Just like we did last week with the Defensive Line, we want to clean up any loose ends this week on the offensive line and then put a OL-only version of a big board up in advance of our final project that runs next week and will serve as this particular draft project’s final big board.
I should remind every reader that this is not a big board from a simple standpoint of best player available, but rather I always slant things to reflect Cowboys needs/schemes/philosophies and attempt to tailor my big board to the Dallas Cowboys. That may seem a bit odd, but when we look at 3-4 OLBs, or OL who do not fit the current Cowboys philosophy, we have to bump up or bump down according to what this team believes in.
I may disagree with how they do what they do, but I cannot recommend players that don’t fit their schemes because that just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. For now, they run a 4-3 under on defense and believe in zone blocking offensive linemen who play in a pass-heavy offense. We will look for players who fit those descriptions, and debit players who do not look like fits there for no personal reasons. We just have a feel here for what the Cowboys look for, and that helps us narrow down who they might potentially pick and who they won’t really consider.
We also are just passing altogether on a few positions, and one affects this draft. Just know that I haven’t really evaluated any centers, because on this blog we are worried about learning Top 100 players and since there are only 2 centers who qualify as Top 100 guys and since the Cowboys seem fine at that spot, I eliminated that from the confusion. I did the same with TE and RB and figure that they could certainly take a player from any of those bins, but I don’t see it before Round 4 and I will leave the deep rounds to some of my colleagues. I can only break down about 100 players in a spring.
To this point in time, we have written up 6 guards on this entryand then 9 tackles on this entry. Please know that there are several in each category who seem like candidates to offer the desired versatility to play either guard or tackle and that means we should rank them all together – which we will do below after we add 4 more players to our overall group. 19 offensive line is not a round number, but it is where I drew the line and feel constitutes the majority of the Top 100 qualifiers.
As usual, I will rank a few who fall out of the Top 100 and miss a few who get in, but this, as usual, is not a perfect process. I also did most of the first 15 back in March, and have been challenged to do more work on a few of my evaluations that did not agree with the consensus. David Yankey and Zach Martin both had more games viewed to make sure that I didn’t just grab the wrong 200 snaps, so I grabbed 200 more and you might find that their initial evaluations and where I have them now has changed somewhat.
Ok, let’s add 4 more players to our pool before we stack them:
Cameron Fleming – Stanford
Fleming is one of the underclassmen that has flown under much of the radar this draft season, but he is in the mix on Day 2 for sure. He has played right tackle out at Stanford for 3 seasons and appears to be one of the "old school" tackles that I must confess I don’t prefer.
Basically, a while back, when we discovered that passing makes more sense than running as the key component of a productive offense, we started placing a higher premium on pass protection. This altered the body type that we seek for the perfect offensive tackle and it went from placing all of your priority on strength to quickness of feet. This led the evolution to see more slender tackles who can move and basically brought the basketball power forward into vogue. So, out went the bulldozers (or actually, inside to guard) and that is why when you look at Fleming, you think back to the old days of just putting a more immobile mountain out on the flank and daring someone to try to run around him.
In fairness to Fleming, his best attribute is his pass protection as he is very difficult to beat if he gets out of his stance before a speed rusher beats him at the snap. Once he is set up, you really aren’t going to get around him as he is a massive man.
Now, that is a very useful player and should not be discounted. He is also a very smart player who reads most switches perfectly (not to stereotype Stanford types).
However, there is a lot that is disconcerting when you talk about fits in the Cowboys plans. In the run, they ask him to combo block and then release to the 2nd level quite a bit, and in space, I don’t prefer this. He whiffs quite a bit when you need him to get a body of a Linebacker or a safety in the box and he certainly looks uncomfortable when he isn’t in close quarters. His cut blocks are hit-or-miss and overall he just looks like he lacks NFL quickness.
That might make him a fine candidate to ultimately more inside to guard and be fine, but I have my questions about him at tackle in the NFL, but oddly, it isn’t about his pass protection. This leads me back to the idea that as a right tackle, he might be ok, but just not ideal. And that is ok. There are 64 starting tackles in the NFL, and almost none of them are Tyron Smith-ideal. I just prefer the new, more athletic models of tackle that are available in this and every draft. I think Fleming is the type of guy that needs the right system and I am not sure zone blocking that values movement skills is for him.
Jawuan James – Tennessee
Tiny Richardson took a lot of publicity from James when this process started, but now a lot of us actually like the Right Tackle at Tennessee more than the left tackle because of better techniques and skills.
James is a very tall man with impressive arms that make him a real force in pass protection and also allows him with his athletic build to get out and run in space. He really is complete with tools and merges everything we seek with mobility and strength.
Now, as you would expect of a 6’6 tackle, there are times where he is slow out of his stance and blocks too high and that will never not be a concern with a guy this tall, but overall, I like James a ton.
