Thursday, March 13, 2014

2014 Cowboys Draft Weekly Notebook - Episode 8 - Offensive Tackles

Let's now continue our series to prepare for the NFL Draft and our quest to get to know the top candidates at each spot by grabbing a very deep group of offensive tackles.  

The top 2 picks in the 2013 draft were offensive tackles (and 5 of the top 19) and every single year this particular position is picked over for quality very quickly.  In 2011, when the Cowboys grabbed Tyron Smith at pick #9, the position had 7 players go in the top 50 and that is actually about the norm.  There have been quite a few studies, by the way, on the topic of what position is the safest to invest a high 1st round pick on (meaning picks in the top half of the 1st Round) and invariably, the position with the highest hit percentage and lowest bust percentage (subjective studies, for sure) would be offensive tackle.

We must also remember that this is a league that is heading in one particular direction with rather clear trends.  For 6 consecutive seasons (2008-2013), the NFL has thrown more passes than it did the year before.  And for the last 3 seasons, those totals of passes have been the all-time high in football history.  Last year, over 19,400 passes were thrown compared to about 13,800 runs.  This means that the run/pass ratio that used to sit around 50/50 in the good ol days is now headed quickly to a 60/40 split.  That may not seem drastic, but instead of 30 runs and 30 passes, it is now closer to 24 runs and 36 passes in a normal game.  

Here is a chart to show the splits by year:
So, what does all of this mean?  Well, simply put, it means that if we are running less and passing more - and even when we do run, lots of it is coming out of passing sets and shotgun/pistol looks, then we don't need to fortify our roster with traditional running tools in our toolbox.

Rosters are small, so we need to find pieces that fit what we are doing in the league.  No more fullbacks or blocking tight ends.  They are a rarity and if we aren't going to put them on the field, then we can't have them eating up a roster spot on game day.

But, it also means that if we are looking at offensive tackles, we need to remember what skills are more valuable.  And there is no skill that is more valuable in today's NFL than pass protection.  So, as we evaluate the prospects, I will always be more interested in a player's ability to stay in front of a terrifying pass rusher than I will be interested in his mauling run blocks.  Of course, I want him to do both, but we are going to weigh pass protecting far more heavily.

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From a Cowboys' perspective, offensive tackle is a position that could really use another young prospect quickly.  Currently, they have LT 23-year old Tyron Smith (free agent at the end of this year - but clearly a top priority to keep for many years to come), 30-year old RT Doug Free (free agent at the end of the year and status is far from secure either way), and Jeremy Parnell (a 27-year old career reserve who will be a free agent at the end of the year and has been rumored as a potential cap savings this spring even though his money is quite low at $1.5m).  Given that they need quality youth in a lot of places, there may not be a tackle grabbed with any of their top 3 selections - picks where you want starters - but, conversely, they could take a tackle in any round and it would be a wise idea.

Smith has left locked down, but beyond that, they should be looking carefully at some very interesting players.

Obviously, we don't have stats to pour over when it comes to the offensive line.  So, instead, I thought we would offer the measurables and include the current Cowboys OL starters so you have an idea of what is what.  


Player Year    Ht    Wt    40/10         Arm     Hand     BP 
Tyron Smith 2011 6'5 307 4.95 36 3/8 11 29
Doug Free 2007 6'6 324 5.22/1.82 35 5/8 10 5/8 22
Mac Bernadeau 2008 6'3 292 5.3/1.81 32 1/4 10 5/8 23
Ron Leary 2012 6'2 315 5.23/1.83 34 3/4 8 5/8 30
Travis Frederick 2013 6'3 312 5.56/1.91 33 10 21

With all of that in mind, let's get started on this crop:

Jake Matthews - Texas AM 


Player Ht    Wt    40/10         Arm     Hand     BP 
Jake Matthews 6'5 308 5.07/1.70 33 3/8 9 7/8 24

As I said above, I am placing a higher value on pass protection than I am raw power in the running game and for that reason, if I had to place all of the chips in on a tackle in this draft I am going with Jake Matthews.  He is really so strong in pass-pro and the evidence is there the second you watch any of his college games.

That isn't to say he is never beaten.  And it isn't to say that he doesn't occasionally have an issue that will need to get sorted out.  But, as we look at the way this position is putting a premium on the athletic movement skills of these edge guys to be able to stick with some of the monsters who sack QBs these days in space, there is no question he is the prototype.  He even has a 30" vertical leap, which non-athletic people don't possess.

He looks smooth with all of his techniques and never looks the least bit tested.  He makes it look easy as a rule and frustrates the guys across from them to a point where you often see them lose their fight as the afternoon transpires.  You can see the almost give up.

