Dallas Cowboys: Case for drafting an offensive lineman in the first round

The Dallas Cowboys will head into the 2021 NFL Draft with a plethora of needs most of which are on the defensive side of the ball. The team would be well served if it could nab either Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II or Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley. However, the organization also has a burgeoning need to rebuild its offensive line.

The Cowboys finished 2020 with a third-place finish in the dreadful NFC East with a 6-10 record. The team extended its Super Bowl drought to 25 years and missed out on the playoffs for the second consecutive year. Suffice it to say, it was another disappointing season in Dallas.

The organization has only managed to make the playoffs three times over the past decade. Those years all have at least two significant things in common. First, each of those years (2014, 2016, and 2018) saw Dallas boasting the league’s leading rusher. Second, the team had at least two of its offensive lineman get selected to the Pro Bowl.

These facts highlight the importance of having a good offensive line that can create running lanes and protect the quarterback. In 2020 the Dallas Cowboys finished the year with the league’s 11th leading rusher and did not have a single lineman selected to the Pro Bowl.

The Cowboys offensive line, like much of the team in 2020, was plagued with injuries and poor play through most of the season. The unit gave up a total of 43 during the year, which was nearly twice as much as it gave up in 2019 when they gave up the second-fewest number of sacks at 23.

Certainly, a lot of blame can be placed on the fact that the unit saw several significant injuries to players like starting right tackle La’el Collins (who missed the entire year), starting left tackle Tyron Smith (who only played two games in 2020), and starting guard Zack Martin (who missed six games). However, this is not the first major injury for either of the teams’ starting tackles and Smith recently turned 30.

This critical unit, once of the backbone of America’s Team, cracked in 2020 and might again in 2021 if Dallas does not address this growing vulnerability. Things have gotten so bad that there is even legitimate discussion that the team might cut its seven-time Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith.

Given the importance of having a good offensive line shouldn’t the team at least consider taking an offensive lineman with the tenth overall pick? The organization is unlikely to have a shot at the top lineman in the draft, Oregon’s Penei Sewell, but it could reasonably have a chance to pick either Northwestern offensive lineman Rashawn Slater or Virginia Tech offensive lineman Christian Darrisaw.

Both of those players would serve to bolster the teams’ offensive line and give Dallas more flexibility to potentially cut the aging Smith. Although the team arguably has greater needs at other positions like cornerback and safety it could use its later-round draft picks to address these needs. The organization also saw two young players in their secondary, cornerback Trevon Diggs and safety Donovan Wilson, have breakout seasons which somewhat decreases the urgency to select a player at one of these positions in the first round.

The past decade should have demonstrated the importance of having a dominant offensive line to fans of America’s Team. With the unit on the verge of a potential collapse, the Dallas Cowboys should at least consider selecting an offensive lineman with its first-round pick. Otherwise, the organization might see its playoff and Super Bowl drought extending into 2021 and beyond.