Wes’ Weekly Draft Tips: Running Game Muscle

Part Two of this week’s chat with the National Football Post’s Director of College Scouting Wes Bunting looks for players who can bring some muscle and consistency to Dallas’ weak running game.  Today we discuss guard prospects and a bumper crop of fullbacks.

Cowboys Nation:  Let’s move to another need position.  There’s a chance the Cowboys may be looking for two new guards next year.  I can’t believe they would look for both of them in the draft but let’s review the top layer or two from this class.  First,  do you anticipate any underclassmen guards coming out?

Wes Bunting:  There could be, but none that are highly rated that are worth a mention at this time.

Of the seniors, Demarcus Love from Arkansas is a name to watch.  He plays the weakside tackle position for the Razorbacks.  He’s 6’5”, 315 lbs. I don’t think he’s a left tackle.  He gets too leggy working out in space but he has some really impressive tape working as a sophomore at guard.  He’s a sloppy body type but he’s got long-arms and I think he translates to a guard in the NFL, and a good one at that.

Jason Pinkston from Pitt also plays tackle.  I think at 6’4”, 308 he gets kicked inside.  Marcus Cannon from TCU is 6’5”, 358 lbs. If I’m a Cowboys fan, I think this is a guy I circle.  He’s a big, physical player, a really good athlete for his size.  He’s going to test out extremely well at the Combine.  He’s got a powerful base, the kid can drive people off the football.  Some scouts think he’s one of, if not the best tackle prospects.  I disagree.  I think he’s an excellent guard prospect, though and he’s going to go in the top two rounds at some point.

As for true guards, Benny Ijalana from Villanova is 6’4”, 320 and might have as much upside as any guard in the draft.  He’s got a mean streak going that he didn’t demonstrate last year.  He’s a long armed kid, plays some tackle there.  He’s a long-armed kid who’s a bit raw in pass protection, gets too upright at times, but he’s got a strong upper body, very strong hands, can pull and get out to the second level and can dominate people on contact.  He could be one of those Jahari Evans-type guys, a small-school guy who gets taken in the 2nd or 3rd round range, a dirty starter who needs a year or two to develop, but who will then take off because he’s so physically gifted.

Cowboys Nation:  Let me bring up a shortcoming that I’m seeing from the current Cowboys guards and then you can rate these names on this skill and maybe bring other names into the conversation.  Dallas runs a lot of counters, they like to toss.  They want to work Felix Jones out in space.  A problem that I’m seeing a lot, especially with Leonard Davis, is that these guys will pull and try to lead the back to the edge and they have trouble engaging linebackers.  They can’t get low, they often over-run the play or lack the body control to slow down and lock on, and many times quick linebackers will cut inside them or underneath them and blow up the play.  The current group of guards, Kosier aside, can’t consistently hit moving targets.

How do you assess this crop in terms of hitting on the move and blocking in space?

Wes Bunting:  It’s one thing with bigger guys, the more in-line guys are what you’re thinking.  When you have a big guy who can also pull, it’s not necessarily about his range, because it’s not like the Cowboys are asking this guy to consistently get out in space, but they are asking him to pull along the line of scrimmage and eliminate these guys on the edge of the line.  In this case it’s more about body control, balance and coordination.

Benny Ijalana is a coordinated kid.  He plays tackle.  These other guys I’ve mentioned play tackle, and they’re used to playing in space, they’re used to getting out in space on runs or passes and playing within themselves.  You can’t play left tackle without having some athletic ability.  The guard-only prospects play more in tight quarters.  I think Ijalana is a good guy there.  Marcus Cannon fits this profile.  I think people are going to be surprised how athletic he is for his size. Pinkston can do it.

Conversely, we talked about Justin Boren, the Ohio State kid in recent weeks.  He plays guard for them and rates highly at that position, but he’ll struggle in that department.  He’s 6’3”, 320 lbs. and is more of a phone booth player.  Same with John Moffit from Wisconsin.

It’s the left tackles who are going to transition inside who are the guys I think you want to watch.  They can be powerful as well as get out to the second level.

Cowboys Nation:   I’ve written for years about the Cowboys search for a quality  fullback.  The offset I is their base set and they use a lot of heavy sets with two tight ends and two running backs. Losing F-back John Phillips to a knee injury has really hurt them. They’ve had to use rookie Chris Gronkowski there, and his pass blocking is suspect, so they’ve had to flex Jason Witten into the backfield cause he’s their most dependable lead blocker, but doing that takes him away as a downfield threat.

You wrote last week that this is a vintage year for fullbacks.  Give us some names to track.

