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Back to the future: Why taking an offensive guard in the first round makes sense for the Cowboys

Dallas has spent a lot of draft capital on their line in the past few years. It may be time to go back to the well.

NCAA Football: Senior Bowl-North Practice
Will Hernandez drew a lot of attention at the Senior Bowl practices, including from the Cowboys.
Glenn Andrews-USA TODAY Sports

The list of things the Dallas Cowboys mishandled in 2017 is long, but arguably at the head of the list is how they handled left guard. After the unsuccessful attempt to convert tackle Chaz Green to the position, they came up with a workable solution, but it is not at all certain that it is a long-term answer. As Dave Halprin noted in his look at the guard position in his series on the needs of the team:

One of the starting guards is as good as it gets, the other starting guard is a free agent. This should actually be getting more attention than it does. The reasoning may be that everyone expects the Cowboys to re-sign Jonathan Cooper, but what if that doesn’t happen? And even if they do re-sign him, is he the answer at left guard?

Dallas has invested a tremendous amount of draft capital in their offensive line, with Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin all first-round picks. Plus they went hard after UDFA La’el Collins to add his first-round talent after his bizarre situation kept him from being selected. Even Cooper brings a first-round pedigree, although he was in a situation of having to resurrect his career after being a bust early. And up until last season, it was paying off, as for several years the Cowboys O line was one of the elite units in the league.

But as mentioned, Cooper is not necessarily the answer. And with the offensive struggles of last season, the Cowboys find themselves needing to find a way to get back to being dominant. The watchword for the offense has been “Dak-friendly” so far this offseason, and reestablishing the mojo of the line in both run blocking and pass protection is a big part of that.

So maybe it is time to consider using one more first-round pick to get a true stud at left guard.

Reports from the Senior Bowl indicate that the idea is already on the team’s mind. According to research started by our own Michael Sisemore, the team had one-on-one interviews with two guard candidates, Isaiah Wynn of Georgia and Will Hernandez out of UTEP. And those may be very good names to keep an eye on. Wynn of course comes from a well-known major program, but Hernandez was one of the surprises at the Senior Bowl.

Alex Cappa is another good option, but right now the thinking is that he will likely be gone before Dallas goes on the clock at 19 overall. But their is a good chance that Wynn or Hernandez may be available. And there are also the underclassmen who are declaring for the draft and weren’t eligible to be in Mobile, as well as some highly regarded tackles that may be good candidates to switch to guard (which is the case with Wynn). That worked out pretty well for the Cowboys with Martin, after all.

There are certainly other positions that would make sense for Dallas in the first round, including wide receiver (like James Washington, mentioned above), defensive line, linebacker, and the secondary. A lot will depend on both what the Cowboys do with their own free agents and of course how the draft plays out. But the key to their identity, particularly on offense, is the O line. Getting a top talent for the LG position would even help if there are any future injury problems for Smith, making it a little easier to get by with the swing tackle if that unwanted situation crops up again.

Figuring out how to use that valuable first-round pick is always crucial. In recent years, the Cowboys have done well, and their most consistently successful picks have been on the offensive line. That speaks to the ability of the scouting staff to identify talent there. As you may recall, the selection of Frederick was widely derided when made, but his subsequent performance at center has made all those criticisms look foolish. There would probably be some of the same kind of talk if Dallas goes back to the O line on day one of the draft this year, but experience shows that they should just ignore that and make the best decision based on their own scouting and evaluation.

We have a lot of things to consider this early in the draft process, with the NFL Combine and the always important 30 visits to the team still to come. But with the O line crop this year looking fairly deep, this is a position to keep in mind.