Having depth along the offensive line is one the most important, yet underrated, aspects of building a championship contender each year. Fortunately for the Cowboys, Zack Martin, since entering the league as the 16th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, has been one of the best guards in the entire league.
However, left guard has been a weakness for this franchise. Connor McGovern has been okay at left guard, but he’s more of a depth player than starter at this moment. At center, Tyler Biadasz is no Travis Frederick, but he is a solid player who has improved over time.
Solid play from guys like McGovern and Biadasz will get the job done, but it doesn’t make for an elite offensive line as a whole. Biadasz will be back for the 2023 season, but McGovern is a free agent and could be on his way out the door. With or without McGovern back in the mix, the interior of the offensive line lacks depth and it will need to be addressed in the upcoming draft.
Here are three players that wouldn’t require high draft capital in order to get a quality player that at a minimum will be good for the depth purposes of the interior of the offensive line.
Joe Tippmann, Wisconsin
Another Wisconsin center that the team could draft and at worst, a quality depth addition with future starting potential. Just like his fellow Badgers Travis Frederick and Biadasz, Joe Tippmann had a very good career at the University of Wisconsin. Prior to committing to Wisconsin, he was a highly touted four-star prospect out of the state of Indiana. In his home state, he was the sixth ranked player in the 2019 class that held quality offers from the likes of Iowa and Purdue. When he arrived on campus for his freshman season, he didn’t see any game action and ended up redshirting. Due to Covid, the 2020 season for the Badgers was cut down to just seven games. Of those seven games, Tippmann appeared in only two of them.
The turning point in his career would come during the 2021 season when he played in 11 games and started 10 of them for the second-best rushing offense in the Big Ten. Tippmann would follow up a solid 2021 season with a great 2022 season as he started the entire regular season with only allowing just a single sack. This type of quality play was recognized as he was selected as an Honorable Mention All-Big Ten performer.
Tippmann possesses high end size for the center position and is just a mauler on the field. As a run blocker, he is known for finishing blocks and putting defenders on their rear ends. Having this type of physicality plays right into his overall strength as a player. The kind of strength he has makes it very difficult for defenders to slide off of and that is a testament to his powerful hands and grip strength. Along with his strength, he is a great athlete as he has run a sub-five second forty in the past. For a player built like he is, running sub-five forty is quite impressive. This impressive athleticism can be seen while he is in space, especially while pulling on sweeps. In pass protection, due to his strength he has a good anchor and absorbs bull rushes quite well. Aside from his strength, his footwork is solid and he holds his own very well in this area.
Due to his height, he is on the taller side for the position and because of this he can lose out on leverage at times. Although he is a mauler, sometimes he lacks discipline which will result in penalties from time to time. His footwork is solid, but his technique isn’t consistent all the time which will get him off balance. This also plays a factor in drawing unnecessary penalties.
The pros certainly outweigh the cons for Tippmann, as he should be starting on an NFL roster in his upcoming rookie campaign. With some technical work, he certainly has a shot to be one of the better centers in the league. Until then, he still will be a quality player right out the gate as he learns to tweak some minor deficiencies in his game.
Emil Ekiyor Jr., Alabama
As a high school player, Emil Ekiyor Jr. was the number one prospect from the 2018 recruiting class out of the state of Indiana. Nationally, he was ranked the 113th best player in the class. Being that he was a highly touted four-star player, the offer list he had was a good sized one as schools like Ole Miss, and Georgia had offered him a scholarship. In the end, Alabama would be the choice and he would get on the field in a limited capacity as a true freshman. The next season, Ekiyor would see the field in eight games and would do most of his work at left guard. The next three seasons with the Crimson Tide, Ekiyor would be a fixture along the offensive line at right guard as he would total 40 starts during this stretch. To maintain a strong grasp on a starting job with Alabama as long as he did is a testament to his ability because of the amount of elite talent that arrives in Tuscaloosa every year.
On the field, Ekiyor possesses a good first step that combined with his size produces a lot of power. Having the power that he does favors him well in the run game because combining that power with his physicality leads to defenders lying on the ground at the end of each play. Whether it is in the run game or pass game, Ekiyor has good hand placement that allows him to have firm control over his opponent. Splicing in his good hand placement with his temperament as an aggressive player makes him a quality run and pass blocker. At 6-3, he is on the shorter side for the position but recently at the Senior Bowl, he wanted to try his hand at center. By getting reps at center, he is showing that he is willing to make a move to a different position if needed and is most importantly showing NFL front offices that he has some versatility to his game. A smart move on his part as he prepares for draft season.
Even though Ekiyor has raw power, his technique needs refinement. He tends to drop his head from time to time which is something that he will need to coached out of. His kick slide isn’t always on point which will lead to being pushed around by defenders on occasion. Having good aggression on the football field is a plus, but being a little over the top in this department at times leads to being too eager to make contact with a defender which will make it easier for his opponent to make a move to bypass him. When a defender bypasses, this puts them back in the play, whether its on the quarterback or ball carrier. This area of his game needs the most work at this moment.
As an experienced player at an elite program, this shows the natural talent that Ekiyor has in his tool bag. If he can clean up some his deficiencies to let his ability shine, then he has a chance to have a nice career at the professional level.
Brandon Kipper, Oregon State
The third and final potential prospect along the interior of the offensive line for the Cowboys to consider is Brandon Kipper. Kipper, unlike Tippmann and Ekiyor, was not a highly-touted prospect as he was only listed as a two-star player in the class of 2017. In high school, he was a two-way player that was ranked as the 157 best outside linebacker in his class. Additionally, he was also an accomplished wrestler that achieved All-America honors from USA Wrestling Magazine. As a multi-talented athlete, he surprisingly didn’t receive many offers. In fact, coming out of high school the University of Hawaii was the only offer he had on the table and that is where he went to school.
During his true freshman year, he would appear in 11 games as a reserve player and on special teams. After just one year in Hawaii, Kipper transferred to Oregon State University for the 2018 season. He would appear in three games, and because of the new NCAA rules, it counted as a redshirt season. For the next four seasons, Kipper would be a constant along the offensive line as he would start 45 straight games which is tied for sixth all time at Oregon State. Over his five seasons with the Beavers, Kipper played both tackle positions and then slid inside to guard during his final season on campus. The guard position has seemed to put him in the best position to succeed and for a potential shot in the NFL.
Knowing Kipper’s story of starting 45 straight games means that he is a seasoned player with plenty of reps under his belt. In addition to all the reps, he possesses a great frame with plenty of athleticism. It doesn’t hurt that he is a very coachable player which will go a long way in helping him potentially make it to the next level. When he draws a pulling assignment, he is a quality lead blocker in the run game. Due to his size, he plays with plenty of strength and power to take care of his blocking assignment. His size also helps him to be a good anchor, especially on a bull rush. When Kipper is in pass blocking, his athleticism helps him recover when he gets beat initially on a pass rush.
Although he has enough ability to recover in pass protection, he sometimes will be a little off kilter when attempting to block a defender. When you see his listed height and weight, you think offensive tackle. However, he isn’t a good enough athlete to be a good tackle in the NFL, and due to his size he often plays too high which effects leverage. Another factor to consider is his age, as he will be turning 25 just after the 2023 regular season starts.
Kipper has the size, athletic profile, and skill set of a guard. If he can improve at not playing at such a high pad level at times, then he has a decent shot of making an NFL roster. Thankfully Kipper is a very coachable player because he will need to be coached up and will need to work on his technique. He has the tools to have a gig in the league, but he just needs the right guidance to take him that level.