Wes Bunting:  It’s a great year for fullbacks.  Let’s start with Stanley Havili from USC.  He’s 6’2”, 225 lbs. and is a do-it-all type player.  He can catch the football, he can run.  He’s more of a finesse lead guy but he can reach targets off his frame, does a nice job sealing.  I think he’s probably the first fullback off the board because of that versatility and teams that want to throw the ball will value him because he could work in a single-back set as well.  He’s good in blitz pickup and can be that third-down back so many teams want.

If you want your traditional lead guys, start with Owen Marecic from Stanford.  He’s the best of the bunch.  He’s 6’1”, 245 lbs.  He plays both ways for Stanford.  He’ll play linebacker and fullback and he can catch the ball too, but he’s a throwback, with great technique as a blocker.  He loves to finish plays.  He’s got some short-area feel.  He’s thump you at the point of attack.  He’s not a dominant thump guy but he’s got good technique so he can thump you and then eliminate you.  He’s the best of this bunch.

Anthony Sherman from Connecticut doesn’t have a neck. He’s 5’11”, 240.  He’s a dominant special teams player, which is where he first caught my eye.  He’ll lead block, he’s physical, he’s got some thump to him as well.

Look at Iowa’s Brett Morse.  He was banged up a bit last year but he’s back.  He’s a former option quarterback in high school so he’s a team-first guy and he’s working fullback for them.  He’s 6’2”, 240 lbs. great lead blocker.  They love to use him on the perimeter.  He can reach ‘backers, good enough body control, he can redirect.  Has great vision and picks up unblocked guys.  He’s been really impressive this year.

One last guy is Shaun Chapas from Georgia, he’s 6’2”, 245, and another physical in-line guy.  I would not be at all surprised if all those guys got drafted.  I’m giving them all draftable grades.  Typically you don’t see that many fullbacks drafted but they’re all starting caliber fullbacks as lead guys.

Cowboys Nation:  That is rare.  Usually you might see a couple of names in a typical year.  I can’t think of the last time I heard this many names.

Wes Bunting:  Yeah.  I loved John Conner last year and I think a bunch of these guys can come in and make the same impact.  Obviously not with his fanfare but they can do the same type of job.

Cowboys Nation:  Where do you suspect they’ll be selected?  Most years the first fullback goes sometime around round four or round five.

Wes Bunting:  I think Havili is the first guy, starting in the 4th-5th round range, because of his versatility.  Marecic, in the 5th round, maybe 6th round range.  The other guys in the 6th-7th round.  There’s never much hype for these guys, but they’ll be on rosters and give you something.  You don’t want to take on any of these guys in the hole, I’ll tell you that.

The National Football Post should roll out Wes’ complete draft board and his player profiles in the next couple of weeks.  You’ll find a book-volume amount of prospect data.  Watch this page for links.  As always, you can send questions for Wes to:  cowboysnation.blog@gmail.com

Rafael Vela

Rafael Vela

Senior Analyst Cowboys Nation.com at Sports Talk Line
Started covering Dallas Cowboys @ TheBoys.com in '95 and '96. Two more stops along the way and here I am. Senior Analyst for SportsTalkLine.com
Rafael Vela

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  • Dezislegend

    anyone watching Patrick Peterson? this guy is Dez Bryant but plays CB, this should be our 1st rd pick no question about it

    • joey2zs

      whaaat? He gave up 6+ receptions to a collegiate receiver.

      • Dezislegend

        to a NFL 1st rd pick Julio Jones

        • joey2zs

          and to an insurance salesman, Greg McElroy

  • Dezislegend

    what happens if Cam Newton comes out? wouldnt he be a top 5 pick?
    decisions are going to be tough

  • Deanmzi

    Have you scouted FB Zac Pauga of Colorado State?

  • Thinking more about Wes’ remarks on converted OTs and it makes sense. Nate Newton was a LG for Tom Landry, but he played 16 games at RT in ’91 because Erik Williams wasn’t ready and they needed a tackle. He fought Reggie White to a standoff in the Cowboys win at the Vet which got them over the Eagles’ hump. Larry Allen played RT when Williams had his car wreck in ’94 and played a season at LT before Flozell was drafted. Ron Stone never played much for the Cowboys but he did play everywhere except center while in Dallas, and he played all over the line for the Giants and 49ers. Those were the best guards of the Jimmy era, and all had the feet to play on the edge. That’s why they were so good leading counters and pulling on sweeps and tosses.

    This team has been drafting and signing Gs in the Kevin Gogan mold. Awesome straight ahead, but Dallas rarely asked Gogan to pull, because he was stiff. And he was a converted college OT too, I should add.

    • Luke.

      Versatility is the key word I hope we’re looking for in offensive lineman.

