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Projecting the Cowboys offensive tackle position for 2022 and beyond

The youth movement is in full swing in Dallas to provide depth at the position.

Washington Football Team v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

One of the biggest storylines ongoing in Dallas is the future of the offensive line and how to ensure that the Cowboys $164 million dollar quarterback, Dak Prescott, stays on the field. There are major question marks about the long-term future of eight-time Pro Bowler Tyron Smith. La’el Collins is no longer in the picture as he was released this offseason and is now a part of the Cincinnati Bengals. For the majority of the last five to six years, Smith and Collins have been the bookends on the offensive line. With Collins gone, and Smith on the back nine of his NFL career, Dallas has zeroed in on a youth movement to make changes on the ends of the offensive line.

Collins was released this offseason and was a post-June 1st cut, which saved Dallas around $10 million in cap space. With a base salary in 2022 of $895,000, Dallas decided to give the keys of the right tackle position to Terence Steele. For roughly $9 million less, Dallas seems confident that Steele will continue to improve and lock down the right side for years to come. Here is some video evidence against one of the primer pass rushers in the NFL, Joey Bosa, to give some context as to why Dallas moved on from Collins this offseason.

Heading into the 2022 season, the presumed starting tackles will be Tyron Smith and Terence Steele. What waits behind them is three young and hungry prospects looking for their shot at not only an NFL roster spot but potentially a starting role down the line.

Let's begin with 2022 first-round pick out of Tulsa, Tyler Smith.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 14 SMU at Tulsa Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Smith comes in with a lot of hype due to being the 24th overall pick in this year’s draft. Many pundits “graded” him as a second-rounder. However, Dallas felt confident enough at 24 to pick Smith to help solidify the offensive line that at times has looked very shaky. At 6’6” and weighing in at 332 pounds, he certainly looks the part of an NFL offensive lineman. Not only that, he has a mean streak about his game and is very powerful. Smith also has a good anchor and is much more athletic than some would think.

Why many put a second-round grade on him is because he is very handsy, which at times gets him flagged much more than you would like. His initial step off the snap can be awkward at times This again can cause him to get more handsy than you want and causes more penalties to be called on him. For now, Dallas has slid him inside to left guard to continue to work on his game, and to prepare for taking over at left tackle whenever Tyron Smith hangs it up.

Check this out courtesy of NFL.com:

Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones elaborated on Smith’s immediate future during an appearance on the PFT PM Podcast, revealing Tyler Smith might not be Tyron Smith’s competition or his counterpart on the right side, but his running mate — at least for now. “I just think his upside is tremendous,” Jones said, via The Athletic’s Jon Machota. “He played at a smaller school there at Tulsa. He only played in 18 games at Tulsa. But we just feel like his skill set really lends to him having an opportunity to be a top, top left tackle at some point. Obviously, we got one of the best in the business for him to learn from in Tyron Smith. Certainly, Tyler Smith will get an opportunity to hit the field at some other spots at well. He’ll compete on that left side: left guard, left tackle. “Unfortunately, Tyron has missed some time over the past four or five years, so we obviously have to take a look at that with his age and just the track record of him missing some games year in and year out. But we do feel like one of the reasons that we really wanted (Tyler) was his versatility and the upside to go out and play left tackle versus maybe taking a couple guys who were more center-only type guys. We just felt like it was best for our organization to go in that direction.”

Smith’s skill set at this time projects as a very good starting guard in the NFL due to his size and strength. Moving inside should help him with the penalties while he works on improving his hand placement against outside pass rushers.

Matt Waletzko is the second prospect Dallas has brought in to compete for one of the backup offensive tackle positions.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: FEB 02 Reese’s Senior Bowl Practice Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Waletzko, like Tyler Smith, was drafted by Dallas in the 2022 NFL Draft. However, with less fanfare, as he was drafted at pick 155 in the fifth round out of North Dakota. The first thing you see with Waletzko is his height as he stands at 6’8” tall. He only weighs 305 pounds which for the average person would be considered heavy. For Waletzko, being 6’8”, it means he is a tad lean and could bulk up a few more pounds which is something he has done before.

