One of the keys to the surprising success of the Dallas Cowboys’ 2014 season was a balanced offense fueled by the NFL’s second-ranked ground game. The Cowboys consistently won the battle at the line of scrimmage thanks to a massive offensive line that paved the way for DeMarco Murray’s historic rushing season and kept the pocket clean for quarterback Tony Romo, who led the league in passer rating and Total QBR.
However, with Doug Free and Jermey Parnell set to hit free agency next month, Dallas has no player under contract at right tackle for next season. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told ESPNDallas.com’s Todd Archer that “it certainly is” a strong possibility that the team will select an offensive lineman with their first-round pick, even though there is an obvious need to upgrade a defense that ranked 22nd in Football Outsiders’ efficiency ratings.
This preference for help in the trenches also comes despite the fact that the Cowboys have used their first-round pick on an offensive lineman in three of the last four drafts — Tyron Smith (2011), Travis Frederick (2013) and Zack Martin (2014). With the 27th overall pick, Dallas likely won’t be able to snag one of the top offensive linemen, but this year’s class is considered deep and there is a good chance the team would be able to find another gem late in the first round.
Game tape remains the crux of the draft process. Several teams arrived with a mindset on players already formed from their game videos and from their scouts’ on-campus reports. The crafty, superior teams in the draft use video as their foundation and then use the Combine to further answer two crucial questions — is the guy, simply, a football player and does he exhibit passion for the game?
You get those two things right and often the rest falls into place.
“There are going to be exceptions on tape, there will be guys who aren’t even invited to the Combine who become great players, but the biggest thing is the tape is the thing that defines production and passion,” said Carolina running backs coach Jim Skipper, who coached in college football for nine seasons and who enters his 33rd NFL coaching season.