      Players all across the line who can be effective both run blocking and pass blocking. No more of the Leonard Davis boom or bust types. Leonard Davis has probably had more spectacular blocks than anyone on this team over the last 3 years. He also has the most missed blocks and blown assignments. I’d rather 5 Kyle Kosier’s than 5 Leonard Davis’.

    • kameleon_o

      That’s all well and good Raf but unfortunately I don’t know that I have a lot of faith in the current Cowboys’ management to identify O-linemen who could make the switch. We all thought that Brewster looked tailor made to be a OG and wouldn’t play OT in the pros and then the geniuses at Valley Ranch decided he should take the reps at tackle instead. I guess my issue is that I feel that it doesn’t matter how many good prospects there are out there that they’ll probably screw it up somehow. No faith at all in them….

  • Smalfish

    Oh, by the way. Raf, I’ve been reading you for years and have never commented. I love the way you can be so bias free when it comes to this Cowboys team. I’m a very long time cowboys backer. I remember watching the first suprebowl they were in and lost to the colts and became a lifelong fan. I am revulsed by this season. I think it’s the worst one we’ve seen in many a year. I hope Jerry can pull his head from the nether regions of his anatomy and get his ego out the game now. Thanks for being a voice to read Raf.

    • Oklahoma

      When your team is toast by Halloween your left with the future and the past – draft talk (which I like) or photographs and memories (which I occasionally like). The Baltimore SB. Though both teams stumbled and bumbled the Baltimore game should have been a Dallas win. Some people argue that, toward the end of the 80s, Tom was passed it. That strikes me as unfair. That said, I have no problem with criticism of Landry for being too conservative or even the contention that Jimmy was a better coach for the 90s player (Jimmy’s playcalling aggressiveness was also just what those Boys needed IMO). But the game is cyclical and by the mid-80s Landry/Dallas was way overdue for a down swing having had 20 straight winning seasons, including while rebuilding (thanks to the Dirty Dozen draft). Among other things, Landry had his teams ready at the beginning of each year (a great 1st game winning percentage) and provided the tooth and nail competition for the legendary Packers and Steelers (i.e. the Boys were highly competitive even in those famous losses). Had Jethro’s cleats held in the Ice Bowl…had Dallas not bumbled away the Baltimore SB…had Too Tall blocked Montana’s desperation throw…there could be 3 more trophies on Landry’s HOF resume. My rambling point is that given the cyclical nature of the NFL even the greatest of coaches will hit a down period (Noll, Lombardi, Shula, Jimmy at Miami, Gibbs version 2, etc.). No doubt the brilliant Bill Walsh would eventually have encountered the same. The manner of Jerry’s firing of Landry (on the golf course) was crude. And how does Landry’s record (e.g. playoff wins) look now, say in comparison to the past 15 years of all but empty cupboards? The bombast of the 90s has been replaced by the stuttering, self-justification of 2010 (we are not a 1-4 team). I know the league has changed and it’s tougher to maintain a quasi-dynasty, but New England have managed like no other franchise in the modern era. What does Kraft know that Jerry doesn’t? And a lingering (obscure) question for anyone over 40: was Landry unfair and rude in his dismissal of his long-time top notch colleague, Ernie Stautner?

      • Oklahoma

        past it….you dolt

      • Luke.

        Nice comment Oklahoma, thanks.

  • Smalfish

    I love the idea of adding linmen after the first round. However, I see Doug Free as more of a right tackle than as a left. I say plug him in on the right and find another left tackle. This means of course that we need three linemen and not two next year.

  • Dezislegend

    I like Marcus Cannon thats the guy we should just man up and draft in the 2nd round if he is available
    he fits the mold for RG, and unlike Leonard Davis who is a big sissy, Cannon has a mean streak
    Im taking Cannon in the 2nd rd and plugging him in instantly at RG

    Ive wanted a real FB for a while too, Haivi is really versatile and I think in the 4th rd we get a real good football player, man I would love to get him for this team
    the kid from Stanford would be ideal too but Haivi is really versatlile

    • I wouldn’t call Leonard a sissy. I think he’s too stiff and whiffs on too many blocks. He also blows assignments all over the place.

      • Chandus

        Yeah, when they guy connects his objective is as good as gone… He sort of reminds me of the old Larry Allen… The good and the bad.

  • JC56

    Great, great info. Regardless of how we are set up and want to win now, we’ve got to have two guards in the pipeline this year. I love the point about finding a tackle to move in, so you still have the athleticism and pulling option. I do NOT want Boren; even the homers here in Columbus know he’s overrated.

    I think we take a FB, with Philips back and Bennet gone.