ESPN’s senior writer, David Fleming recently wrote a story about how the Cowboys found themselves their new MVP. It wasn’t about Ezekiel Elliott or Dak Prescott, but rather the 1,586 pounds of greatness that is the offensive line. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was this line, and what has transpired over the last five years is really amazing.
It all started in 2011. It was Jason Garrett’s first year as head coach of the Cowboys and his first chance to put his stamp on the team came in the form of selecting Tyron Smith with the ninth-overall pick in the draft. The Cowboys offensive line was a mess with many of their starters over the age of 30. During his first 22 years with Dallas, Jerry Jones never took an offensive lineman in the first round of the draft. But with Garrett’s influence, the young tackle from USC would end the drought and become the first big piece to this new great wall. He was the best tackle in the draft at a position of need for the Cowboys.
Smith had all the ideal traits of a successful NFL tackle. He was big, strong and couldn’t be pushed around. He also possessed great speed to move around and get to the second level. The Cowboys had themselves a great left tackle that would be the cornerstone of revamped offensive line that was to come.
"If you went into a computer lab and tried to create the perfect prototype tackle, it would be him," says Ross Tucker, a former NFL lineman-turned-analyst. "Smith does things to guys -- toys with them, humbles them -- that you honestly shouldn't be able to do to people in the NFL."
But Jason Garrett was just getting started. After playing on the ‘90s Cowboys team where a dominant line set the stage for a remarkable running game, it was imperative to place an emphasis on building up the trenches.
The Cowboys would strike again in 2013 when they would target Wisconsin center, Travis Frederick. This wasn’t a player that was making much noise in the mock draft scenes so it caught many people by surprise when his name was called. Dallas would trade their number 18 pick to the San Francisco 49ers for their 31 pick, plus a third-round pick. This allowed the Cowboys to take the player they wanted at the right spot. It wasn’t a popular pick and came with a lot of criticism, but it didn’t take long for the pick to pay dividends. Frederick is a big guy that has the power to push away defenders, but it’s what he has upstairs that brings out that next level of magnitude to the line.
Travis' mind is a huge asset that most people overlook with this scheme," Dallas backup tackle Emmett Cleary says. "With zone blocking, the devil's in the details, and we have one of the smartest centers in the league, which means we don't get tricked or mis-ID'd with assignments very often."
Then, the following year the Cowboys drafted Zack Martin. The front office could have selected Johnny Manziel like many of the draft pundits were predicting, but the Cowboys had different plans. Martin was the fourth offensive linemen taken in the 2014 draft, but he has clearly outperformed all those drafted before him. Martin brings all the blocking fundamentals to the table and became the first Cowboys player to ever make the All-Pro his rookie season.
While these three monsters are the core strength of this line, there’s still more as the Cowboys have an abundance of talent at the position. Ron Leary didn’t start last season, but he was an important fixture in the 2014 season. La’el Collins took over Leary’s spot last year, but hurt his toe this year. The Cowboys, very privy to Leary’s ability, chose to not trade him this offseason and it has proven valuable as he’s having a career year. And it’s easy to forget about what Doug Free adds to the equation, but the veteran right tackle does a good job handling his assignments. He only looks bad by comparison.
The Cowboys invested some great draft resources to build this league-best offensive line. It’s a rookie quarterback’s best friend and it makes a talented running back look like the best player in the league. While it’s the young stars that have instantly grabbed all the attention, this model of success has been years in the making. It was built with players that have physical gifts, high football intellect, and precise blocking techniques. Or as Garrett would say, the right kind of guys.