Frisco, Texas – At first glance, thinking that the offensive line could be a priority for the Dallas Cowboys in the 2018 NFL Draft seemed a bit misguided.
After all, the unit already features three perennial Pro Bowl players in left tackle Tyron Smith, right guard Zack Martin and center Travis Frederick. And then there is right tackle La'el Collins, who many believe will eventually earn a trip to the annual all-star event as well.
But after taking home the Built Ford Tough Offensive Line of the Year Award in 2016 on the heels of a 13-3 season and Ezekiel Elliott's rushing title, the group stumbled somewhat last year. With Smith sidelined due to injury in Week 9 at Atlanta, the Falcons feasted on quarterback Dak Prescott, totaling eight sacks, including six by Adrian Clayborn alone, in an ugly 27-7 Cowboys loss.
From there, Dallas seemingly could never quite recover. Through the first eight games of the season, Prescott was sacked 10 times while throwing 16 touchdown passes with only four interceptions. Over the last eight outings, he was taken down a whopping 22 times with just six touchdown throws and nine picks.
Then came the loss of the fifth man up front, left guard Jonathan Cooper. He took over starting duties in the Cowboys' fourth game of the 2017 schedule and was serviceable, if nothing else. But when he left for San Francisco in free agency, improving the position became an even greater worry.
Once tackle Cameron Fleming was signed by Dallas, speculation arose as to whether Collins would be moved back inside to left guard, where he played during his first two seasons in the league. Marcus Martin, a veteran guard with 24 career starts under his belt, was also brought on board to compete for the job.
Throw in concerns about Jason Witten's status and the recent release of Dez Bryant swirling in the media, and the prevailing theory became that the Cowboys would not be looking at an offensive lineman when they went on the clock in the second round. There were just too many more pressing needs.
So much for that. Instead, the Dallas brass stuck to its board and hauled in what could be the steal of the draft.
While several quality receivers were in the mix at pick number 50, the Cowboys couldn't escape the fact that Connor Williams, an offensive tackle out of the University of Texas, was also still there for the taking. This was a player who many predicted would be selected in the first round with our own Bryan Broaddus listing him as the 27th best prospect overall in the draft.
Fortunately, the Cowboys didn't get cute, didn't reach, didn't let recent events sway their judgment. They simply took the best player available.
Williams is known for his outstanding technique and for his work ethic, and he brings a welcomed mean streak, which is always a plus when working in the trenches. A starter at left tackle for the Longhorns as a freshman, he went on to earn First Team All-America honors in his sophomore year and seemed destined to be one of the top picks in the draft heading into his junior season. But a knee injury limited him to only five games in 2017 and concerns about his size, and in particular his arm length, had some questioning whether he could truly play tackle at the NFL level.
But the pros definitely outweighed the cons in the Cowboys' decision with head coach Jason Garrett saying, "We believe he plays the right way. He jumps off the tape at you."
This is literally a dream come true for Williams, as he grew up in the Dallas suburb of Coppell and admits, "I wanted to be a Dallas Cowboy." And he was emotional when he got the phone call from owner Jerry Jones telling him that he would be playing his professional football in front of the hometown fans.
Williams will indeed do so in a new position, though. Dallas made it immediately known that the collegiate tackle would be moving inside to take over the starting left guard spot. The tools, however, are there and he seems ready for the challenge, stating, "Wherever coach wants me to play, I'm playing it."
By adding Williams, the answers to the Cowboys' offensive line issues are now much clearer. With the rookie manning left guard, Collins is definitely secure at right tackle and Fleming will head into training camp as the expected swing tackle.
Which means, with the Cowboys essentially featuring five first-round talents up front and even greater depth, an already formidable offensive line should be even better.