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Phillips: Meet The Draft Pick That Might Get The Cowboys Back To The Playoffs

FRISCO, Texas – Been saying this for months. I'll stop now.

The Cowboys' offensive line needed its equilibrium back. They have it now -- and that's great news for their playoff chances.

You won't find game-by-game predictions or a division projection in this space on the final day of April. Just a declaration that this team has positioned itself to regain a proven winning formula.

I like what the front office did on draft weekend. My favorite is the Connor Williams pick in the second round.

Views on the Cowboys 2018 2nd Round Selection Connor Williams - OL Texas.

Think about it: When has this team been really good over the last four seasons? When their offensive line has been road-grading running holes for a top-shelf back, whether it was DeMarco Murray in 2014 or Ezekiel Elliott now. And when their O-Line has adequately protected a viable starting quarterback, whether it was Tony Romo in 2014 or Dak Prescott now.

The offensive line is the strength of this football team. The top item on my offseason checklist was simple: Make sure it stays that way.

Attrition chipped away at the line last year. Ronald Leary left for Denver, and the left guard spot wasn't quite as stable with Jonathan Cooper (now in Arizona) as the new starter. The left tackle spot was mostly a disaster without Tyron Smith for the better part of four games. One game in particular stands out like a bad blister.

"The Atlanta game," Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones bellowed, pausing for a good five seconds for emphasis. "That took a lot of air out of us."

Specifically (and literally), Dak Prescott. He got sacked eight times. Six came from Adrian Clayborn against Smith's backups, Chaz Green and Byron Bell.

Connor Williams probably watched that game. Or at least the highlights. He grew up a Cowboys fan 25 minutes from The Star in nearby Coppell.

He's here so that never happens again.

Prescott didn't have the same efficiency over the final eight games, starting with Atlanta. He got sacked only 25 times his entire rookie season. He took 22 sacks in the final eight games alone last year.

Sure, the 24-year-old starter must improve as a passer. He has said as much on multiple occasions. And the Cowboys must replace, by committee, Dez Bryant's production at receiver. Newly-acquired Tavon Austin's speed and versatility should add new wrinkles to the offense.

But everything does start up front. And Williams is among the most talented linemen in this year's class: big, physical, athletic, technically sound. Had he not missed half his junior season at Texas with a knee injury, he probably would have been a first-round pick.

With his arrival, the Cowboys have given themselves several different O-Line options and contingencies.

Much like All-Pro right guard Zack Martin coming out of school, they view Williams as a guard despite his left tackle experience in college. Let's say he earns the left guard job in camp. That would allow La'el Collins to remain at right tackle after a promising first season outside. Then Cameron Fleming, the veteran who started last year's Super Bowl for New England, would slide in as an experienced swing tackle behind Smith and Collins.

Regardless, the Cowboys have considerably upgraded their depth. Smith has said he's feeling great this offseason with no lingering effects from the back, knee and groin injuries that bothered him last year. If (gulp) he were to miss time next season for any reason, they now have five players who could fill in at tackle in an emergency situation: Collins, Fleming, Martin, Williams and Green.

That's a lot of versatility. And talent. Collins should have been a first-round pick in 2015. Smith, Martin and Pro Bowl center Travis Frederick were first-rounders.

And now there's Connor Williams, pick No. 50, to help ensure this line remains among the league's elite.

If he's an instant contributor and they're dominant, odds are the Dallas Cowboys will win games in 2018. Quite possibly a lot of games.

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