Cowboys best Offensive Guards were Offensive Tackles in College

The Cowboys Right Guard, perennial All-Pro Zack Martin, was an Offensive Tackle in College. At Left Guard, going back a decade, Ron Leary was an offensive Tackle at Memphis, La’el Collins was an offensive tackle at LSU, and Connor Williams was an offensive Tackle at Texas. It was only last year that the Cowboys finally started Connor McGovern at Left Guard, and he played Center and Guard at Penn State. Going back even further, Hall of Fame Left Guard Larry Allen played offensive Tackle at Sonoma State.

Why does this matter? A lot of people believe the Cowboys have a hole in their roster at Left Guard now that McGovern signed a 3-year deal with Buffalo for $22.35 million. But the Cowboys signed Chuma Edoga in the offseason. Edoga played offensive Tackle for USC in college, and also started 8 games as a rookie 3rd round pick of the Jets in 2019. But like so many other players who’ve played offensive tackle, the Cowboys plan to switch him to Guard.

Why do the Cowboys like to convert college offensive tackles to the guard position in the NFL? Quite frankly, players who play tackle in college tend to be more nimble on their feet. But at the Pro level, one of the key factors in determining success at the offensive tackle is arm length. A lot of college offensive tackles can be successful in college based on technique, power and quick feet. But at the NFL level, arm length, i.e. the ability to outreach pass rushers and get into their chests when blocking them, is a key factor. Zack Martin in a future HOF player at the Guard position, and many think he can play tackle if he wanted to in the NFL. But Martin has arms that are less than 33" long. Typically, you need at least 34" long arms to be successful at tackle in the NFL. By contrast, future HOF Tackle Tyron Smith has 36-3/8" arms, which allows him to reach into the body of pass-rushers and block their momentum, while denying them leverage. Of course, there are exceptions, but the general rule is that you want your tackles to have long arms.

That trait is not as important at the guard position. But the other traits that lead to success in college, such as quick feet and power, are needed for success at the guard position in the NFL. The best college offensive linemen tend to play tackle in college. So, it isn’t shocking that when the NFL converts players who were very successful at the offensive tackle position in college to playing offensive guard in the NFL. NFL Guards need power and to be nimble on their feet. Also pass blocking at tackle in college trains them to have better hand technique than other college offensive linemen. Meanwhile, it doesn’t hurt to have long arms playing guard either. But if a player with long arms struggles playing tackle in the NFL, it is usually due to deficiencies in other skills such as foot speed or technique. Often times, those deficiencies are hidden more when converting that player to the Guard position.

So, it shouldn’t be a shock to learn that the Cowboys plan to convert Edoga to the Guard position. And while many project Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski and Tennessee’s Darnell Wright as an NFL offensive tackles, they also have short arms. So, if the Cowboys do draft a player to fill the Left Guard position, don’t be surprised if they draft a player that played OT in college. Certainly, players like college offensive guards Torrence and Avila, are options, but so are players who were short-armed tackles in college. The shorter the arms of a top-ranked college offensive tackle, the more likely he’ll be coverted to Guard in the NFL. And the key number is 34".

TOP 2023 College Offensive Line Prospects

  • OT Peter Skoronki, Northwestern – 32-1/4" arm length
  • OT Paris Johnson, Ohio State – 36-1/8" arm length
  • OT Broderick Jones, Alabama – 34-3/4" arm length
  • OT Anton Jones, Oklahoma – 34-1/8" arm length
  • OG O’Cyrus Torrence, Florida – 33-7/8" arm length
  • OT Dawand Jones, Ohio State, 36-3/8" arm length
  • OT Darnell Wright, Tennessee – 33-3/4" arm length
  • OC John Michael Schmitz, Minnesota – 32-5/8" arm length
  • OT Cody Mauch, North Dakota State, 32-3/8" arm length
  • OT Matthew Bergeron, Syracuse, 33-3/4" arm length
  • OG Steve Avila, TCU – 33" arm length

One of the reasons that I believe La’el Collins struggled playing right tackle, and a good reason he was released by the Bengals this offseason, is that he was a short-armed tackle, with 33-1/4" arms. I think Collins could have been an All-Pro level player at the Guard position. But I also believe the Cowboys promised him he would get to play OT in order to sign him, and thus were committed. It would have been in his best interest to keep him playing Left Guard, and he would likely still be employed in the NFL.

Again, arm length is certainly not the only criteria for success playing Tackle in the NFL. Joe Thomas was just selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame for playing offensive tackle in Cleveland and his arms were shorter than 34" – but only by 1/4". But if a players arms are significantly shorter than 34", he’s going to have a hard time blocking pass rushers who have long arms, and can thus create leverage when playing against short-armed offensive linemen. Great footwork, intelligence and blocking technique matter too. But just as pure speed is a critical factor in determining the NFL success of cornerbacks, so too is arm length a critical factor in determining success as an offensive tackle.

So, that is one reason why many college offensive tackles are better off playing guard in the NFL. Taking a look at the top 2023 offensive lineman prospects from the list above, don’t be shocked if the Cowboys are not just looking at college guards to play for them. They’ll also be looking at tackles they can convert to guard. In addition to Torrence and Avila the Cowboys might seriously consider Wright, Mauch and Bergeron. Skoronski is too skilled to make it the Cowboys at #26, but he’s likely to find more success in the NFL if, like Zack Martin, he plays on the interior of the offensive line.

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