(Editor's Note: As the NFL Draft approaches on May 8-10, DallasCowboys.com's Draft Series will analyze every position, including the Cowboys' needs at each and which players might be targeted with their 11 picks, while also providing some interesting draft nuggets. Part 3 features the offensive tackles.)
It wouldn't be quite fair to call Tyron Smith a disappointment entering the 2013 season, but he certainly hadn't met the standards expected of a No. 9 overall pick. After spending a summer getting beaten up by DeMarcus Ware, he didn't look likely to deliver on those expectations in his third year.
Of course, everyone knows how that went. Smith dominated last season – particularly in a second half that saw him completely erase the likes of Julius Peppers and Justin Tuck. He earned his first Pro Bowl selection and is now widely considered one of the Cowboys' best two or three players. The team recently said it intends to pick up the fifth year on his rookie contract, and it looks incredibly likely Smith will receive a big-time contract extension in the near future.
Cowboys fans are bound to feel better about the right tackle position after 2013, as well. After struggling in 2012, Doug Free was a candidate to be cut from the team and wound up taking a pay cut. Despite that, he bounced back in a strong 2013 season and served as a veteran presence on a young offensive line.
What They Need: Both Tyron Smith and Doug Free exceeded expectations in 2013, the former so much so that he was named to the Pro Bowl. Free was coming off a down year and improved drastically to the point that the Cowboys shouldn't be concerned about either starting spot going into the upcoming season.
Free is getting older though as he gets into his 30s, and the Cowboys could consider bringing in some younger tackles to add depth and eventually compete for a starting spot to go along with Darrion Weems and Jermey Parnell, who didn't take the step forward many had hoped for during last year's training camp.
Former Panthers tackle Bruce Campbell is probably the best tackle remaining in free agency, although the 25-year-old may cost more than the Cowboys want to dole out.
Tackles have been a hot commodity in this year's free agency, so the talent pool has been severely trimmed. Dennis Roland, Eric Winston and J'Marcus Webb are among the tackles still available. [embedded_ad]
Two of the bigger names at tackle will likely be off the board after the first seven or eight picks. However, nothing is a guarantee when it comes to the draft. So Auburn's Greg Robinson and Texas A&M's Jake Matthews aren't exactly a given to be gone, but it's likely.
After that, Michigan's Taylor Lewan and Notre Dame standout Zack Martin are in the next batch of tackles, although Martin has experience at guard. The big names at receiver will probably be gone when the Cowboys select at No. 16. Clemson's Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans of Texas A&M are a pair of big-bodied pass-catchers who can be dynamic as well.
A few players who could be solid prospects for the Cowboys in the early-to-mid rounds include Ohio State tackle Jack Mewhort, Virginia's Morgan Moses and Billy Turner from North Dakota State.
For a more in-depth look at draft prospects at all positions, check out the Dallas Cowboys STAR Magazine 2014 Draft Preview, listing and profiling over 300 players available for the 2014 Draft. Digital subscriptions are available.