One of the biggest stories going on in Dallas is the future of the offensive line and how to make sure the Cowboys’ $164 million quarterback Dak Prescott stays on the field. There are major question marks over the long-term future of eight-time Pro Bowler Tyron Smith. La’el Collins is no longer in the picture as he was released this offseason and is now with the Cincinnati Bengals. For the majority of the past five to six years, Smith and Collins have been the bookends on the offensive line. With Collins gone and Smith on the final nine of his NFL career, Dallas focused on a youthful move to make changes at the far ends of the offensive line.
Collins was released this offseason and was a post-June 1st cut, which saved Dallas about $10 million in ceiling space. With a base salary in 2022 of $895,000, Dallas has decided to hand Terence Steele the keys to the right tackle job. For about $9 million less, Dallas seems confident Steele will continue to improve and lock down the right side for years to come. Here’s some video evidence against one of the NFL’s first pass rushers, Joey Bosa, as to why Dallas left Collins this offseason.
Heading into the 2022 season, the presumed starting tackles will be Tyron Smith and Terence Steele. What waits behind them are three hungry young prospects looking for their shot at not just an NFL roster spot, but potentially a starting role down the line.
Let’s start with Tulsa’s 2022 first-round pick, Tyler Smith.
Smith arrives with a lot of hype due to being the 24e overall pick in this year’s draft. Many experts have “classified” it as a second round. However, Dallas felt confident enough at 24 to pick Smith to help solidify the offensive line which at times looked very shaky. At 6’6” and weighing 332 pounds, he certainly looks like an NFL offensive lineman. Not only that, he has an average streak in his game and is very powerful. Smith also has a good anchor and is much more athletic than some people think.
The reason many give it a second-round rating is that it’s very practical, which sometimes causes it to report a lot more than you’d like. His first step out of the snap can be awkward at times. This can still make it more maneuverable than you want and inflict more penalties on it. For now, Dallas has slipped him inside left guard to continue working on his game and prepare to take over at left tackle whenever Tyron Smith hangs up.
Check out this courtesy of NFL.com:
Cowboys executive vice-president Stephen Jones explained Smith’s immediate future during an appearance on the PFT PM podcast, revealing that Tyler Smith may not be Tyron Smith’s competitor or his counterpart in the right side, but his running mate – at least for now. “I just think his upside is huge,” Jones said, via Jon Machota of The Athletic. “He played at a small school in Tulsa. He only played 18 games in Tulsa. But we just feel like his skills really allow him to be a top left tackle at some point. Clearly, we have one of the best in the business for him to teach Tyron Smith. Tyler Smith will certainly have the opportunity to take to the field in other locations. He will compete on this left side: left guard, left tackle. “Unfortunately Tyron has missed some time over the last four or five years so obviously we have to look at that with his age and just the record of him missing some games year after year. But we think one of the reasons what we really wanted (Tyler) for was his versatility and the advantage of going out and playing left tackle versus maybe taking a few guys who were more center-only type guys we just felt he was preferable for our organization to go in this direction.
Smith’s skill set at this time projects as a very good starting guard in the NFL due to his size and strength. Moving inside should help him with penalties while he works to improve his hand placement against outside passers.
Matt Waletzko is the second prospect Dallas has brought in to compete for one of the backup offensive tackle positions.
Waletzko, like Tyler Smith, was drafted by Dallas in the 2022 NFL Draft. However, with less fanfare, as he was drafted fifth-round pick 155 from North Dakota. The first thing you see with Waletzko is his height as he is 6ft 8in tall. It weighs only 305 pounds, which for the average person would be considered heavy. For Waletzko, being 6’8″, that means he’s a bit skinny and could put on a few extra pounds, which he’s done before.
Matt Waletzko said this to Ian Cummings of Pro Football Network:
“In my later years in high school, I had a lot of baby fat,” Waletzko said. my first year [at North Dakota], I was 320, then at fall camp I lost about 15 pounds. Workouts in college and nutrition and all, it kind of helps shape your body. But I really focused on myself to change my body, because I knew that playing in this division, we had to be able to move, be agile, have strength, have good feet. And I just felt like I wasn’t that good with the weight I had at the finish. So I made the changes. I feel really good right now. Just with my frame, I think I have room for more. Ultimately, being at that 312, 315, maybe even 320, when I get into the NFL, I think that’s going to be a good number for me.
In addition to his height and weight, he has long arms measuring 36 1/8″ and large hands measuring 10 1/4″. In comparison, Tyron Smith is 36 3/8″ tall for his arms and his hands are 11″. As we know Tyron Smith is a big man and Waletzko has three thumbs on him in the height department. It goes without saying how great Matt Waletzko is.
On the North Dakota FCS school playground, you can tell he outplayed everyone he played against. His long arms and quick first step make it difficult for a pass thrower to gain an advantage over him. The main impact on his game is the level of the pads, and for someone at 6’8″, it’s easy to see why. Another element of his game that he needs to keep improving is his footwork, because he can lose his balance at times. He’s very raw at this stage and needs work in the weight room, and also needs training. If he can put it all together, Dallas could be one hell of a player. soccer.
Finally, we have a player who basically took a red jersey last year after being drafted in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft. That’s Josh Ball who spent time at Florida State and finished his career at Marshall.
Ball is another one of those “one man mountain” type guys like Waletzko, as he is also 6’8″. He also weighs 304 pounds. Although he and Waletzko have a similar height/weight combination, he doesn’t doesn’t have arms as long or hands as big as Waletzko. His arm length is 35 inches and his hand size is 10 inches, which is still long enough and big enough at NFL level. The ball has a great first step and plays at a good level of pad which is hard for someone who is 6’8″ tall. Having a good pad level is very important as it helps in the game of leverage. Having good leverage, along with strong hands, helps him hold blocks without incurring a penalty.
What can sometimes get him in trouble is being too aggressive, which can get him beaten in doubles by an opposing setter. Being too aggressive at times can also hurt his balance, which you can sometimes see on tape. He can lose his balance and lose his defender. Just like Waletzko, adding strength will be paramount in his development. Ball has the ability to be good in the NFL and it will be interesting to see how his career develops.
Now that we have a bit of context on each player, it’s a good time to make some early projections of not just 2022, but beyond 2022. Out of the gate, Tyler Smith will start at left guard and solidify that position this season. He’s also working at left tackle to help him improve his game enough to take the reins when Tyron Smith retires. Although plans are to move Tyler Smith to left tackle eventually, left guard could end up being his long-term position in a worst-case scenario. If that happens, the hope is that he will end up being an excellent left guard for many years for the Cowboys.
Matt Waletzko is very raw and needs a little seasoning. For 2022, Waletzko plans to be the fourth tackle that should make the roster, but it’s highly likely he won’t dress for many games. After 2022 it gets interesting, and depending on what happens with Terence Steele, he could see himself in a battle to start at the right tackle or at the very least the main swing tackle that can come in and help in a pinch.
Finally, we have Josh Ball, and after a redshirt year in 2021, it’s time to see what he’s got. Spending a year working on his craft as a professional should pay off, and becoming the primary swing tackle is in the cards for him this year. It’s also possible he’ll turn it into a competition for the right tackle. Overall, the future of attacking tackle is going to be interesting. Lots of youth combined with raw talent and athleticism. Signing a veteran to solidify attacking tackle depth doesn’t seem to be in the cards, and it’s going to be exciting to see what these youngsters can do.