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Evaluating Cowboys' Tyron Smith And The 2011 NFL O-Line Rookie Class After Week Two

Tyron Smith is playing up to his draft status, but how are the other linemen in his rookie class doing?
Tyron Smith is playing up to his draft status, but how are the other linemen in his rookie class doing?

In early January, with the draft still more than four months away, we ran a story here on BTB titled "Can A High Draft Pick Be An Immediate Upgrade For Cowboys O-line?"

The results of that analysis were sobering. Of the 32 linemen drafted in the first or second round between 2008 and 2010, only seven (22%) delivered an above average performance in their rookie season. It's no secret that for the most part, rookie linemen are going to struggle as they adjust to the pace of the NFL game.

In Tyron Smith, the Cowboys drafted the highest rated lineman in the 2011 draft, and I believe it's fair to say that the vast majority of Cowboys fans are now very happy with the pick. But at the time, what to do with the O-line was a hotly debated topic, and Tyron Smith was just one name that was being thrown about in many mock drafts. In fact, to this day, there are still names being thrown around that the Cowboys coulda/woulda/shoulda drafted. So today, we look at how the 37 linemen picked in the 2011 draft have performed over the first two weeks this season, and we'll start with another sobering number: 21 of those 37 linemen have not seen any action in an NFL game yet.

But before we look at this year's crop of offensive linemen, below is a review of last year's draft picks and how they've fared last year and in the first two games this year, using the grades from (PFF). Here are the 1st- and 2nd-round picks from 2010:

Year Round Pick Player POS Team PFF Grade 2010 PFF Grade 2011
2010 1 4 Trent Williams T WAS -22.6 2.7
2010 1 6 Russell Okung T SEA -2.6 -2.9
2010 1 11 Anthony Davis T SFO -26.6 -3.6
2010 1 17 Mike Iupati G SFO 9.6 -3.1
2010 1 18 Maurkice Pouncey C PIT -4.2 -0.2
2010 1 23 Bryan Bulaga T GNB -24.6 5.1
2010 2 33 Rodger Saffold T STL -12.4 -1.9
2010 2 45 Zane Beadles G DEN 6.3 -4.8
2010 2 61 Vladimir Ducasse T NYJ  - -
 - -
2010 2 64 Charles Brown T NOR  - -
 - -

Over the entire 2010 season, only two of the linemen from the class of 2010 came in with positive PFF grades, an indication that the two rookies played better than the NFL average player at their positions. This of course doesn't mean that the remaining rookies necessarily played badly. In fact, an argument could be made that some of these guys actually played quite well, for a rookie.

And the 2010 class is not off to a strong start this year either, as once again only two linemen received above average grades for their performance over the first two weeks of the 2011 season. Obviously, it's early in the season, so these grades could still improve, but the results from the analysis done in January suggest that that is not a given.

So how did the 2011 draft class come out of the gates? Before we go there, think back to your pet cat from the draft. Who was it? At the time, you probably would have sworn that your pet cat was the best option for the Cowboys. And that assumption may still be valid today, but we'll never find out as the Cowboys drafted Smith and not one of the many other pre-draft favorites.

In the table below, I've included all linemen picked from rounds one through four in the 2011 draft, irrespective of whether they have played a single NFL snap or not. For rounds five through seven, I only included the three linemen who actually played in the first two weeks, including the Cowboys' Bill Nagy.

So without further ado, here is how the 16 linemen from the 2011 draft class who actually played in an NFL game this year graded out:

Year Round Pick Player POS Team PFF Grade 2011
2011 1 9 Tyron Smith RT DAL +1.7
2011 1 15 Mike Pouncey C MIA +4.4
2011 1 17 Nate Solder RT
NE +3.5
2011 1 22 Anthony Castonzo LT IND +1.5
2011 1 23 Danny Watkins OG PHI DNP
2011 1 25 James Carpenter LG SEA -2.5
2011 1 29 Gabe Carimi RT CHI -0.3
2011 1 32 Derek Sherrod LT GB DNP
2011 2 14 Orlando Franklin RT DEN -4.1
2011 2 16 Stefen Wisniewski LG OAK -3.7
2011 2 17 Ben Ijalana OG IND DNP
2011 2 23 Rodney Hudson OC KC DNP
2011 2 31 Marcus Gilbert OT PIT -1.5
2011 3 11 John Moffitt RG SEA -2.4
2011 3 12 William Rackley LG JAX -3.7
2011 3 28 Joseph Barksdale OT OAK 0.5
2011 4 4 Clint Boling RG CIN -4.6
2011 4 13 David Arkin OG DAL DNP
2011 4 20 James Brewer OT NYG DNP
2011 4 25 Chris Hairston LT BUF DNP
2011 5 19 Jason Pinkston LG CLE -3.2
2011 6 26 Jason Kelce C PHI -0.1
2011 7 49 Bill Nagy
LG DAL -5.3

From 2008-2010 only five linemen drafted in the first round received a positive grade from PFF at the end of the season. The 2011 class has a highly surprising four first-round players who graded out positively. Granted, it's still very early in the season, and a lot might still change, but those grades have got to be at least a little surprising. And the Cowboys must be positively brimming with joy at how well Tyron Smith has performed so far, PFF grade notwithstanding.

A huge (negative) surprise is Danny Watkins who had also been a popular option for the Cowboys in many trade-down scenarios. Every single first round lineman in the last four years, unless severely injured, played in his first year. Conventional wisdom holds that when you draft a lineman in the first two rounds, you've drafted a guy who should be an immediate starter. That doesn't seem to be the case with Watkins, at least not yet, as he struggles to adjust to the NFL. The situation in Philly is made even more awkward by the fact that sixth round pick Jason Kelce is starting when Watkins isn't, and Kelce has actually graded out fairly well.

Derek Sherrod is another first round pick who has struggled so far. He failed to make an impression at left guard where the Packers initially tried him out, and is currently stuck on the depth chart behind the swing tackle and the 35-year old starter at left tackle, Chad Clifton.

Gabe Carimi's rookie season took a blow when he injured his knee over the weekend. The Bears so far have been mum on the situation, only saying that he would be out "for an extended period".

So what looked like a solid first round class already looks like it's petering out after the top four picks. The later picks grade out about where they were expected to grade out. Then again, there's still a lot of football to be played, and things can change quickly. Last year, Bryan Bulaga didn't exactly impress the graders at PFF with his play. But he now has a ring on his finger, and at the end of the day, that is what counts.

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