raw power and a nasty streak to hold his defender at bay.
Carimi measures in at 6-foot-7 and 314 pounds with 35-inch arms. He bench pressed 225 pounds 29 times and jumped a 31.5-inch vertical. Those numbers are very similar to his top tackle prospect peers, but what isn’t similar, is his aggressive and nasty style of play.
Now, when I say nasty, I don’t mean dirty. Having a "nasty" quality to your style of play is actually a very nice compliment down in the trenches. He plays hard between whistles and often finishes his block with the defender on the ground, and that mentality sets the tone for the remainder of the game.
He has a very strong punch off the ball and a nice short area burst that makes him explosive in close quarters. He is quick enough to reach block on the backside and eliminate the threat of a defensive lineman running the play down form behind. Sometimes, Carimi does drop his head on contact and leans into blocks, allowing for the defender to easily sidestep or shed the block entirely.
Because of this style of play, I believe him to be a better right tackle than left. Some clubs are even considering him as an interior lineman to take better advantage of his skill set. No matter where he plays on the line, he is the best run blocker available in the draft.