|Guard Gabe Jackson
We resume our draft chat series with Cowboys Nation’s draft analyst TD by breaking down the guard position.
Cowboys Nation: Let’s start with guards. It’s one position we have not broken down, but it’s one that will definitely be high on the priority list.
Last year was probably the high-water mark for guards in recent years with Jonathan Cooper and Chance Warmack going in the top dozen picks. Is there anybody of their caliber in this group of guards?
TD: No. I still think Zack Martin from Notre Dame is the top guard in this class. I hear from a lot of scouts that they view him that way as well. Some don’t. He’s 6’3″, 305 lbs. Usually with these squattier offensive tackles you like them at 6’4″ about 315-325 lbs. and to have 34-35 inch arms.
Martin, at 6’3″, 305 with shorter arms just looks like a more athletic guard inside. He has great technique. He doesn’t have those really long arms but he has the best hand placement of anyone in his group. He can move laterally. He can anchor. I think he’s a 1st round guard, and the only one in this draft.
CN: He played left tackle his college career, correct?
CN: With his feet and his ability to contain edge rushers at the college level he seems like an ideal left guard, who can pull and run the power counters that every pro team as in its playbook.
TD: I would agree. He’s got that lateral pulling ability for power OT, where you can have the right guard block down and the left guard come across the formation and kick out whoever is in the hole. He’s also got the short-area quickness to get out in space if you want to run zones to the perimeter on his size. I think he’s fool-proof. He’s got good power, not great, but he moves people. And nowadays, you have to win in the pass game and he’s the type of guard the center can leave alone in pass protection. You have some guards that are big and nasty but when you pass the center has to shade to their side. Martin is a guy the center can leave alone.
CN: That’s ideal in the Cowboys world. If you put him at the left guard position you would be starting him between Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick, and that would give Dallas the luxury of having a left tackle, left guard combo who can handle pass blocking duties on their own.
TD: Sometimes you find guys who have athletic ability and can run, but they lack balance. He has both. This is a problem I see with a lot of athletic guards who have come out recently. The scouts say it and I’ve seen it. If a guy lacks great balance, it can take a while for him to develop. So, there’s a lot to say about a prospect’s balance, maybe more than about his athleticism.
CN: Martin sounds like a very safe pick.
TD: I’d say he’s one of the safest. He’s not sexy, but he’s one guy you can plug in right away who can give you 8-12 years of starting experience. I’d feel good about drafting him. I think you can start him at guard from day one and go about your business building your team.
CN: What is his ceiling?
TD: A Pro Bowler. I don’t know if he’s going to be one of the all-time great guards but I think it’s in the realm of possibility that he’s a 5-year Pro Bowler during his career and is always in the discussion. He’s a solid guard prospect.
CN: In the next tier, we probably have Stanford’s David Yankey. Who else fits in his group?
TD: Xavier Su’a-Filo from UCLA. Brandon Thomas from Clemson. He’s a guy I like. He’s short, squatty. He plays with good power. He’s one of those guys who I think can play on both the left and the right hand side. He’s got some snap to his game. He’s got balance in short areas. He’s not a great athlete, but he’s a good athlete. His balance is what stands out about him.
Yankey is just a big, strong guy. He has some athletic limitations. I’m not going to deny that. He’ll get overextended, but he’s big. He plays to the whistle. Typically when you have guys with athletic limitations inside, I downgrade them a bit. But he’s one of those guys who can get movement in the run game, and he can hold his own and anchor in the pass game. I think he’s a starter who can maybe be a Pro Bowler down the line.
He’s one of those down-and-dirty, meat-and-potato guards who every team needs to win inside. I’d probably be more comfortable with him as a right guard than as a left guard.
CN: Where does Thomas rate?
TD: 2nd round. I’d say, Martin in the 1st, then you have Su’a-Filo, Yankey, Thomas and Gabe Jackson from Mississippi State. I have not watched him a ton, but I know he’s gotten a lot of play with scouts. He’s big, he’s tough inside and can move. He’s 6’3″, 335 and I hear he can be a top 60 pick as well.
CN: If you’re looking for a 2nd-round guard, it appears the Cowboys will have real options.
TD: Yeah, and Jackson is a guy who some people think can be a late 1st rounder as well.
CN: We have not talked much about either Thomas or Jackson. Can you say more about them?
TD: Yeah, Jackson is big, talented. He plays in the SEC. He’s squatty but his weight is well-distributed through his lower half. And he’s sneaky athletic as well. He’s got good balance. When you’re 335, you’re not a great athlete, and are not going to have great range but he plays quick in short areas and he can keep his weight under him. He’s powerful. He’s got some snap off the ball. He’s just not a space player, but I heard from a few scouts that he could sneak into the 1st but is probably a very solid 2nd rounder.
One scout who I really respect think he’s the number two guard behind Zach Martin.
CN: Let’s stay with that. The Cowboys, going back to their heyday, when they had five Pro Bowlers on their offensive line, got a reputation as being a sluggo team that just mauled you with size. And they did to an extent, because the had a lot of 330 pounders on that front. However, they were a hybrid team. They did run a lot of man blocking, but they also ran a lot of zone plays. They were fortunate to have a unique set of players who went 325-335, like Larry Allen, who could beat on you, but also run and play in space.
Right now, they still have big guys. They’ve gone down a little bit in size, into the 310-320 range, but they have guys like Tyron Smith and Doug Free at the tackle position, Free being a bulked up college tight end. They took Travis Frederick, who played 330-340 in college and slimmed him down to about 318.
They want to run more zone. That’s been their focus recently. Rate these guys on their ability to fit into a zone scheme and on their ability to play in a hybrid scheme.
TD: I think Zach Martin would be fine. Su’a-Filo is the guy you think would be the most athletic of the bunch. Just because he’s got the frame to be the most athletic. He’s 6’4″, he’s 295. He’s a natural bender. He plays in space. He’s explosive, he gets off the ball well. He sticks on contact. I think he’s the best if you’re looking for a pure zone scheme guy.
Now if you’re looking for the best hybrid fits, I think Gabe Jackson is more athletic than David Yankey. I would say even though he’s 335 and Yankey is 315 that Gabe is more explosive. Now, the farther he has to get up the field the less he’s going to get to, but Jackson plays well in short areas. And I would not be afraid to play him at left guard as well. So if you’re looking for a good hybrid player, I would say Jackson is a more powerful player than Zach Martin as well. Martin is the more finished product.
From everything I’ve heard, and I was just turned on to this guy recently because I have not been looking at guards before then, I think Gabe Jackson has the most upside. So, worst-case scenario, Gabe Jackson looks like a guy who can start in the league, and he’s a guy you’re always hoping could give you a little more.
Best-case scenario, he’s the best guard in the draft.
CN: If he came to Dallas he would have good line coaches to work with. He would have Bill Callahan.
TD: And Callahan is the man for that. From a pure upside standpoint, I think Gabe Jackson has the most. Zach Martin has the highest floor, Yankey is a solid player a lunch-pail guy. He’s down and dirty and you can win with him.
I like all of these guys,, they just fill different roles.
Next: More on Clemson’s Brandon Thomas and mid-round prospects.
Tuesday: We roll out wide receivers on our exclusive Cowboys Nation short draft board.