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Early Rookie Prospectus: Zack Martin

May 9, 2014, 12:22 PM EDT

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Craig Chval, the official 2013 football beat writer for the Strong & True blog, is currently a junior at the University of Notre Dame. Over the course of the year Craig will bring you insight from within the student section, interviews with Fighting Irish players and previews of each game. You can follow Craig (and the rest of the Notre Dame student beat writing staff) on twitter at @JrNDBloggers.

With the 16th pick of the NFL Draft last night, the Dallas Cowboys selected former Irish left tackle Zack Martin. While people were speculating if Jerry Jones would take Johnny Manziel, possibly the least safe pick in the draft, Dallas instead went after the highly dependable Martin.

So how will the 52-game starter for Notre Dame fit with his new team? Let’s take a look at the offensive line prospects for the Cowboys.

2013 offensive line starters: Tyron Smith, Ronald Leary, Travis Frederick, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Doug Free

Although guard was one area of need for the Cowboys, it certainly wasn’t their greatest. Dallas fielded a pretty decent offensive line last year, giving up 35 sacks (7th fewest in the NFL) and 54 QB hits (2nd fewest).

In general, offense was not a problem for Dallas, whose 27.4 points per game were fifth best in the NFL. The popular picks for their first-rounder were a quarterback to back up Tony Romo or someone to shore up one of the worst defenses in the league. Giving up 415.3 yards per game in 2013 was one of the worst marks in NFL history, and the loss of DeMarcus Ware won’t help.

But instead, the Cowboys picked Zack Martin, considering him too good to pass up at No. 16 in the first round. Because of his relatively short arms, Martin will likely move to guard, and if he fulfills his potential, he will possibly make Dallas’ offensive line one of the best units in the NFL.

All of the Cowboys’ 2013 starters at O-line have returned in 2014, but it’s likely Martin will bump either Ronald Leary or Mackenzy Bernadeau from the rotation. Martin could end up playing either guard position, or maybe right tackle if Doug Free moves inside.

At left tackle, the Cowboys have Tyron Smith, entering his fourth year in the NFL out of USC. Smith was a Pro Bowler last season and finished second-team All-Pro. If Martin plays left guard, he will be blocking next to one of the five or 10 best offensive tackles in the game.

Dallas is hoping Martin pans out like Travis Frederick, their first-round pick from 2013 who was panned as a reach on draft day. Instead, he started all 16 games and was chosen for the all-rookie team. With Martin, the ’Boys have three first-round picks on the offensive line, and all could potentially be playing on the left side.

But if Martin doesn’t play guard, he will go to right tackle, possibly in preparation for Doug Free playing his final year on his contract. Free has been strangely inconsistent, taking a pay cut after a horrible 2012 season only to bounce back with a strong campaign last year. Free is 30, so maybe the Cowboys will want Martin to be a long-term replacement at right tackle.

Ultimately, though, I think Martin will be the best fit at guard, where his size and arm-length won’t be as big of an issue. He also brings an athleticism and intelligence that will serve well in pulls, traps, and zone-blocking schemes.

Martin was considered one of the safest picks of the drafts, and there’s a reason he became the highest drafted Irish O-lineman since Aaron Taylor. I might be biased, but expect big things from him in Dallas.

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