You also seldom see blitzes to his side and a football rule is that we attack the weak. Well, when the defenses wanted to rattle the Aggies this year, they brought pressure from the other side and didn't bother with the Manziel blind side.

Johnny Manziel factors into this quite a bit, by the way, as in 2013 Matthews shifted from right tackle to the left tackle spot after Luke Joeckel was the 2nd pick of last year's draft to Jacksonville.  Manziel will not give up on plays for an absurd amount of time - sometimes well over 6 seconds which is a lifetime for a QB to hold the ball - and if you are blocking his blindside, that means you have to keep a defensive end from getting around you for an equally absurd amount of time.  But, for most of the year, Manziel trusted his left tackle to not get beaten no matter how much time it took, and Matthews generally delivered.

How is he in the run blocking?  Fine.  His zone blocking is as you would imagine athletic and when he pulls it is like a fullback leading the ball and it also looks easy.  He can execute the backside cut block well and walls off his man on his way to the second level when needed.  I don't see much to be scared of here, and he, of course, has bloodlines as a pretty salty tie-breaker.  He will be gone very early and his team will be pleased with their selection.  Jake Matthews is going to be a star who can play anywhere you want him on the line, but left tackle looks like his home.

Greg Robinson - Auburn

Player Ht    Wt    40/10         Arm     Hand     BP 
Greg Robinson 6'5 332 4.92/1.69 35 10 32

Robinson is the other "can't miss" tackle prospect in this draft and while I may prefer Matthews to Robinson, this is really a question where there is no wrong answer.  Robinson looks like he could be a "generational talent" when it comes to what he does well.  And what he does well is run blocks like a beast.  And I mean like a bulldozer that has been demon possessed.  It is really a pleasure to watch when Auburn decided to tell him to head north and they would follow him.  And Auburn did that on a regular basis against one of the more difficult schedules in America.

He moves so well and run blocks with such strength and often gets 2 defenders with his size and reach capabilities.  I would argue that if someone would draft him and place him at guard for the next decade, there is no reason that Robinson isn't Leonard Davis or Larry Allen.

But.  If I am going to take a left tackle with a top 5 pick in the draft, I better be sure that he will be fine on an island against elite pass rushers and not have to worry about him.  And I must tell you, there were times in his college career where I worried about his ability to set the edge and be fine on the blindside of the QB.  If you can explain away what happened in this game against Arkansas and DE prospect Chris Smith from back in 2012, then be sure to let me know.

Now, he was learning his game and everyone is allowed a bad day, but when you see that and how the raw speed of Florida State seemed to affect him in the national championship game, then you can hopefully understand how Matthews is the safer pick to me.  Being a superior run blocker is awesome, but this NFL is changing and I need pass protection to be my foundation.  Does he have it?

I think he should grow into it, but if we are going to take this guy that high, he better be a LT.  And if he is going to be a left tackle, he better know what to do against Jared Allen or DeMarcus Ware or Julius Peppers in their primes for 65 snaps.  Can Robinson do that right now?  No.  But, maybe he can grow into it.

But, he would be a Top 5 guard right away.  He is very talented.  I just have a few concerns.

Taylor Lewan - Michigan

Player Ht    Wt    40/10         Arm     Hand     BP 
Taylor Lewan 6'7 309 4.87/1.7 33 7/8 9 1/4 29
Here is where I should remind you that I certainly am not here to analyze what type of human beings we are dealing with because there are reports that Lewan is a guy that is to be careful with because of red flags from conduct both on and off the field.  I don't think the infractions are overly serious and most are simple allegations of a young man making young man mistakes.  But, I am not an investigator and my ability to decipher what was real and what was an Ohio State fan trying to get a Michigan star in trouble is not what this study is about.

In watching his game tape, I am very impressed with Lewan, and honestly think he is right up there with the best in this positional group.  In fact, I would not argue against this player being taken high up on the board as well, and perhaps because he might have issues with rage or temper, he could slide down to where Dallas picks.  If so, and if I have done my homework on him, I would be pleased with the player for sure.

His pass protection is very solid and again, a poor Michigan offense at times was not poor because of blindside sacks.  Lewan mirrors the pass rusher right into frustration as the rusher cannot come close to gaining an edge on him.  He moves his feet and stays properly centered on the rusher with ease and really makes it look simple.  For a moment against Ohio State, he did get bulled back a bit, but I think that might be a technique issue with balance and leverage rather than a strength consideration.  He seems plenty strong, although at his height, technique will always be an issue.  

I watched several games and he hardly was beat all day against top competition.  He has 48 starts at Michigan and like we said, has some red flags to examine, but if you can't get Jake Matthews, the guy who can play left tackle and watch the backside of your QB against elite pass rushers is absolutely Taylor Lewan.  The run blocking is passable and plenty solid in man or zone schemes.

