The Dallas Cowboys still have one of the most athletically gifted left tackles in the league with Tyron Smith, but his injury history has made the position a potential draft need for multiple seasons. Drafting for the future at tackle has been a consideration for Dallas before they had a glaring hole at left guard, but they’ll still enter 2022 with Terence Steele replacing La’el Collins full time.
Mississippi State’s Charles Cross is one of the Cowboys pre-draft 30 visits, and his projections are telling of what the team may be planning with the 24th overall pick. With mock drafts sliding Cross into the top ten, bottom of the first round, or out of the round completely, there’s little consensus on where Cross ranks among other tackle prospects like Trevor Penning, Bernhard Raimann, and Tyler Smith.
A two-year starter in the SEC, Cross wouldn’t help the Cowboys shore up the interior of the offensive line, but may be too valuable to pass up if he slides all the way to 24th overall.
OT Charles Cross: Strengths
Cross is a naturally long tackle that plays light on his feet with elite mirroring skills. Keeping rushers at an arm’s length comes easily for Cross, standing at 6’4” with a lean 307 pound frame. Taking long strides out of his stance, Cross stays on top of defensive ends and gets into their shoulder pads to steer them.
Cross’ hand strength is well above average, which allows him to sit back on blocks and not open himself to counter moves. Relying on his initial punch and hip flexibility, Cross deals with speed off the edge well and is a technician at resetting his stance to handle power.
As a run blocker, Cross is quick off of the ball with the athleticism in the open field to dig out linebackers. Not a physical mauler that will impose his will in the ground game, this is a player that consistently handles his assignment and has all the makings of a franchise left tackle at the next level.
OT Charles Cross: Weaknesses
Cross takes long strides in pass protection to set the edge, and is a smooth mover with nimbleness for his size, but can be slow firing off the ball and getting through this kick slide. Though a rarity on film, defenders can take advantage of Cross’ upright play style when he misses with his initial strike. There’s a lack of finish in Cross’ game that makes his readiness to play every snap a concern.
How much of this criticism is fair for a tackle that played in Mike Leach’s air raid offense against some of college football’s top defenses is the question NFL teams will be asking. Cross’ below average three cone and vertical jump numbers at the Combine match these shortcomings on tape though. Dealing with pass rushers that combine speed and bend is a struggle at times for Cross, who can get caught with a narrow base, allowing defensive ends to win the leverage battle and turn the corner.
OT Charles Cross: Summary
Cross is a pre-draft visitor for the Cowboys along with familiar names Zion Johnson and Kenyon Green, who can step in immediately at left guard. Both prospects have been linked to Dallas for months because of this, but these early projections also had Cross off the board well before Dallas’ 24th overall pick.
If there’s a chance Cross is still on the board, the Cowboys are doing their due diligence on a tackle that could not only fill the best player available role, but a long-term need at the position as well.
Getting the starter of the future behind Smith and Steele sooner than later should be a priority for the Cowboys. It’s hard to say they’ve done enough this offseason for that priority to land in the first round, especially if their best chance at Cross is trading up. The physical mold, testing numbers, and reps against top competition are all in line for Cross as a blue chip prospect that plays with remarkable consistency.
Teams will often use 30 visits to give depth to their board, evaluating a few top line prospects that are longshots to be available. This gives a clearer picture on how far each position group stretches for potential starters, something the Cowboys could be asking themselves if they pass on tackles early. Cross is an excellent scheme fit for the Cowboys current offense, blocking well in zone runs and out in space. Any team with a need at tackle should be happy to see the Mississippi State product still on the board.