Cowboys' Stephen Jones: Tyler Smith to compete at left guard, is future Tyron Smith replacement

When Dallas selected Tulsa tackle Tyler Smith with the 24th overall pick of the 2022 NFL Draft, the newest Cowboy seemed to slot in opposite Tyron Smith, at least on paper.

But those who knew Smith's background were aware he'd spent his college career on the left side of the line. With Tyron Smith entrenched as Dallas' starting left tackle, the similarly named Tyler Smith would have to find another place to compete for a starting job.

That job appears to exist at left guard. Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones elaborated on Smith's immediate future during an appearance on the PFT PM Podcast, revealing Tyler Smith might not be Tyron Smith's competition or his counterpart on the right side, but his running mate -- at least for now.

"I just think his upside is tremendous," Jones said, via The Athletic's Jon Machota. "He played at a smaller school there at Tulsa. He only played in 18 games at Tulsa. But we just feel like his skill set really lends to him having an opportunity to be a top, top left tackle at some point.

"Obviously, we got one of the best in the business for him to learn from in Tyron Smith. Certainly, Tyler Smith will get an opportunity to hit the field at some other spots at well. He'll compete on that left side: left guard, left tackle.

"Unfortunately, Tyron has missed some time over the past four or five years, so we obviously have to take a look at that with his age and just the track record of him missing some games year in and year out. But we do feel like one of the reasons that we really wanted (Tyler) was his versatility and the upside to go out and play left tackle versus maybe taking a couple guys who were more center-only type guys. We just felt like it was best for our organization to go in that direction."

The right tackle proposition made sense only because of two realities. First, Smith played left tackle throughout his college career, earning first- and second-team All-American Athletic Conference selections in 2020 and 2021. It wouldn't be the first time a tackle switched sides, although the conversion can be more difficult than imagined for many.

Secondly, Dallas parted ways with right tackle La'el Collins in the offseason, leaving Terence Steele to replace him, as he did intermittently in 2021. Steele also filled in for Tyron Smith when the veteran was unable to play due to injury, as Jones alluded. Tyron Smith hasn't played a full season since 2015, missing at least three games in each of his last six seasons.

It seems as if the Cowboys won't move to make Tyler Smith a right tackle, then, but roll with Tyron Smith and Steele as their starting tackles, and Tyler Smith as the replacement for the since-departed left guard Connor Williams.

The placement fits what's Lance Zierlein projected for Tyler Smith in his breakdown of the Tulsa product ahead of the draft, writing, "A move from tackle to guard would allow teams to feature his downhill power in the rushing attack while reducing exposure in pass protection."

That sounds like a good situation to help running back Ezekiel Elliott return to his Pro Bowl form.

Should Steele, who seemed to figure things out despite playing on both sides of the line, prove to be a quality right tackle, the Cowboys will end up looking wise for selecting Tyler Smith as a current left guard and future left tackle. Plenty of this depends on how quickly Smith adjusts to the NFL game, but the selection appears to patch a hole that might have been left open had the Cowboys moved in a different direction in the draft.

Smith isn't a splashy pick like Micah Parsons or CeeDee Lamb, but he addressed a need for both the present and the future. After abandoning positional needs for the best players available in recent drafts, the Cowboys knew they had to add a quality lineman. We'll eventually learn whether they were correct in their decision, which didn't drastically move the needle but could pay off in the long run.

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