If Matthews and Robinson are the top 2, Lewan is right behind them as the clear #3 prospect.


Zack Martin - Notre Dame

Player Ht    Wt    40/10         Arm     Hand     BP 
Zack Martin  6'4 305
32 7/8 9 1/2 29

There has been plenty of buzz about Zack Martin for a number of solid reasons.  He appears to be the type of guy who everyone loves on campus and a candidate to be a team leader type in a pro locker-room as a captain and that is something that this Cowboys leadership group has seemed to target.

He also has great positional flexibility in that there are some that feel like he could play guard as a rookie and then move out to tackle when you want him to do so, and that basically he can play 4 or 5 different offensive line positions - which should improve anyone's value.

I just have a hard time selling myself on utility for a 1st round prospect.  Either I love him at his best possible position or I don't.  And for me, the drop off from Lewan may be somewhat made up because Lewan has red flags and Martin is scoring off the charts with intangibles, but the game tape doesn't care about that stuff.  It simply asks about his skills.

Martin can play tackle, but his arm length, size, and athleticism say that left tackle might be a stretch and that you might want him inside or on the right side to keep him from some less than desirable match ups on the edge.  His run blocking is where he is really good and he will battle with a nasty edge and he is up for 3 hours with anyone.  And Notre Dame's schedule had him against all sorts of Top 50 prospects this year.

He is not dominating.  He is solid.  He can lose on the edge, but not very often.  He is just a stiffer athlete who looks like he could go either way and honestly, at #16 in the first round, I don't want to invest in a prospect that seems to fall short of being a sure thing at his primary spot.

Again, I love utility and versatility in my linemen.  But, if that is one of your stronger traits, then I will wait to grab that type of player later on in the draft and Martin won't be around later.  In the first round, I have to have faith that you are plug and play, and while I admit he is a very fine prospect, I don't think I would love him where the Cowboys are.  If they chose to trade back and grab a pick plus Martin later in Round 1, that might swing the balances a bit.

Cyrus Kouandijo - Alabama

Player Ht    Wt    40/10         Arm     Hand     BP 
Cyrus Kouandijo 6'6 322 5.59 35 5/8 10 1/4 21

Every year, there are draft prospects that fall under the heading of "I must be missing something" to basically define guys that you hear and read 1st round projections for, but when you watch them yourself and try to remove bias from your head, you just don't see it.

Meet Kouandijo.

Long before the red flags of his physical condition revealed the possibility that his arthritic knee condition may be a long-term issue that affects his longevity, I believe I was out on big Cyrus for a number of reasons.  He is absolutely your old school offensive linemen which was a huge man who was equally slow.  It takes giants a long time to move around, traditionally, which is why Robinson and Matthews are so desired.  They are huge but move like men who are 50 pounds lighter.  Well, Kouandijo is not like that.

He moves slowly and against Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl little LB Eric Striker just killed him on the edge all night and showed how this would work in the NFL.  He labors to get his drop quickly and while going forward he is plenty solid, unless we are moving him to guard, there is nowhere to hide him on Sundays.  On some plays he is a world beater, but on other plays he is really not very good at all.

I just don't think I could be talked into this guy anywhere close to what his value reads and that is before the physical issues.  I read all about his pedigree and his 1st round prospects, but I do not see it at all.

Pass.

Antonio Tiny Richardson - Tennessee

Player Ht    Wt    40/10         Arm     Hand     BP 
Antonio Richardson 6'6 336 5.30/1.8 35 10 1/4 36

Here is another guy that I don't really care for despite the larger consensus seeming to feel he is a Top 50 player.  He is huge and has incredible strength, but can I count on him to be a pass protection anchor?  I don't think so, especially against quick.  And quick is all you will see on the edge in the NFL.

Against Florida in particular, Dante Fowler was giving him all he could handle out on the edge and it was then where you could see that he just had a tough time staying centered on his block out in space.   All of the strength in the world will not help you if you cannot catch the guy you are trying to block, and even though he can destroy guys in the running game, I think he is going to miss a lot in the pass.

He looks also like a guy who has a technique flaw in his game that results in him reaching and holding too much, which again is an issue when watching him play.  He jumps the snap occasionally on false starts which is another sign that even he knows that he has quickness issues that require him to cheat the snap count so as to get a head start on his man.

He battles and has some solid effort signals, but overall, I am not liking him as a candidate in a zone scheme, nor in a pass-first scheme, which pretty much takes him off my board altogether here in Dallas.

Jack Mewhort - Ohio State

Player Ht    Wt    40/10         Arm     Hand     BP 
Jack Mewhort 6'6 309 5.37/1.7 34 9 3/4 28

Here is a player who was a left tackle for Ohio State and was a strong compete level, but I think like Zack Martin, has certain things that may not be appealing to all.

