How Cowboys can 'Hit' on O-Lineman

How Cowboys can 'Hit' on O-Lineman

Published Apr. 21, 2013 7:54 p.m. ET

IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys need offensive-line help in this NFL Draft but, like any other team, they also want value. Meanwhile, there's a chance that the premier O-line prospects are all gone by the time Dallas is scheduled to pick at No. 18 in the first round.

So, researcher Nate Fisher and I dug for answers to these questions: What are the chances the Cowboys can use the second round on an offensive lineman to find a "hit,'' a quality player? An immediate starter? Maybe even a Pro Bowler?

To answer some of our questions, we surveyed seven NFL Drafts, from 2002 to 2009, choosing '09 as the closing year in order to give draftees four years to have proven themselves. To measure "eventual success,'' we looked back 10 years.

Some of our findings:

*Pro Bowlers? Over the course of the surveyed seven years, nine second-round offensive linemen became Pro Bowlers. These players include: C LeCharles Bentley, OT Jon Stinchcomb, OG Chris Snee, OT Michael Roos, OT Marcus McNeill, OT Andrew Whitworth, C Ryan Kalil, C Max Unger and the Cowboys' own Andre Gurode, a five-time Pro Bowl center.

*According to the past 10 years, a team selecting in the second round has an almost identical chance to find an elite-level tackle (21 percent "hits'') as it does to find an elite-level interior offensive linemen center/guard (25 percent "hits'').

*From 2002-2009, nearly three times as many offensive tackles have been drafted in the first round as centers/guards (25 tackles and only nine centers/guards). But, in the second round this number evens up, at 19 tackles to 20 centers/guards.

Of the available pool, five of the nine centers/guards taken in the first round have been selected to the Pro Bowl. Meanwhile, nine of the 25 first-round tackles have made the Pro Bowl. Are teams therefore over-valuing tackles? Strictly by the numbers, one could assert that an NFL team seeking Pro Bowl blockers should use its first-round pick on an offensive guard/center and its second-round pick on a tackle.

*An average of 5.7 offensive linemen are drafted annually in Round 2. This means that, on average, at least one lineman selected in the second round this week will become a Pro Bowler in the next few years.

*The past 10 NFL Drafts have given us 186 "hits" (which we define as a draftee who played significantly as a rookie, started at least a few games his rookie year and then went on to be a productive and solid starter) out of a total of 319 picks. So, across the board at all positions, a team will be able to secure an immediate starter in the second round 58.3 percent of the time.

But second-round offensive linemen? Of the 57 draftees, we find 47 "hits.'' That's an astounding 82.4-percent success rate, and it's the highest at any position. In this draft, the Cowboys (and most of the rest of the NFL) think of five prospects as being elite: Luke Joeckel (OT Texas A&M ... 6-6 306), Eric Fisher (OT Central Michigan ... 6-7 306), Lane Johnson (OT Oklahoma ... 6-6 303), Chance Warmack (OG Alabama ... 6-2 317) and Jonathan Cooper (OG North Carolina ... 6-2 311). The top three guys will seemingly go in the top 10 slots. Warmack and Cooper – both of whom Dallas would love to see slip to No. 18 – could also go in the top half of the first round.

D.J. Fluker (OT Alabama) may be a notch behind them. But then comes a host of prospects who might last into the second round, including Justin Pugh (OG/OT Syracuse) Kyle Long (G/T Oregon), Terron Armstead (OT Arkansas-Pine Bluff) and Larry Warford (OG Kentucky).

We know the Cowboys like Pugh and Long (both of them have visited Valley Ranch) in part due to their versatility. This study says there is something else to like about them: Their second-round availability and the odds the can springboard from being a Round-2 player to being a "hit'' or better.

In short, based solely on the percent chance you will "hit'' on a player in Round 2, drafting an offensive lineman is the most viable way.