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Mailbag: Needing Versatility On The O-Line?


Various 2021 draft player ranking services claim that some offensive tackle draft candidates (such as Rashawn Slater) are a better fit for the Cowboys than others (such as Penei Sewell) because they are versatile enough to play guard as well. It has been my understanding that tackles can always play guard at a high level but only very special guards can play tackle (Zack Martin, Larry Allen, etc.). What criteria is used to say a potential offensive tackle draft pick is "versatile?" — BRIAN STUCKA / SANTA CLARITA, CA

David: In my experience, "he can switch to guard" is a nice way of saying that a guy lacks the elite length or athleticism to handle edge rushers at the NFL level. But, as smart as draft analysts are, these can be over simplifications. Offensive line is just like any other position group in the sense that intelligence and positioning can overcome a lack of athleticism. In the case of Zack Martin, I think he has absolutely elite intelligence and an understanding of the angles of offensive line play, as well as better athleticism than he gets credit for. I hesitate to compare Rashawn Slater to a potential Hall of Famer, but I absolutely think he has a similar range of abilities.

Jonny: I think the switch from tackle to guard is more common than the switch from guard to tackle, but I certainly don't think all tackles can play guard. Defensive tackles and edge rushers are not the same thing. One might try to go around you, but the other one will always try to go through you. Run blocking can be a different animal from the interior as well. You might not have to drive your defender all that far back, but you need to get them back immediately for the play to have any chance. Slater's short-area quickness is next level, and he has great technique. He'll hit first, and he has the strength to push back someone the size of Antwaun Woods.

We often see many prospects labeled as having a "higher ceiling" than a counterpart at the same position. I am always confused by this statement. How in the world does anyone know who has a "higher ceiling" when they have yet to take a snap in the NFL? — BRET SKELLENGER / FONTANELLE, IA

David: At the end of the day, all of this is projection. Actual front offices are wrong just as often as fans and media are – which is what makes the draft so much fun. Typically when we say someone has a higher ceiling, it just means that he is freakishly athletic but still learning the nuances of his position. So, would you rather take a chance on a super athletic, but less developed player? Or would you rather take the "safer" bet, which is a less athletic but much more experienced prospect? Both decisions can come with some risk. If you draft a raw player and he develops into an All-Pro, you'll look like a genius. But it can also set your roster back if he never develops the way you think he will.

Jonny: Well, a lot of those people are just trying to sound smart, I'll give you that. But it's not a meaningless statement. It can be referring to different things, but a good example is the old saying that you can't teach fast. Or you can't teach big. There are certain athletes whose physical attributes have always been a step ahead of their control of the game. They had decent instincts in high school, but they were bigger and faster than their competition. They knew what they were doing in college and kept learning, but they were still relying mostly on their physical gifts. That trend will probably remain the first year or two of their pro career, which means they won't win Rookie of the Year over some of the total packages in their draft class. But Year 5? Maybe they finally have all the experience they need and they added it to all the things their body was capable of. That's a very high ceiling. Look at Josh Allen in Buffalo.


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