He has good versatility, but that might be a nice way of saying he can't stay at left tackle.  He always looks like he is on the outer margins of his comfort zone trying to set the edge and while certain guys on this list like Matthews and Lewan make everything look easy out in space, the opposite is true for Mewhort.  It looks difficult.

Now, that doesn't mean he is losing a ton.  He figures out a way to get it done most plays and looks generally angry at most times.  But, I don't like projecting a guy into the NFL where he appears he is trying to exceed his ceiling already.

He might be the type of guy who can learn as he goes and in the right scenario and position could turn out to be one of those solid pros who gets it done.  But, again, I have to ask where his best spot is and as a tackle it might be guard.  But if he is a guard, I like pure guards better.

He pushes and fights and scraps and claws and appears to be a decent prospect.  But, I can only pay so much for those intangibles, and certainly not in the 1st or 2nd round.  The Clemson game alone scared me off of him as anything in the 2nd, and I know many disagree with me.  I just think he is a Tier 2 guy and there are several on that tier who I like more.

Morgan Moses - Virginia

Player Ht    Wt    40/10         Arm     Hand     BP 
Morgan Moses 6'6 314 5.35 35 3/8 9 7/8

Here are the two tackles that I really like as Tier 2 guys - that means that as the Cowboys select at #47 in the 2nd round and #78 in the 3rd Round, I would keep my eyes peeled on both of these two.

First is big Moses.  He is the perfect combination to me of being a mountain of a man, but with a strong compete level and very good pass protection skills.  They usually don't go hand in hand, as for whatever reason, some of the biggest dudes are really docile.

But, Moses seems engaged and fired up and looking for a battle, but also comfortable in getting back on his man in the drop, with strong kick steps and good balance.  He gets squared up and genially does well.  He had some issues against a favorite of mine, GT's Attaochu on the edge, but I thought that was more with the QB holding the ball too long and leaving his LT with too big of a task.

His run blocking is excellent and he is really impressive in open space.  He also loves to run to the pile and cause problems and just seems overall like my cup of tea.  Now, he clearly has some flaws, or he isn't around in the 2nd round, and I understand has a reputation of weight fluctuations, but I really liked the 3 games I watched against BYU, Georgia Tech, and Virginia Tech.

I would be fine with considering him as prospect for present and future.  Maybe as a right tackle sooner rather than later.


Billy Turner - North Dakota State 

Player Ht    Wt    40/10         Arm     Hand     BP 
Billy Turner 6'5 315 5.16/1.75 34 10  25

Well, when you grab a positional group, there is always one you like that you are wondering if you are missing something in the other direction - that you think he is better than what the consensus seems to think - and for me, that is North Dakota State's Billy Turner.

First, he is a small school guy.  But, if you follow small schools, you know that this is the FCS 3-time National Champion and that they win every FBS game they play.  He plays for a power, and he is a man among boys.

I think he is exceptional and again excels at pass protection where it looks like players don't even bother against him on the edge.  Now, surely, his schedule is not seeing very many elite NFL pass rushers, but even against Kansas State, he could have had a sandwich out there while pass protecting. They weren't getting close.

As a run blocker he is a mauler.  He is dominant and a pleasure to watch.  He moves well and destroys anything in his path.  He has an absurd build at this level, and he is really dominant with everything looking easy.

I know he had some adjustment time at the Senior Bowl and to play against NFL competition may take some time and coaching, but if I had to look at anyone outside of the 1st round and bet on that guy to be a real player in 3 years, it is this guy.  I am very fired up about the future of Billy Turner.  I think he is a tremendous prospect and a good target in Round 2 or maybe 3.

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So, in summary, I think Matthews, Robinson, and Lewan are tier 1.  Martin is really good, but a level down.  I don't think I am interested in Kouandijo, Richardson, or Mewhort at the asking price.  And, guys who I do like at #47 or #78 are Moses and Turner.  There are other tackles, but most of them were not appealing unless we are into Round 3 or 4 and would be treated as developmental projects.

Next week, guards and centers.

Past Draft Profiles:

Weekly Notebook - Linebackers - Khalil Mack, Anthony Barr, Ryan Shazier, Kyle Van Noy, CJ Mosley, Telvin Smith, Jeremiah Attaochu, Carl Bradford 

1 comment:

Mike Starr said...

I agree with taking a solid and a sleeper at dt pick 47 we need a quarterback in the secondary I would grab the best in the buisness Clinton or Pryor the 3 we have back there just don't do it for me I've been a cowboy fan since 1970 I need a Benny Barnes a Roy Williams a Darren Woodson someone who brings the pain and great coverage