Yesterday, we aired part one of our three-part interview with Longball from Drafttek, in which he dropped some knowledge about the big board and offered a tasty variety of draft scenarios. Today, as promised, we turn to what is arguably the Cowboys' greatest position of need, the offensive line. Happily, this is also probably Longball's greatest area of expertise. For Drafttek, he's authoring a series on the offensive line prospects in the upcoming draft--the mammoths he affectionately terms the "big uglies."
Longball is well suited to analyze O-line play: he played offensive line in high school and college, grading himself, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, as "a heady (sneaky) technician with multiple legal and illegal holding techniques combined with average physical prowess." A knee injury moved him into coaching, first as a graduate assistant and then with teams at various levels, always concentrating on the OL. These days, he scouts and grades college linemen with insight and passion. Today, he's ready to share that passion and insight with his fellow BTB members.
BTB: You have told me that you think offensive line is the Cowboys’ top need in the 2011 draft. Very few observers would dispute the fact that, for whatever reason, Dallas let offensive line slide in the draft in recent years, leading to a steady decline over the past four seasons. In 2009, they ran hot and cold; last year, this neglect finally caught up with them.
Longball: Too long the Cowboys have not invested in the most important unit of any football team. If you review the "dynasty" teams of any era (Browns of the 50’s, Packers of the 60’s, Dolphins and Steelers of the 70’s, Cowboys of the 90’s, Patriots of the 00’s), the one common ingredient was a cohesive OL that controlled the game and allowed the defense to rest.
BTB: You're preaching to the choir on that one. Do you think there are any keepers among their current collection of "big uglies"?
Longball: One could make a case for replacing every starter except Free; however, that won’t happen this year. One tackle and one guard (preferably a player that can play all 3 interior positions) should be drafted this year, no matter what they do via free agency or trades. They have to build this unit economically for the future.
How should Dallas start the building process? Longball shares some thoughts after the jump...
BTB: I think we can all agree that Colombo must be the first to go. Who’s the next guy you’d look to replace?
Longball: Well, now you’re going to get me on my soapbox. Although it will probably not happen this year due to salary cap ramifications (not to mention headcount limitations), Leonard Davis is one of the most "technically unsound" linemen I have ever graded. He can barely get down in a 3-point stance, does not fire out low from his stance (first move is straight up), has terrible footwork...if it were not for his massive size and strength, he would be on his butt far too many times to be considered an acceptable piece of the puzzle.
BTB: Because of the age and mediocrity on the O-line, the aforementioned Colombo in particular, a lot of people have been talking about Dallas spending their first rounder on a RT. Which OTs do you like in the first round?
Longball: The most NFL-ready LT is Anthony Castonzo, Gabe Carimi is probably the best RT and Derek Sherrod is the most "ambidextrous" at this point; however, none of those prospects would be a good investment at #9.
BTB: Is there an offensive lineman who might return on that investment?
Longball: I have it from two dependable sources (one from USC) that the Cowboys have requested more game tape on Tyron Smith than any other team. He definitely has the highest ceiling and coming to the Combine at a chiseled 307, grabbing those weights with 11" hands and pressing 29 reps with 36-3/8" arms didn’t hurt his stock any. Second coming of Rayfield Wright (who was also a TE)??? We can only hope . . .
BTB: That’s terrific insider info. I’m really looking forward to seeing how the T. Smith situation resolves. Let me change gears a little bit. Many draft pundits have the Cowboys trading back a few spots and picking up an offensive lineman in the middle of the first round. About how far back would they have to trade to get value with an OT pick?
Longball: We have the top 4 OT’s graded from #12 to #26, but keep in mind there could be reaches come Draft Day – and once a "run" on a position starts, teams get panicky (what’s the old expression "desperate people will resort to desperate measures"). If Dallas is going to invest a 1st round pick on OT, I would recommend staying in the 15-20 range.
BTB: Ahh, yes. I remember the former Giants GM, George Young, used to call the inevitable run on offensive linemen the "dance of the elephants." Back to the topic at hand: who would you select there, Castonzo? If so, what makes him the most "NFL ready" in your estimation?
