As much as I think the Dallas Cowboys need to completely rebuild their offensive line in the 2013 NFL draft, it's possible that second-year guard Ronald Leary could allow the franchise to address another position in the first round and perhaps beyond. This is part of the reason why my recent mock draft has Dallas going after Alabama right tackle prospect D.J. Fluker.
This would be music to the ears of owner and general manager Jerry Jones, who's well known for drafting for pizazz and sparks early on in player selection meetings.
It's true that Fluker could just as easily play inside at guard as he could outside at right tackle.
But I also realize that there are players already on the roster who are young and unproven who might deserve the chance to play football, as opposed to sitting behind aging and expensive veterans. One of those veteran offensive linemen, Mackenzy Bernadeau, is generating more and more health-related questions heading into next season.
It's all about competition for jobs this offseason, and Leary looks the most likely to push a veteran out of the starting lineup.
Leary, primarily due to Bernadeau's recovery from multiple offseason surgeries last offseason, saw plenty of reps at both guard and center during training camp last summer. While he was unable to make the 53-man roster as the season began, Leary would spend most of the season on the practice squad, a clear indication that the Cowboys wanted to keep him around, and for good reason.
Just because a player doesn't crack the starting lineup as a rookie doesn't mean that he never will. In Leary's case, having played at University of Memphis is likely the reason that he wasn't considered ready for the next level. Facing opponents in Conference USA isn't exactly the same as going up against the SEC, Big 12 or other powerful conferences—let alone the NFL.
Nonetheless, Leary got a tremendous workout last summer in Oxnard, Calif. that might position him to actually compete this summer heading into 2013.
Interesting is that Leary played most of his downs with the Tigers at left tackle, a position that is arguably the most important on the offensive line. His long arms and above-average strength are part of the reason that Dallas made him a top priority among their undrafted free agents.
In other words, you won't find too many undrafted guys that sign a three-year, $1.4 million contract and have a significant portion guaranteed.
Leary, aside from his potential and versatility, also seems to have the right attitude about his football future. He offered the following comments to DallasCowboys.com contributor Jonathan Auping last summer:
I hold myself to a real high standard, so I’m never really pleased. I have a lot of things to work on technique-wise and I’m just trying to put it all together. I'm nowhere near where I want to be.
That's at least the right tune to be humming.
It's also worth noting that he didn't cop a negative attitude when he didn't land a spot on the team after getting possibly more reps than any other lineman during training camp.
All good thing to those who wait, right?
Fellow B/R featured columnist Peter Matarazzo may have had it right last summer when profiling the progress of Leary very early on.
Since Leary's previous knee condition has yet to surface in the professional ranks, it would be a huge step in the right direction if Dallas could draft the best player available in the first round of the coming draft, as opposed to simply having to take another guard, especially if he's a reach. Keep in mind that it's no guarantee that the top-two guard prospects, Alabama's Chance Warmack or North Carolina's Jonathan Cooper, are even available once Dallas goes on the clock.
The Cowboys have not done the best job in recent years of finding or prioritizing playing time for younger guys lower on the depth chart. Back-to-back seasons of completely average football scream that this philosophy has to change.
If Leary is able to land a starting job at either guard position or center, the Cowboys might be more justified in grabbing either an offensive tackle, safety or defensive lineman in the first round. Each of those positions represents a better value—provided, of course, they select a good player that's ready to start.
Then again, Dallas could cover their behind on the offensive line and call upon draft picks and Leary to help a stagnant running game that ranked second-to-last in the NFL last season.
Food for thought: NFC East champion Washington ranked first.