Matt Waletzko said this to Ian Cummings of Pro Football Network:

“In my later years in high school, I had a lot of the baby fat,” Waletzko said. My first year [at North Dakota], I was 320, and then at fall camp, I just shed like 15 pounds. The workouts in college and nutrition and everything, it just kind of helps shape your body. But I really made an emphasis for myself to change my body, because I knew playing in that division, we had to be able to move, had to be agile, have strength, have good feet. And I just felt like I wasn’t at that point with the weight I was at coming in. So I made the changes. I feel really good right now. Just with my frame, I think I have room for more. Ultimately, being at that 312, 315, maybe even 320, when I get in the NFL, I think will be a good number for me.”

In addition to his height and weight, he has long arms that measured in at 36 1/8”, and big hands that measured in at 10 1/4”. By comparison, Tyron Smith measures in at 36 3/8” for his arms and his hands are 11”. As we know, Tyron Smith is a big man and Waletzko has three inches on him in the height department. It goes without saying how big Matt Waletzko is.

On the playing field at FCS school North Dakota, you can tell he outmatched anyone he played against. His long arms and first-step quickness make it difficult for a pass rusher to get an advantage over him. The main knock on his game is pad level, and for someone being 6’8”, it's easy to understand why. Another piece of his game he needs to continue to improve on is his footwork as he can get off balance at times. He is very raw at this stage and needs some work in the weight room, and also needs to be coached up some. If he can put it all together, Dallas might have themselves one heck of a football player.

Lastly, we have a player who essentially took a red-shirt this past year after being drafted in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft. That is Josh Ball who spent time at Florida State and finished his career at Marshall.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 18 Conference USA - Marshall v UAB Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Ball is another one of those “mountain of a man” type guys like Waletzko as he also stands at 6’8” tall. He also weighs in at 304 pounds. Although he and Waletzko have a similar height/weight combination, he doesn’t have as long of arms or as big of hands as Waletzko. His arm length is 35” and his hand size 10” which are still long enough and big enough at the NFL level. Ball has a good first step and plays at a good pad level which is tough for someone who is 6’8” to do. Having a good pad level is very important because it helps in the leverage game. Having good leverage, and also strong hands, helps him maintain blocks without drawing a penalty.

What can get him into trouble at times is being overaggressive which can cause him to get beat on double moves by an opposing pass rusher. Being overaggressive at times can also be a detriment to his balance, which you can see on tape at times. He can get off balance and lose his defender. Just like Waletzko, adding strength will be paramount in his development. Ball has the capability to be good in the NFL and it’s going to be interesting to see how his career moves along.

Now that we have a little context about each player, it’s a good time to make early projections on not only 2022, but beyond 2022. Out of the gate, Tyler Smith will be starting at left guard and will solidify that position this season. He is also getting work at left tackle to help him improve his game enough to take the reins when Tyron Smith retires. Although the plans are to eventually move Tyler Smith over to left tackle, left guard could end up being his long-term position in a worst-case scenario. If that happens the hope is he ends up being an excellent left guard for many years for the Cowboys.

Matt Waletzko is very raw and needs some seasoning. For 2022, Waletzko projects to be the fourth tackle who should make the roster, but more than likely will not dress for many games. After 2022, it gets interesting, and depending on what happens with Terence Steele, he could see himself in a battle to be starting at right tackle or at the very least the main swing tackle who can come in and help in a pinch.

Lastly, we have Josh Ball, and after a red-shirt year in 2021, it’s time to see what he’s got. Spending a year working on his craft as a professional should pay dividends, and becoming the primary swing tackle is in the cards for him this year. There is also a possibility that he makes it a competition for the right tackle spot. All in all, the future at offensive tackle is going to be an interesting one. A lot of youth combined with raw talent and athleticism. Signing a veteran to solidify offensive tackle depth doesn’t seem to be in the cards, and it’s going to be exciting to see what these youngsters can do.