Finding the Fits: Cowboys' OL gets needed boost with Connor Williams

Connor Williams could help at tackle or guard.University of Texas Athletics

By Rob Rang,

This is part of a series -- Finding the Fits -- in which will review the more intriguing picks made during the 2018 NFL Draft. The goal is to identify one relatively unheralded player per team who appears to be a good schematic fit and, therefore, more likely to be a surprise contributor early in his pro career.

Dallas Cowboys' best fit: Connor Williams, OL, Texas, selected No. 50 overall (second round)

There was an intersection of emotional impact and functionality when Dallas selected Williams, an All-American left tackle with the Texas Longhorns who grew up just down the road in Coppell, Texas, dreaming of playing for the Cowboys.

With All-Pro Tyron Smith already secure in his role as Dak Prescott's blindside protector, Williams' best chance at immediate playing time for new Dallas offensive line coach Paul Alexander might be at left guard. Once a position of strength, veterans Jonathan Cooper and Chaz Green struggled last season attempting to replace free-agent defection Ron Leary (Denver) at the position.

The transition between tackle and the more physical position of guard is a difficult one, although it is one that Williams is well-suited to handle. Unlike most college tackles, Williams showed plenty of aggression and power blocking in the running game for the Longhorns.

Questions about his fit in the pros may have contributed to Williams' draft-day drop, but this is not simply a case of a college tackle being asked to slide inside to guard because he possesses shorter-than-ideal arms (33 inches). Williams' square-ish frame and physical nature actually project better inside.

At tackle, he is a former high school tight end who has the feet and balance to mirror pass rushers. He immediately improves Dallas' depth behind Smith, who has missed three games each of the past two seasons due to injury.

A player with Williams' upside could excel between Smith and All-Pro Travis Frederick, giving the Cowboys a remodeled version of the dominating offensive line that helped Ezekiel Elliott rush for 1,631 yards and 15 touchdowns two years ago, when Dallas won the NFC East.

Most players would have been disappointed with the draft-day slide. Williams, one of the final players invited to the Green Room to actually be drafted, instead reacted with the excitement appropriate given his professional homecoming.

"It's the Dallas Cowboys," Williams proudly announced as his phone rang. "It's America's team. I live 20 minutes down the road. It's home. To be on the phone and see my 972 area code calling, it was a dream come true."

"I honestly wore blue (on draft day) because I'm from Dallas and I love Dallas," Williams continued. "I wanted to represent the Cowboys. I didn't say it, but I wanted to be a Cowboy. It was all worth it, and I'm happy.

"I waited longer than I would have liked, but it all worked out. It's fueled me, and I've got a fire in me, and I can't wait to get to work."

Other thoughts on the Cowboys' 2018 draft class:

The Cowboys didn't just do a great job of hosting the draft, they also significantly boosted the talent on the roster. Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch is an ascending prospect who offers the athleticism, playmaking skills and, most importantly, the durability that Jaylon Smith and Sean Lee have thus far only teased.

Vander Esch's earliest impact could come in coverage against the speedy matchup nightmares Jordan Reed (Washington), Zach Ertz (Philadelphia) and Evan Engram (New York) at tight end in the NFC East.

With Dez Bryant and Jason Witten no longer on the roster, there will be plenty of pressure on rookies Michael Gallup, Dalton Schultz and Cedrick Wilson in 2018.

Gallup has the frame, speed and toughness to project as a future starter, but expecting him to immediately replace Bryant is unfair. In reality, the Cowboys signed Bryant's replacement at split end in former Jaguars' standout Allen Hurns, who is the most logical candidate to lead Dallas' re-shuffled receiving corps. Gallup's early role could be more of a short-to-intermediate target, where his sharp route running and toughness after the catch should make him a quality complement.

Stacked depth charts could also limit the impact made by fourth-round edge rusher Dorance Armstrong, fifth-round quarterback Mike White and seventh-round pick Bo Scarbrough, but each possesses the raw talent that warranted much earlier consideration and may one day be viewed as steals.

Dallas' 2018 draft class:

1st Round, No. 19 overall: OLB Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State

2nd Round, No. 50 overall: OL Connor Williams, Texas

3rd Round, No. 81 overall: WR Michael Gallup, Colorado State

4th Round, No. 116 overall: DE/OLB Dorance Armstrong, Kansas

4th Round, No. 137 overall: TE Dalton Schultz, Stanford

5th Round, No. 171 overall: QB Mike White, Western Kentucky

6th Round, No. 193 overall: LB Chris Covington, Indiana

6th Round, No. 208 overall: WR Cedrick Wilson, Boise State

7th Round, No. 236 overall: RB Bo Scarbrough, Alabama

Key Undrafted Free Agents Signed:

Kameron Kelly, DB, San Diego State

Joel Lanning, LB, Iowa State

David Wells, TE, San Diego State


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