No team strayed further with its first-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft than the Dallas Cowboys, who took a player many thought would be a midround pick 31st overall. And now the pressure is on for both Jerry Jones and former Wisconsin interior offensive lineman Travis Frederick, especially when you consider that Frederick will be thrust straight into the national spotlight when the 'Boys take on the Miami Dolphins in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game Sunday night at Fawcett Stadium in Canton, Ohio.
The Dallas offensive line needs saving. The entire unit struggled in 2012, surrendering more pressures (196) than all but four other lines, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), and "paving the way" for a running game that ranked 31st in the league with only 3.6 yards per carry.
Frederick is working primarily as a center but is also getting some training camp reps at guard, per Carlos Mendez of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Guards Nate Livings and Ronald Leary have been dealing with injuries, while last year's right guard, Mackenzy Bernadeau, struggled in his inaugural campaign with the team.
"Regular" center Phil Costa has lacked consistency and struggled with durability as well, while fellow interior linemen Kevin Kowalski, David Arkin and Ryan Cook don't appear to be saviors.
So, Be a Savior
And that's what leads us to the first piece of criteria Frederick will face as a rookie. Fair or not, to justify being chosen in Round 1, he has to be somewhat of a savior. He has to give Tony Romo more confidence that he can consistently take clean snaps without being immediately hounded. Only Andrew Luck and Philip Rivers were pressured more often than Romo was in 2012, and that has to change immediately.
Romo may or may not play Sunday night, and if he does, it'll be for a limited time. But everyone will be watching Frederick with that first unit. They'll be looking for well-executed snaps and strong pass blocking, regardless of who's under center.
The first-team Dallas offensive tackles will have their hands full with Cameron Wake and Dion Jordan, which means Frederick probably shouldn't expect a lot of help from his thin group of fellow interior offensive linemen against quality pass-rushers/run-stoppers Randy Starks and Paul Soliai. It's a top-notch opening test.
Here's what else is required...
Start 14 Games
I've left room for a bump or a bruise, but a serious injury—while not his fault—would nonetheless prevent Frederick from living up to the expectations placed on a first-round center. Not all of these starts have to come in the middle, but they have to come. If he's able to step in and contribute as a left or right guard, it'll only add to his value.
The overarching point here is that you can't use a first-round pick on a lowly touted offensive lineman and have him toil on the sideline and/or in the trainer's room for all or even most of his rookie campaign. We have to accept that Frederick will likely make some mistakes in his first season, but the key is that he's given a chance to actually make them. And if he can start 14 games, it'll be an indication that he's also learning from those miscues.
Give Up Fewer Than 15 Pressures
In other words, Frederick should give up no more than one pressure per game. Fifteen starting centers were able to stay below 15 in 2012. In 11 starts in the middle with Dallas, Cook surrendered 17 pressures, which is a little too high.
Earn a PFF Grade of 7.0 or Higher
That appears to be the cutoff between above average and below average. A grade of 7.0 would have made you the 15th-best center in football last year, based on PFF's system. Frederick doesn't immediately have to be a top-10-type guy, but he must be at least average right off the bat. Otherwise, critics will quickly start ragging on Jones for the pick.
The Cowboys Have to Average at Least 4.0 Yards Per Carry
This is a team stat, but the reality is that if the running game doesn't improve along with the pass protection, picking Frederick won't have paid off in 2013.
We'll start to get a feel for what Frederick is going to be able to bring to the table when he goes up against Miami Sunday night, and you know what they say about first impressions.