Recently, the Cowboys and Eagles have set the pace in the NFC East with quality offensive line play. This offseason, the Giants and Redskins aimed to close that gap. The 2015 season may very well mark the return of old-school offensive football in the NFC East.
The transformation of the Cowboys organization in recent years has been nothing short of shocking.
Head Coach Jason Garrett admitted they’ve reached back to the past to uncover their newfound philosophy, which has spurred a renaissance of the offensive line in Dallas. We’re talking a Michelangelo/Da Vinci-quality renaissance.
In 2014, Dallas had the best offensive line in football. It’s added more talent over the offseason, and is set to be even better in 2015. This is an extremely dominant and versatile unit with youth and depth on its side; a unit which is fully hedged against injury.
The Cowboys selected an offensive lineman with their first-round pick three times from 2011-2014. Each one has turned out to be a complete stud, which is a testament to the Cowboys scouting department. Things only got better this offseason when Dallas drafted offensive tackle Chaz Green in round three and then stole a Top 20, first-round talent (OT La’El Collins) in free agency after the draft, due to some erroneous legal happenings that affected Collins’ draft status.
Basically, Dallas has added four highly regarded first-round talents to this unit in the last five years. It’s made the offensive line the bedrock of the franchise, and built it exclusively (and inexpensively) through the draft. The team also re-signed veteran right tackle Doug Free to a new three year $15M deal in the offseason. The Cowboys are drafting, developing, and keeping their own, which is a hallmark of the winning franchises around the league.
Projected Starting Lineup
Tyron Smith, LT 6’5″ 320 pounds- Top 5 LT in the league who excels in run and pass-blocking, only 24 years old and signed through 2023, cornerstone of the team
La’El Collins, LG 6’5″ 315 pounds- Potential steal of the 2015 NFL Draft, was NFL Draft Expert Mike Loyko’s #2 ranked OT, Loyko says “La’El Collins has all the makings of a plug-and-play NFL Offensive Lineman. Whether his future is at Left Tackle, Left Guard, or Right Tackle is yet to be determined, but there is no doubt he can play. He’s a powerful drive-blocker who can overwhelm and devastate in the run game. In pass-protection he does a great job of keeping the edge rusher in front of him. Collins can play Left Tackle in the NFL, but it’s also possible that if an NFL team moves him to Guard they have an All-Pro player,” Collins filled in for Doug free at RT during OTAs and like teammate Zack Martin, is an alumnus of this season’s RosterWatch All-Senior Bowl Roster
Travis Frederick, C 6’3″ 315 pounds- First-round pick in 2013 who has been leaps and bounds better than most projected coming out of college, only 24, has been one of the best players on the team since being drafted, a top 5-10 NFL center after just two years
Zack Martin, RG 6’4″ 310 pounds- First-round pick in 2014, also only 24, had an exceptional rookie season where he excelled in run and pass blocking, an intelligent player with positional versatility, can play tackle if necessary and would likely be effective as he was a dominant tackle at Notre Dame and during Senior Bowl week
Doug Free, RT 6’6″ 325 pounds- Fourth-round pick in 2007, has been with Cowboys ever since, 31 years old, the veteran presence on this unit and leader in the locker room, signed a new, three-year deal in the offseason, positive run and pass grades as a Top 20 RT in 2013 and 2014
Let’s not forget that TE Jason Witten is also a formidable blocker and might be the only player in the league who plays 100 percent of snaps every game he suits up for. He’s in his 12th season grading as PFFs #2 overall tight end in 2014 – largely due to his blocking capabilities. This is an A+++ unit, which is undeniably the best in the conference and very arguably the best in the league at an average of only 25 years old.
With the addition of stud rookie La’El Collins, 2012 UDFA Ronald Leary will likely slide back to the bench after starting 31 games at OG the last two seasons. The Cowboys have done a terrific job developing Leary. He fits their mold at 6’3″ 320 pounds and he’s only 26. After grading as a Top 20 OG in 2014, it will be hard to send Leary to the sideline. He’ll be tremendous insurance and provide a helluva a competition in training camp, ensuring that the best five men start.
As for fantasy impact, we love this line for RB Joseph Randle. He was a slasher that made big plays downhill through clear running lanes at Oklahoma State. He’ll get the same from this Cowboys offensive line.
Obviously, the state of the line is great news for Tony Romo and the passing game, as well – including all of his receivers. The quality of protection sets up for a big year down the field for Terrance Williams and Dez Bryant. It also alleviates some concern about Romo’s durability. If he’s ever going to stay healthy, it will be behind this offensive line. Of course, we’d still recommend him as a low-end QB1 in upcoming fantasy drafts – albeit one with plenty of upside in a season where he may see more attempts without NFL rushing champ DeMarco Murray lined up behind him. Jason Witten strikes us as a middle-of-the-road TE1 option, with upside for an Antonio Gates-style resurgence at anytime.
*Additional scouting notes on incoming rookies-
Chaz Green, OT 6’5″ 314 pounds- Underwent hip surgery and won’t be ready for training camp, NFL Draft Expert Mike Loyko’s #17 ranked rookie OT prospect in 2015, Loyko says ￼”Green has overcome a lot of injury adversity during his career to put himself in position to be drafted. A highly rated recruit that burst onto the scene as a Freshman to unseat incumbent LT Xavier Nixon and be named Freshman All-American. On the field, Green is an athletic, versatile, and intelligent blocker. He has starting experience at both Right and Left Tackle with a skill-set that looks like it’ll translate to either Guard spot as well. If healthy, Green looks like a depth swing tackle with starter upside”
Laurence Gibson, OT 6’6″ 305 pounds- Will be hard to make final 53 man roster, but is an intriguing prospect, inconsistent in college but has the tools that are appealing, Cowboys likely hope to stash him on the practice squad