FRISCO, Texas – With so many questions to answer, this series will take a look at each position on the roster, and what choices might face the front office heading into 2021.
Today, we'll conclude this look at the Cowboys' offensive tackles by evaluating how much the depth of the position improved from the 2020 season.
And the Cowboys are going to need that depth even more, especially since the first day of free agency has already seen free agent Cam Erving agree to a new contract with the Panthers.
Did They Gain Depth In 2020?
In the first two parts of dissecting the offensive position, it's quite clear where the issue lies on the edge. Depth. With the disastrous 2020 season fresh on the mind, it appears there needs to be significant changes in the offensive line room entering the offseason. Or does there?
This past season, so many different variants of offensive lines led to combinations of offensive tackles that no one thought they'd see. Zack Martin at tackle, an undrafted free agent Terence Steele starting Week 1 on the road, and Brandon Knight not only having starts at right tackle, but left tackle too.
All-in-all, 2020 was a mess from the tackle spot with extensive injuries to both Tyron Smith and La'el Collins that forced the duo to miss much of the year. However, it did give a unique progress report on how the depth of the line will look into the future.
Let's start with Brandon Knight, who had surprisingly become the most reliable option for the tackle position following the injury to Smith. Outside of Week 1, Knight played at least 60 snaps a game at either of the tackle spots before having knee surgery following the Week 6 loss to Arizona.
Following his return to action in Week 12, Knight played the rest of the season at left tackle but was not nearly as effective prior to his injury. In the six weeks prior to his surgery, Knight allowed a pair of sacks and a total of 11 pressures. In the six following, he was tabbed with four sacks against along with 26 pressures.
Knight's trajectory was declining as the season went along and culminated by allowing two sacks and seven pressures in the final game of the season, a loss to the Giants. So, for those evaluating Knight as a future depth piece at the tackle spot, there may be some questions with just how well that knee healed in his quick return.
As for Steele, the rookie no one expected to hear so much about, he may have actually been the bright spot of the position in 2020. The Texas Tech product had a putrid start to the season after giving up a team-high seven sacks prior to the bye week in Week 10. But following the week off, he began to find his footing, both figuratively and literally, as the right tackle.
Steele was benched in the Minnesota game to make way for Zack Martin to start at right tackle and Cameron Erving to start at left tackle. Whatever it may have been…more rest, extra teaching, a wake-up moment… it worked for Steele and the Cowboys offensive line.
He allowed just two sacks the rest of the season and took his pressures from 33 before the bye week to 15 the rest of the way. As a rookie, Steele saw unprecedented playing time and learned how to adjust to the play-speed of the NFL to the tune of 970 total snaps. His growth as the season went along should provide a little extra comfort for such a fragile position at the moment.
There will still be questions on the health of Smith and Collins, and if the Cowboys decide to add another veteran with the loss of Erving. But the overall depth of the offensive tackle spot saw more repetitions and growth in 2020 than any other position.