Cowboys picked as top offensive line by AP, Steelers 2nd
ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) — No team has invested more draft capital in the offensive line the past few years than the Dallas Cowboys, and the investment in the trenches has paid off in a major way.
Their offensive line led by former first-round picks and 2016 All-Pros Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Travis Frederick was voted the top line in the NFL by an Associated Press panel in balloting released Friday. Dallas received the most first-place votes with four from the 11-person panel, and 94 of a possible 110 points in voting done by Hall of Fame receiver James Lofton and 10 AP football writers.
“They do a fantastic job every week, not only as run blockers but as pass protectors,” coach Jason Garrett said. “They’re the engine behind our offense. They play the game the right way. They prepare to play the game the right way. And we feed off of them. Regardless of who’s playing quarterback for us, who’s playing running back, tight end or receiver, those guys make their jobs better. We have a lot of confidence in them.”
If the Cowboys might not be as dominant as a year ago as they incorporate La’el Collins and Jonathan Cooper into the lineup, they still are the best at a position that many teams struggle to fill.
The line was a major reason for the success of rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott last year, and might need to clear holes for some lesser backs if Elliott winds up serving a six-game suspension.
“They’ve settled in nicely after a slow start that was mainly due to inserting two new starters,” said Rob Maaddi, who is based on Philadelphia. “They have three studs and now we’ll possibly have to see if they can open holes for non-elite backs.”
Maaddi, Dave Campbell of Minneapolis, Simmi Buttar of New York and Teresa Walker of Nashville, Tennessee, all voted Dallas as No. 1
The Pittsburgh Steelers came in second with one first-place vote and 68 points.
“The underappreciated group allows the Steelers’ Killer Bs to work their magic,” Buttar said.
Philadelphia and Tennessee finished tied for third with 57 points. The Eagles were the only other team getting multiple first-place votes with three, while the Titans joined the Cowboys as the only teams named on all 11 ballots.
“The Jack Conklin-Taylor Lewan pair of tackles is as good of a young tandem as there is in the NFL,” Campbell said of the Titans, who used recent first-round picks on those bookend tackles.
There was quite a bit of variance in the voting, with 20 of the 32 teams receiving votes, including six that got picked for the top spot with New Orleans, Kansas City and New England joining Dallas, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
The Eagles might have been higher on this list if not for a season-ending right knee injury to star left tackle Jason Peters, but Arnie Stapleton of Denver, Dennis Waszak Jr. of New York and Howard Fendrich of Washington still had them in the top spot.
“The Eagles’ hold on the top spot is tenuous with the loss of nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters,” Stapleton said. “Carson Wentz took a lot of hits last week against San Francisco, and watch out, here come Von Miller, Shane Ray and Shaq Barrett.”
The Los Angeles Rams came in fifth with 55 points following the key offseason additions of left tackle Andrew Whitworth and center John Sullivan, who have played a big role in the strong seasons by quarterback Jared Goff and running back Todd Gurley.
The rest of the top 10 featured New Orleans, Oakland, Kansas City, Jacksonville and New England.
“The Jaguars have the NFL’s top-ranked rushing game, and their offensive line is a big reason Leonard Fournette has gotten off to a terrific start,” Waszak said. “Even with the rookie running back injured, Jacksonville cleared paths for T.J. Yeldon to run for 122 yards in Week 7.”
EDITOR’S NOTE — The Associated Press is ranking the top 10 players at a different position every week of the NFL season, based on votes by Pro Football Hall of Fame member James Lofton and AP football writers Simmi Buttar, Dave Campbell, Schuyler Dixon, Josh Dubow, Howard Fendrich, Rob Maaddi, Arnie Stapleton, Teresa M. Walker, Dennis Waszak Jr. and Barry Wilner. This feature will move on Fridays.
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