Most believe that the Dallas Cowboys offensive line is the best in the NFL, but is it possibly the best blocking front in franchise history?
When discussing great offensive linemen throughout Dallas Cowboys history, there’s a solid list of names to choose from.
Dating all the way back to the 1960s, we can remember names like Rayfield Wright and Ralph Neeley, the former a franchise tackle and the latter a highly versatile lineman. Both of these players were dominant and both helped the Cowboys earn the status as ‘America’s Team,’ a label that still sticks to this day.
In more recent times, names like Larry Allen and Erik Williams in the 1990s helped take the Cowboys from the ashes of the late 1980s and turn them into the bullies of the NFL. Let’s throw in center Mark Stepnoski for good measure – there’s still other names we could throw in here.
A tough question is this one: Is today’s offensive line in Dallas the best in franchise history?
Even I won’t make that claim just yet, but I will offer some evidence that this could be the case very soon.
Never before have the Dallas Cowboys had more blue-chip talent on the offensive line at the same time. If things go as expected, Dallas could have five players with first-round talent lining up alongside each other in 2017.
Think about that.
The Cowboys spent first-round draft selections on three offensive linemen from 2011 through 2014. Left tackle Tyron Smith, center Travis Frederick and right guard Zach Martin created the foundation of this unit that, as recently as three years ago, had lifted the Cowboys to the top of the NFC East.
Further, the Cowboys would rake in La’el Collins following the 2015 NFL Draft as an undrafted free agent – but there’s a huge footnote there.
Collins was projected to be a first-round draft selection prior to the annual player selection meeting and he likely would have been if not for a homicide investigation which was launched in the wake of his ex-girlfiend’s murder just days prior to the draft. Opting to speak with authorities over the draft weekend, Collins went unselected, despite zero evidence linking him to that event.
The rest is history, at least for the Cowboys, and Collins is expected to take over at right tackle for the now-retired Doug Free this coming season. Grabbing Collins might go down as one of the best priority rookie acquisitions that owner and general manager Jerry Jones ever made.
Now, most Cowboys fans felt pretty good about Smith, Frederick and Martin making up two-thirds of the Dallas offensive line not long ago. The addition of Collins seemed like the cherry on top of an otherwise awesome cake.
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But now we see that, in all likelihood, the Cowboys might enjoy the benefit of yet one more first-round draft pick to its already loaded offensive line.
Jonathan Cooper was the fourth offensive lineman selected in the 2013 NFL Draft, yet he was still the seventh-overall selection. I suppose that if there was anything missing from the Dallas offensive line, maybe it was size.
Cooper fixes that issue.
No, Cooper hasn’t exactly lived up the expectations that generally apply to a seventh-overall pick. At just 27 years old, there’s still plenty of time for Cooper to reach Pro Bowl status alongside his superior colleagues upfront.
Cooper gives Dallas a fifth first-round talent, which, on paper, looks better than any offensive line the Cowboys have ever had.
I’m not saying that any of the current offensive linemen are equal to, or better than, a guy like Allen, who literally struck fear into opposing defensive lineman for his entire career. The NFL may never see a player with Allen’s strength and athleticism ever again.
The Cowboys probably don’t have the kind of nasty bully that Williams was at right tackle, especially before that season-ending injury in 1994 that reduced his skill set some as the Dallas dynasty of the 90s faded during the second half of that decade.
Again, man-for-man this is one talented group that’s already shown it can lead the Cowboys to double-digit regular-season wins with anything resembling competency at quarterback. It proved that fact even without the services of Collins or Cooper in 2014.
Yes, the Dallas Cowboys defensive front should be more of a difference-maker this season than it was last year. But whatever the Cowboys accomplish in 2017, it’s a safe bet that this young, talented offensive line will play a major role in the outcome.