Dec 31, 2013; El Paso, TX, USA; UCLA Bruins guard Xavier Su’a-Filo.
Three names are often associated with having the most influence building the foundational success of the NFL franchise known as the Dallas Cowboys. One of those names is legendary coach, and this site’s namesake, the great Tom Landry. The second is the Cowboys longtime president and general manager Tex Schramm. The third, Gil Brandt, was the vice president of player personnel for the Cowboys for 28 years. In his new position as NFL Media senior analyst, Brandt often chimes in with his formidable 40-plus years of football expertise via NFL.com. And it is this man who could have very well just highlighted the Cowboys next great draft pick.
In an article on Wednesday, Brandt predicted UCLA Guard Xavier Su’a-Filo will become the NFL Combine’s breakout star. The event is being held this weekend and early next week at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana. Over 300 of college football top athletes will all be competing for rankings and ultimate selection in the NFL Draft happening in May. Out of that number, there are always a few that raise to the top.
Here’s what Brandt had to say about the California prospect by way of Utah:
"“Su’a-Filo has an interesting backstory, having served a two-year Mormon mission that split up his college career. He started 13 games at left tackle for the Bruins as a freshman in 2009 (becoming the first UCLA player ever to start from Day 1), was gone for the next two years on the mission in Florida and Alabama, then returned to become UCLA’s full-time starter at left guard. He gave up his final year of college eligibility to enter the draft…Right now, most teams have assigned him a second-day grade, but he’ll move up. And the team that drafts him will have a Day 1 starter at guard.”"
Here’s what Su’a-Filo told Chase Goodbread of College 24/7 about receiving such high praise from a football legend:
"“It’s flattering. I really appreciate it. I just really found out when he talked to me (Thursday). It just gives me more motivation to do what I planned on doing here at the combine. People getting to know me, performing well, putting up good numbers and showing teams who I am and what I can bring to the table.”"
Brandt has been right about these things before. Last year, he predicted Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel and Tennessee wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson would excel at the combine. Both players had second round grades coming into the event. Manuel was selected by the Buffalo Bills with the 16th overall pick. The Minnesota Vikings made Patterson the 29th overall pick in the first round. He rewarded them by making the Pro Bowl in his rookie season.
The measurables on Su’a-Filo are what you’d expect from a highly-ranked draft prospect at guard. He’s 6’3, 305 lbs. CBSSports NFL Draft Analyst Rob Rang ranks Su’a-Filo as the 32nd best overall player available in this year’s draft. Here’s his analysis of the UCLA lineman:
"“Despite playing out of position at left tackle due to injuries to teammates, Su’a-Filo was voted the top offensive lineman in the Pac-12 by those who’d know — the conference’s defensive linemen. Quick, powerful and balanced, he’s equally effective driving defenders off the ball in the running game or settling in pass protection.”"
Rang also thinks Su’a-Filo’s one weakness is his tendency to lose leverage on contact.
A member of the 2013 All-Pac 12 First Team, Su’a-Filo is a high character guy and a former team captain, which falls directly in-line with what Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett looks for in his players. On top of that, he fills a major need for Dallas.
Currently starting at guard next season, the Cowboys have veterans Mackenzie Bernardeau and Ronald Leary atop the depth chart. “Bernie” struggled in a starting role last year filling in for injured All-Pro guard Brian Waters. Leary play fairly well as a starter but has a degenerative knee condition that is expected to limit his career. With the 37-year old Waters unlikely to return, Dallas desperately needs to inject some talent and youth within the interior of their line. And with Cowboys starting quarterback Tony Romo coming off his second back surgery in a year, his protection should be paramount.
The Cowboys drafted center Travis Frederick in the first round last season. And that was an unqualified success. Could they look once again to their offensive line with their top pick? Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones stated earlier this week that Dallas will not draft for need, but talent and for those who fit within their system. He all but ruled out taking a defensive tackle in the first round. (possible smokescreen alert) Which leaves the door potentially open for a safety, defensive end or a guard to be taken number one.
If Dallas was to pursue Su’a-Filo, I believed they would be best served to trade down in the first round before selecting him. As drafting him #16 overall seems a bit high. At least, it does right now. If Brandt’s prediction comes true, it could be exactly the right spot.