Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: schemes and themes.
Although Jerry Jones has been reluctant to use early draft picks on offensive linemen over the past six drafts, the Cowboys have a huge hole at right tackle. The interior of this line also could use an influx of young talent. Dallas loves big, mauling, heavy offensive linemen for its scheme. There isn’t a pure prototypical right tackle, per se, who matches up with Dallas’ formula for offensive linemen given where it selects in Round 1, but I contend that USC’s Tyron Smith might be too good to pass up.
Smith doesn’t fit the typical Dallas mold for linemen, but he has put on a lot of weight during the draft process and his upside is off the charts. The Cowboys obviously have a plethora of talent in the passing game, so adding a high-end athlete -- even for the right side -- would be hard to argue with. But if Dallas passes on the offensive line in the first frame, TCU’s Marcus Cannon, Miami’s Orlando Franklin, Florida’s Marcus Gilbert or Baylor’s Danny Watkins all could fit the mold as potential starting right tackles.
Like Dallas, the Giants have not been using their high draft picks on offensive linemen. Their team is traditionally built in the trenches, and it might be time to go back to that way of thinking on the offensive side of the ball. After a rash of injuries last season and a lot of shuffling, New York’s line now has a lot of options and a lot of pieces that can be fit in different spots among the five starting positions. But left tackle isn’t like any other position up front in that typical left tackles have long, athletic builds and are very light on their feet. These types of players usually do not transition well to right tackle or the inside from a power perspective. But a left tackle is the one puzzle piece that is now missing with the Giants’ line and could be their first-round pick.
Although they need to get stronger, Boston College’s Anthony Castonzo, Mississippi State’s Derek Sherrod and Colorado’s Nate Solder leap out at me as players who should fit this mold on the left side. Wisconsin’s Gabe Carimi is more “right tackleish” than Castonzo or Solder. He plays stronger and is more NFL-ready, but his tough-guy mentality would fit right in. Also, although he is not a left tackle prospect, Florida’s Mike Pouncey is New York’s type of lineman. He could be difficult to pass on. It seems like a safe bet that New York will have several options to address this need when it gets on the clock.
Like the Giants and Cowboys, the Eagles like rugged offensive linemen. It is a rugged division. But their situation is a little different in that their most pressing need up front is at right tackle, which is quarterback Michael Vick’s blind side. Overall, I think that aspect of left-handed quarterbacks is slightly overblown because the right tackle generally faces lesser pass-rushers than the left tackle. But there is no question that the Eagles are a predominantly passing team. So in this case, finding a right tackle with exceptional pass-blocking skills is a must.
The interior of Philadelphia’s line could use some attention as well, but few superior edge pass protectors are also suited for duty at guard or center. The Eagles might have to add two players to truly fortify their offensive line. The Eagles also have not used many early draft picks lately to select offensive line help. But they did use picks to trade for Jason Peters.
Last year the Redskins made the transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme. For an odd front to be run properly, an impactful nose tackle is simply a must. After putting far too much faith in the battered Maake Kemoeatu, Washington simply did not have that type of nose tackle. Needless to say, the position is now a problem area, and it could be argued that nose tackle is the very top need on this still-transitioning defense.
But where the Redskins pick in the draft, there isn’t a good fit in terms of value for nose tackles. They could perhaps trade down and select Baylor’s Phil Taylor, who has excellent movement skills for such a massive nose tackle body type. Or maybe the Redskins move up a few spots from where they sit in Round 2 to nab Washington’s Stephen Paea, who is more of a penetrator inside but is very strong. Ole Miss’ Jerrell Powe could be an option a bit later in the draft. But overall, this draft doesn’t match up well with the Redskins’ need at nose tackle. Going the free-agent route might make more sense as a short-term fix.