The disappointment of 2020 stems mainly from the fact that the Dallas Cowboys starting duo of Tyron Smith and La’el Collins played a grand total of 154 snaps. Collins missed the entire season with a hip injury, while Tyron Smith didn’t last more than a game before having surgery to correct an issue with his neck.
Word is both are working out in preparation for a strong 2021, but fans of America’s Team won’t rest easy until the two are on the field playing at a high level. To make matters worse in 2020, swing tackle Cameron Erving was also bitten by the injury bug for most of the season.
That forced Dallas to play undrafted rookie free agent Terence Steele at right tackle for most of the season, while Brandon Knight kicked back out to tackle after being moved inside to guard for most of training camp.
To say having a pair of former-undrafted players starting at tackle for the majority of the season was a disaster would be an understatement. An optimist might point out that Knight was only flagged once at left tackle for a penalty that wasn’t enforced.
Still, not having Smith and Collins hurt, and when Prescott went down, it made matters worse given his strength in the pocket and mobility.
Which Cowboys Offensive Tackles Are Returning?
The answer to this isn’t just about who is returning, but whether they are returning at full strength. It appears Collins and Smith will be back in their usual roles, but Dallas needs them to look like the dominant book-ends that they are capable of being.
After being thrown into the fire, Steele also returns for his second NFL season. Hopes are that his confidence wasn’t shattered a year ago because he really does have the potential to develop into a serviceable player.
Free-agent addition, Ty Nsekhe has been a quality reserve with Washington and Buffalo, and performed well when he’s needed to step into a starting role. Not only will having him give us some relief in the form of a veteran swing tackle, but it could also benefit a player like Steele, who can learn the approach of being a reserve player.
William Sweet also dressed a few games for Dallas in 2020, and don’t forget about Mitch Hyatt, who is returning from a knee injury. Hyatt had some buzz surrounding him when the Cowboys signed him following the 2019 draft and could battle for a roster spot if fully healthy.
Brandon Knight will also return, although I believe he will factor in more as a guard moving forward in Dallas.
Which Cowboys Offensive Tackles aren’t returning in 2021?
Despite struggling with injuries in 2020, Erving was able to garner a two-year deal with Carolina. Also, after spending most of 2020 in Dallas, Greg Senat will compete for a spot on Cleveland’s roster.
What Do Cowboys Need at Offensive Tackle?
The most significant difference between Erving (or former-swing tackle Cameron Fleming) and Nsekhe is that Nsekhe isn’t quite mobile enough to be an ideal fit on the blindside. In the past, when Smith went down, Erving or Fleming was the next man up at left tackle.
However, if Smith were to go down again at some point in 2021, I believe Dallas would strongly consider moving Collins over to the left side while sliding Nsekhe in at right tackle. Having said that, if Dallas is going to target a tackle with a top-100 pick, it’s likely to be someone with the athleticism to hold up on the left.
Considering Smith’s injury history, it’s already understandable that the Cowboys would be in the market for a young left tackle. The need increases when considering the future of Dallas’ cap situation, as well as the money Dallas could save if they were able to secure a replacement for the future Hall of Famer.
I don’t expect Dallas to be so hellbent on securing a tackle that they trade up to grab one, but should a talented prospect fall in their laps, I believe the Cowboys to pull the trigger.
Cowboys Draft Targets at Offensive Tackle
Oregon’s Penei Sewell is the best offensive lineman in this class and a generational talent, which is why I ranked him second overall on my Big Board. I seriously doubt he falls to No. 10, but if so, Dallas shouldn’t hesitate to turn his card in.
Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater was a collegiate tackle, but much like Zack Martin coming out of Notre Dame, Slater should kick inside to maximize his value in the NFL. Still, if Dallas is comfortable playing him at tackle, he’s another option with our first-round selection.
Texas’ Samuel Cosmi is a polarizing player in scouting circles, as some see him as a first-round talent, while some point to his inconsistency as a reason he could fall to day two. If he’s on the board at 44, Dallas needs to put his name in the conversation of options.
North Dakota State’s Dillon Radunz is one of my favorite players in this draft and was quite possibly the most consistent player in Mobile at this year’s Senior Bowl. He’s got the pedigree to be a left tackle in the NFL and proved he could kick inside to guard at the Senior Bowl practices.
Stanford’s Walker Little appeared to be on his way to a first-round selection heading into his junior year in 2019, while a knee injury cost him a year, and he opted out last fall. If he gets back to his 2018 form, he could be a steal in the third round.
Day-three options could be BYU’s Brady Christensen, Marshall’s Josh Ball, East Carolina’s D’Ante Smith, or Nebraska’s Brenden Jaimes. I’d also keep my eye on Texas A&M’s Carson Green and Iowa’s Alaric Jackson.