Longball: Although I believe Castonzo is the most "NFL ready" LOT, I don’t know that he is the best fit for Dallas’ OL profile. Granted, you could take him and move Free to ROT – but I think Dallas will select Tyron Smith of USC before Castonzo and let him "break in" at ROT (his college position) before considering a "flip-flop" with Free in the future.
BTB: What if another team with a need at OT, let’s say the Giants, trades up past the Cowboys now mid-first pick and nabs their guy. Who’s the pick?
Longball: If [Smith]…is not available, I think the Cowboys would take Carimi, plug him in at ROT and have a set of "semi-interchangeable" bookends.
BTB: Okay, we’ve talked about the first rounders. Given the quality and depth at defensive line in round one, however, a scenario in which Dallas goes DE-OT in rounds one and two isn’t far-fetched. It that comes to pass, they’d need to find an offensive tackle in the second. Who do you think might fall into the 35-45 range?
Longball: Marcus Cannon of TCU, Chris Hairston of Clemson, Marcus Gilbert of Florida.
BTB: Which of these guys would best fit the Cowboys’ system?
Longball: Probably Marcus Gilbert – and I do know they have spent quite a bit of time scouting him.
BTB: You mention that the Cowboys have shown interest in Tyron Smith and Marcus Gilbert. Have you heard about any other offensive line candidates in whom they've shown interest?
Longball: Keep an eye on Ijalana -- nothing from my sources (yet) on him, but I know for a fact they tried to make a play for Vladimir Ducasse last year and if they can get an OL prospect that is pretty close to ready to start, they'll take a flyer on a small school developmental guy.
BTB: Many Cowboys fans, myself included, would like to see multiple O-line picks. Since Jerry Jones isn’t likely to get the desired splash with two offensive line picks in the first two days of the draft, that second O-lineman will almost certainly come on Sunday. Any favorites/ sleeper candidates who fit the mold of a Dallas lineman and might be interesting in the later rounds?
Longball: One of my pet cats is John Moffitt from Wisconsin, a 3 position player who will probably require a 4th round investment. Curt Porter of Jacksonville State has quite a wingspan and excellent slide kick-step for his size - might be a developmental LT, good value if taken in the 6th or 7th round. There’s also a monster way out west in Old Abilene Town that might be a UDFA candidate to hide on the practice squad for a year or two: Trevis Turner (6’7", 335 lbs) of Abilene Christian. He has overpowered the competition at this small school and would need to be "coached up", but rumor has it that he was recruited while plowing behind a team of mules. The scout asked him directions to town and his hands never left the plow – he answered by picking up the plow and mules and using them to point the direction.
BTB: A good ol' boy with farm strength, a la Bob Lilly? Sign him up! Okay, lets assume that the Cowboys pick up an OT in one of the first two rounds. That means that second lineman is most likely to play guard or center. We know Moffit will play in the middle of the line. Can either Porter or Turner kick inside?
Longball: Even though Dallas (and Oakland) have had some tall OG’s, these guys are both 6’7" and I just don’t see it happening. If you’re looking for a "dark horse" tackle that would make a good OG, I might suggest a guy named Darius Morris (6’4", 318 lbs), an OT from Temple that reminds me of a shorter Rodger Saffold.* This guy is a "dancing bear" and would be a holy terror at OG pulling around the end and trapping…and I think he may be available in either the 6th or 7th round.
*Longball was trumpeting the under-the-radar Saffold in his pre-draft punditry last year. Now, after Saffold's strong rookie campaign, he tells us, his fellow Drafttek writers are hitting him up for the names of similar prospects!
BTB: Many top centers are picked up in the late rounds (Dan Koppen comes to mind). Do you see any potential Koppens in this draft?
Longball: Kevin Kowalski of Toledo is a favorite of mine and he may be available in the 5th or 6th round – another is Ryan Bartholomew of Syracuse, who might be had for a 7th. If you want Tim Barnes from Missouri, you’re probably going to have to invest a 4th to 5th round choice.
Great stuff, as always, LB! Looking forward to part III!
Tomorrow, we’ll talk about some of Longball’s favorites at Dallas’ defensive positions of need.