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The interior of the offensive line is one of the least talked about parts of an NFL roster, but the importance of solid play throughout the guard and center position cannot be overstated.
The Dallas Cowboys have been fortunate, having one of the best guards in NFL history over the last seven seasons in Zack Martin. However Martin faced the most serious injury of his career in 2020, and beyond Martin there are no sure things at the guard position in Dallas going forward. With that being said, should the Cowboys be considering adding a guard in the upcoming NFL draft?
Guards on the roster
AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth
Any discussions of the best guards in football has to begin with Martin somewhere near the top if not at the summit. The four-time All-Pro has been one of the most consistent lineman in the sport and should continue to preform at an elite level. Nevertheless, 2020 marked the first time when Martin had significant injury issues, as he played a career low 10 games after a calf strain ended his season early.
Martin is under contract through 2025 and will turn 31-years old during the upcoming season, but after a full offseason of recovery the former Notre Dame product should bounce back as one of the best guards in football.
While Martin should have the right side locked down, Connor Williams is may not be as secure on the left side.
The Cowboys had high expectations for Williams after drafting him out of Texas in the second round of the 2018 draft, but the former Longhorn has not quite lived up to said expectations.
Williams has improved each year, and he started all 16 games at left guard a season ago for Dallas, but the 23-year old is entering his last season under contract with the Cowboys. Overall, Williams is solid enough that the club doesn’t need to draft a immediate replacement, but with Williams’ impending free agency after next season the role will potentially be wide open.
Connor McGovern, a third-rounder from 2019, is also on the roster, but like Williams he hasn’t lived up to his Day Two draft capital yet. Injuries all along the line forced McGovern into his first snaps last year, and he would go on to start eight games, with the majority of those coming at right guard for the injured Martin.
If he cannot wrestle the starting job away in training camp, McGovern figures to be the top backup for both Martin and Williams.
After those three names, the Cowboys have just two other guards on the squad, Eric Smith and Adam Redmond. Both Smith and Redmond are on Reserve/Future contracts, and both deals expire after the 2021 season. Redmond has been with the Cowboys for four seasons now and could also backup the center spot, while Smith was signed to the practice squad in September of 2020.
All that leads to the following point, the Cowboys guards have little room for error or injury in 2021, as the club lacks depth with real experience. One impairment to either Martin or Williams, and Dallas will likely wish they had used some form of investment on the position. Plus, the majority of the guards on the roster (Williams, Redmond, and Smith) will see their contracts expire in just one year.
Potential draft targets
Notre Dame Fighting Irish offensive lineman Aaron Banks (69). Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
Dallas’ defensive needs are well-known by football fans, and the club will likely use their most valuable draft capital on that side of the ball. However, there are a number of guards projected to go in the mid rounds of the draft that could serve as the top Cowboys backup in 2021, and move into a full-time role the following season, should Williams seek work elsewhere.
The following list of prospects comes from Dane Brugler’s draft guide, “The Beast,” and features five mid-round guards that are worth familiarizing yourself with incase the Cowboys also feel like they can upgrade their guard depth without sacrificing their top pick.
Wyatt Davis, Ohio State, projected round: 2-3
“Davis must play under control and improve his snap-to-snap consistency, but his forceful hands, powerful anchor and finishing skills are NFL-ready. He projects as a guard who will compete for immediate snaps.”
Deonte Brown, Alabama, projected round: 2-3
“Brown moves heavy and lacks great recovery quickness, but he boasts an instant anchor and the upper-body explosion to displace defenders. He won’t be a fit for every scheme, but he flashes Gabe Jackson-like potential if he trusts his technique and vision vs. NFL speed.”
Aaron Banks, Notre Dame, projected round: 3
“Banks needs to mature his hand placement and body posture to
match up with NFL defenders, but he has the massive size and brawling strength to be a square-dominating blocker and potential starter.”
Jackson Carman, Clemson, projected round: 3
“Carman isn’t ready for savvy NFL pass rushers and he is a much better run blocker than pass protector right now, but the physical ingredients are there for him to grow into an NFL starter (similar to Ereck Flowers). He projects best at guard in a power/gap scheme.”
Trey Smith, Tennessee, projected round: 3
“Smith has the size and talent to start in the NFL, but the sloppy
tendencies and streaky aggressiveness are red flags and there are potential lung-related health concerns. He projects as a high risk/reward potential starter in a power-based scheme.”
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