The Dallas Cowboys have one of the league’s better offensive lines, and second-year pro Travis Frederick is at the heart and center of it. Thanks to Frederick’s tireless efforts as a run blocker, DeMarco Murray was able to experience the best season of his career last year with 1,121 rushing yards on just 217 carries for an average of 5.2 yards per carry. Murray’s production and durability helped him silence critics and entrench himself as a true feature back, and Frederick also silenced his own critics. Most of those people, however, were criticizing the Cowboys for “reaching” for the center in the first round instead of waiting on a prospect who was generally graded as a third-rounder. The Cowboys were, of course, vindicated, and Frederick currently sits as one of the top ten centers in the game after just one season.
It’s safe to say that he’ll be even better next season, and this is two-fold. First of all, he’ll have more experience and should continue to develop a bit more physically. Moreover, the Cowboys line will be better next year, as they added another first-round pick to the interior in Zack Martin, who is a versatile technician that can move the pile in the ground game and offer safe pass protection.
If there’s one thing that Frederick can stand to improve on in his second season, then it’s his pass protection. According to the Pro Football Focus, he allowed four sacks last season, and that’s a number that should go down this season. Coming out of Wisconsin, all of Frederick’s knocks dealt with his lack of athleticism and ability to protect the quarterback. His lateral agility and ability to face explosive interior pass rushers was questioned, though his mean streak, run blocking, and strength were never put into question.
Those last three qualities were on display all season, and his issues in pass protection weren’t as big of an issue as some would have thought. That said, they will need some cleaning up, because he did allow too much pressure to come across. A big reason why Frederick will be even better going forward is because of the progress he’ll make as a pass blocker, since it isn’t easy to get everything down as a rookie. It’s clear, though, that he has elite potential, because he immediately made a massive impact as a run blocker, which is easily the most important job of a center.
New England Patriots center Ryan Wendell was a revelation as a first-year starter in 2012, as he led the league in most snaps taken and showed terrific prowess as a run blocker. However, the small, undrafted technician at center displayed inconsistencies in pass protection, and these became magnified in his second year as a starter.
Why do I bring up Wendell as an example? To dispel notions that Frederick is in for a sophomore slump, even though this will also paradoxically display how such a slump could transpire. In his first year as a starter, Frederick tied with Doug Free for the team lead in snaps, he was a monstrous run blocker, and he had some struggles in pass protection. Those are three similarities with Wendell, but that’s where the comparison ends. Although Frederick lacks athleticism, he’s also stronger than Wendell and, even though he was viewed as a reach in the first round, he was still much more highly touted coming out of college. So while he isn’t an athletic speciman and lacks lateral agility, Frederick has significantly more natural talent, and that talent should allow him to overcome any differences in approach that defenses will make against him.
As a whole, the Cowboys offensive line did a steady job of keeping Tony Romo upright, and that’s mainly thanks to one of the NFL’s most underrated tackles duos in Tyron Smith and Doug Free. The line was at its best on running plays, and that’s not a coincidence given the impact Frederick had at the heart of the team’s line. His ability to get to the second level is terrific, and beefy, strong interior defensive linemen still don’t stand much of a chance against him. I think it takes an elite player to give Frederick trouble in the running game, but the only concern is that a DT with a quick first-step causes him difficulty. To wit, his worst games came against Dontari Poe, Linval Joseph and the New York Giants, and the Philadelphia Eagles.
I think by the end of the 2014 season, Frederick will have even more clout, and it’s possible that he could become a household name. He and Eagles center Jason Kelce are two of the game’s best offensive linemen, and I think Frederick will join Kelce as one of the top five centers in the NFL sooner rather than a later. Kelce has a key advantage due to his excellent- rare, really- athletic ability at the position, but better technique, experience, and blitz recognition could eventually make Frederick one of the league’s best centers as well. For now, he’s already firmly in the top ten, and he was one of the most impressive rookies overall last season.