Wes’ Weekly Draft Tips: Running Game Muscle

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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

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Rafael Vela

Rafael Vela

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