There is also the issue of how he finishes games and in the 4th Quarter against South Carolina, it was very impressive to see how much energy he played with and looked relatively fresh. He slides well and is able to wall off players in the run and play-action game and I would really not be against giving this plenty of thought in the 2nd round.
The mark against him might be that Right Tackle could be his only spot as he doesn’t seem to have inside strength and leverage and left tackle might not be a fit, either. But, as RTs go, I think I will like what he can do for you.
Trai Turner – LSU
I will confess I did not consider Trai Turner until word got out that the Cowboys were working him out personally and were rather delighted with the results. I was not familiar with his work until this week, but spent plenty of time getting to know him.
And, the findings were quite impressive. He is just the type of guard where you can feel really solid about building a strong pocket around your QB and trusting that the wall will hold up. He is very strong and can get nice and low. He is comfortable in zone blocking, but looks to be a force when asked to pull, as well. In fact, LSU pulls him in space plenty, and he moves very well. I would dare call him scheme versatile.
What might separate him from many of his colleagues is his ability to get to the 2nd level and keep wrecking defensive threats. He is very good and battles very hard in space. He is very stout and solid, and doesn’t look like he will get bullied.
Now, he might get a bit over-matched if you ask him to pass protect 1-on-1 very long against quick and big, but we don’t ask guards to do that very often for a reason.
But, with a strong frame and disposition, I can see this guard being preferred at a certain point.
The knock might be that he is what he is. A guard. He will not be a candidate to flip outside like Su’a-Filo, and that will keep his value somewhat limited. But, as a guard-only player, he is pretty strong.
Joel Bitonio – Nevada
Now, I don’t want to be a hypocrite about the old/new prototypes of tackles in the NFL, but here is an example of where the new way is not always ideal. If I said with Cameron Fleming that we now value good athletic quickness, then Bitonio should be my cup of tea.
Bitonio is a very good athletic player and certainly appears to be everything they are looking for, but I watch him and I don’t prefer him as much as many people seem to. I just think he looks a bit over-matched when it comes to strength and perhaps needs to spend some real time in the weight room before I would feel comfortable with him standing up to a bull rush from a DE/LB on the rush.
But, he moves very well. He does lots of zone blocking and played in college in the pistol most of the time from what I watched. I must confess the under-sized "get in your way" OL is not my cup of tea, and I have flashbacks to Phil Costa, Kevin Kowalski, and David Arkin being tossed around like rag dolls. Not that Bitonio is those guys, but I really think the Cowboys got in trouble looking for OL in 2010 and 2011 that were barely 300 pounds and not strong enough to anchor things in front of Romo. I am not saying Bitonio can’t work in the NFL, but I am far more impressed with the new targets of Frederick and Leary who can stand their ground first and foremost for this OL.
He can really get up and down the line and that is important in zone blocking. His reach blocking is solid and his cut blocks are great. He may have a nasty streak, but he looks like he had size issues against UCLA and Florida State, so I imagine the Eagles and Giants are going to make him look even smaller. I expect that he is a perfect reserve swing guy who can play any position if someone gets hurt, but I don’t want to take that type of player in the 2nd round.
I don’t think he is a fit in Dallas and I certainly don’t like him as much as the field seems to.
OK. That is our group. Now, let’s stack them up. The idea here is 2-fold. First, we want to list them based on the idea that the top remaining player is who I like most. So, as it goes along, when we have questions of do you like Player A over Player B, this list should define that (although please keep in mind that the differences are often very slight – almost a coin toss). The other goal is to list the players in groups based on which are candidates for the Cowboys 1st Round pick, then the 2nd, and so-on.
Here we go:
Jake Matthews, T, Texas AM
Greg Robinson, T, Auburn
Taylor Lewan, T, Michigan
Zack Martin, T/G, Notre Dame
Would prefer a trade back on Martin.
Above this line are Pick #16 worthy
Xavier Su’a Filo, G, UCLA
Versatility to move to Tackle increases his value
Morgan Moses, T, UVA
Billy Turner, T, North Dakota State
Can play G/T and I really like him.
David Yankey, G, Stanford
I realize I am on my own with Yankey.
Gabe Jackson, G, Mississippi State
Ja’wuan James, T, Tennessee
Trai Turner, G, LSU
Above this line are Pick #47 worthy
Dakota Dozier, G, Furman
Cameron Fleming, T, Stanford
Cyrus Kouandijo, T, Alabama
At a certain point, you ignore the warts – value
Brandon Thomas, T/G, Clemson
Availability for 2014 in Question With Knee
Joel Bitonio, T, Nevada
Not ready to start, but developmental
Jack Mewhort, T, Ohio State
Cyril Richardson, G, Baylor
Antonio Richardson, T, Tennessee
There is no doubt there will be disagreements with my findings. Let me have them below.
My final full big board is next week and more importantly, so is the draft!