Coming into the 2022 season, the expectation was to have both Tyron Smith and Terence Steele as the starting tackles for the Dallas Cowboys. However, due to injuries to both players, we never got to see this duo in action together all season, putting position depth to the test each and every single week.
Thankfully the team drafted offensive tackle Tyler Smith with the 24th pick of the 2022 NFL Draft. The younger Smith was expected to kick inside to left guard and get comfortable with the NFL game while the elder Smith handled the outside until his days in Dallas were numbered. Instead, Tyler Smith would kick outside to fill the void created by Tyron’s injury. The Cowboys brought in future Hall of Famer Jason Peters just before Week 1 as insurance.
The team also drafted another offensive tackle in the fifth round in 2022, Matt Waletzko. Prior to that, Dallas had drafted offensive tackle Josh Ball in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Both Waletzko and Ball have had their share of injury issues since arriving in Dallas, which means that they both carry their own share of unknowns.
With the depth at tackle not fully addressed at the moment, it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to look into the position come draft time, and give both Waletzko and Ball some quality competition for depth purposes.
Here are three names to keep an eye out for when middle of this year’s draft begins:
Ryan Hayes, Michigan
Prior to college, Ryan Hayes was a highly-coveted offensive tackle from the state of Michigan. He was not only a 4-star recruit in the 2018 class, but was ranked the fifth best player in his home state, and the 23rd best offensive tackle prospect in the nation. As you would expect, there were plenty of offers for Hayes to choose from. Among the list of schools that offered him a scholarship were Notre Dame and TCU. However, he would choose to stay in his home state by committing to the University of Michigan.
When he arrived on campus ahead of the 2018 season, he did not see any action as a true freshman. In 2019, he played in 12 games and started two of them. He would earn valuable playing time on special teams as a sophomore. Due to a foot injury, the 2020 season was essentially a lost season as he only started in two games all year. Hayes’ final two years on campus in 2021 and 2022, were productive ones as he started in a combined 26 games. This production was awarded with second-team coaches All-Big Ten honors in both years. Also during his final years he was part of the Joe Moore Award-winning offensive lines which is awarded to the best offensive line unit in college football. The back-to-back award winning seasons were the first in the awards history. By the time Hayes’ college career had concluded, he logged 29 starts in 40 appearances.
From an on-field perspective, Hayes has great size and a great frame at 6-7 and 300 pounds. With his obvious physical tools, he puts them to good use as a very good run blocker, but also has an edge to his game which makes him a great finisher of plays. Given his size, he has plenty of athletic ability to get to the second level to block linebackers. As a pass blocker, he is good at forcing the edge defender to the inside when the edge player is rushing towards the quarterback. Whether he is run blocking or pass blocking, Hayes possesses good instincts and is a very smart player. His technique is pretty solid as he shows good footwork, and he gets out of his three point stance pretty well for the most part.
What will get him trouble at times is having the opposing edge player lineup in a wide alignment. Savvy edge rushers at times can set him up by acting like they are rushing the outside, and then quickly pivot towards the inside which causes Hayes to get beat on occasion. As tall as he is, leverage can be difficult at times. From time to time, he starts to lunge towards a defender when attempting to engage. The lunging problem rears its ugly head due to Hayes having shorter arms for his size. Some teams may see his arm length as a problem and will want to move him inside.
Even if some teams are thinking about moving him inside, his best chance to make it in the league is actually at tackle. He’s naturally a good pass protector, and his footwork is pretty solid. With some coaching up and some minor tweaks to his overall technique, Hayes has a chance to be on an NFL roster for years to come.
Wanya Morris, Oklahoma
Wanya Morris was a big deal while part of the 2019 recruiting class as a 5-star player. He was not only the sixth best offensive tackle in his entire recruiting class, but he was the 28th best player overall nationally. Morris practically had offers from all the major schools in the country. Picking two of the schools that offered him were Alabama and Georgia. Surprisingly, he opted to not attend either program by committing to Tennessee.
Morris’ on field impact came right out of the gate as a true freshman in 2019, and by the time his freshman campaign ended after starting in 12 of 13 games, he was awarded SEC All-Freshman as well as becoming a true freshman All-American. Heading into 2020, there was a lot of buzz surrounding Morris as he had a bevy of preseason honors by multiple pundits. However, he played in just nine games and started in just seven of them. He was used in two of those starts as a jumbo tight end. After the 2020 season, he would transfer to Oklahoma for the 2021 season where he appeared in six contests as a backup tackle. In his final season in 2022 with the Sooners, Morris would play in nine games and would start in eight of them. By seasons end, he was recognized for his efforts as a second-team All-Big 12 selection. By the time his college days were up, Morris would appear in 37 games and would start in 27 of them. He certainly had an interesting road in college, but overall it was a pretty solid one.
In his four years in school, he played a good amount of snaps, and at times showed why he was as highly-coveted as he was coming out of high school. Morris possesses unique athleticism given his size, and that was on display as he played some tight end in college. Due to his versatility and size, he could play both inside and outside along the offensive line. Morris has good balance, leverage, and strength. Putting those tools together with a nastiness in his game, makes for a good offensive lineman. That nastiness is helpful in the run game, and because of his long arms and heavy hands, he is solid in pass protection as well. Arguably one of his best traits is his ability to be a good anchor, as he is solid against a good bull rush.
Although Morris has all the physical traits and natural talent, it can be frustrating to see him play as inconsistent as he does at times. These inconsistencies can be chalked up to losing focus, and also having a bad habit of dropping his head at times. He did have a quality college career, but given all the ability that he has, his college career was a disappointing one.
If a coach can help him focus better and work on some of his technical issues, then a team could hit the jackpot with Morris. He has all the tools in the world, and just needs the right coach to unlock that tool box. He is a boom or bust prospect that the Cowboys could take a chance on given the players at the position that are already on the roster.
Jaelyn Duncan, Maryland
Jaelyn Duncan was a member of the 2018 recruiting class and a 4-star prospect as the 11th best offensive tackle in the 2018 class. His offer sheet was pretty long and had schools like Ohio State and Michigan pursuing him. As a Maryland native, he decided to stay in state and play for the University of Maryland. Duncan started his college career by not seeing the field in his freshman season. From then on, Duncan appeared in every game, and started in all but one during his sophomore season in 2019. He would follow that season up by starting in every game for the Terrapins in 2020. He was among a small group of six players to have played in every game during this season for the Terps. During his final two seasons in 2021 and 2022, he appeared in 25 games and started in 23 of them. After five seasons with Maryland, Duncan started a total of 39 games and was a three-time honorable mention All-Big Ten player.
With five years under his belt in college, he is a very experienced player that has good physical tools. Possessing a wide frame and long arms certainly helps in pass protection. It doesn’t hurt to have good leverage either. Speaking of good leverage, his overall balance, and quick feet help him get to the next level very well. Regardless of whether he is blocking the run or pass, Duncan has a mean streak in his game which will bode well at the next level.
What he will need to do to fully maximize on his traits is become more consistent in his technique. Sometimes in pass protection, he will lunge at a defender which will impact his normally good balance. The other issue with his balance comes from playing too high, and this can hurt him when it comes to leverage as well. While run blocking, he doesn’t always sustain his blocks which can lead to defenders still being able to get back in the play to make a tackle on the ball carrier.
Coaching Duncan up at the next level will be highly important in order for him to have a career in the NFL. The traits are there, but his game will need some work to unlock his full potential.