The Dallas Cowboys have a great offensive line filled with two All-Pro’s in Zack Martin and Tyron Smith, as well as a soon-to-be breakout player in La’el Collins. That’s three-fifths of the line all figured out, leaving two starting spots up for grabs.
With the retirement of Travis Frederick, the starting center job is once again available with Joe Looney being the favorite and fourth-round rookie Tyler Biadasz having an outside shot. And then over at left guard, the battle consists of the incumbent starter Connor Williams and last year’s third-round pick Connor McGovern. Essentially, most see it as two separate battles that look a little something like this:
That’s fine, and if I were a betting man, my money would be on Looney and Williams. The veterans both have at least 20 starts each, with a combined 51 starts between them, whereas neither of their challengers have even stepped on the field at the NFL level. The future may look quite different, but for now, those younger guys are going to have to take a backseat, right?
Well, maybe. But also, maybe not.
Despite people ready to give Williams’ job away, the former second-round pick in 2018 has actually shown nice growth from his rookie season to last year. He’s got athleticism as he played the tackle position for the Texas Longhorns. His spider chart looks impressive as a tackle, but it gets even better if you compare him to all the interior offensive line players where he ultimately ended up playing at the next level.
If you use Gil Brandt’s handy little combine cheat sheet to determine what numbers are important for their respective positions, you’d see that Williams checks off all the boxes for an interior offensive lineman.
As far as athleticism goes, Williams exceeds all the physical measurements needed to play the guard position. The leg strength is vital to help him anchor, and his agility makes him a valuable blocker in the second level. If there was a knock on him, it would be his overall strength as his bench press put him right at the cut-off point, however, Williams spent last offseason bulking up. His play strength is gradually improving.
Williams was seen as a great value pick at 50th overall, to where the Cowboys even passed up a chance to trade for Earl Thomas when Seattle came calling. And when you combine his physical traits with his two seasons of game experience, he stands a great chance to keep the starting left guard spot.
But that doesn’t leave Connor McGovern out in the cold. In fact, it should put him in the consolation bracket where he can still win a starting spot, as he played the center position his sophomore season at Penn State. This battle would then look like:
We don’t want to rule out Tyler Biadasz completely. Sure, being a rookie who was selected with the last pick of the fourth round (146th overall) doesn’t necessarily scream “starter,” but the team was real high on him. While he is the guy they are hoping wins the job in the future, anything is possible and he may surprise some people.
While his chances to beat out Looney may seem like a long-shot in year one, don’t be surprised if McGovern sneaks in there and wins the job. Similar to both Williams and Biadasz, drafting McGovern was a pleasant surprise as the Cowboys didn’t expect him to fall that far. Other teams were interested in the Cowboys draft spot when his pick came up, but the war room came to a consensus that “we love Connor” and didn’t pull the trigger on any of the trade offers they received.
And when you look at his athletic traits, surprisingly he’s right there with Williams in some categories, and even has him beat in others.
For some reason, I forgot about how athletic Connor McGovern is. He bested Connor Williams in the short shuttle and 3-cone drills while tying him in the broad jump - all while being noticeably heavier and longer than Williams. #Cowboys pic.twitter.com/9MqTTPfTIH— John Owning (@JohnOwning) June 28, 2020
A pectoral injury derailed his rookie campaign that would’ve possibly landed him some starting reps last season when Williams got hurt, so he’s not as far along as a typical second-year player, however this has allowed him to prepare mentally, and that’s huge. As physically gifted as McGovern is, his bugaboo is that he’ll sometimes get turned around and become lost in what he’s supposed to be doing. He’s nowhere near the cerebral player that Frederick was, and certainly that’s not what you want from your starting center, which is why Looney still has the keys to the car.
But if McGovern can take some positive steps forward in that department, he’s got a real shot to earn the job. There’s a ceiling on what Looney is able to offer, and McGovern has the skills to eclipse it. Both Williams and McGovern were Day 2 picks in recent drafts for a reason, so don’t be surprised if these guys end up playing along side each other at some point in the season.