Will the Cowboys select this OT?

The closer next week's draft gets, the more this offensive tackle pops up in connection with the Dallas Cowboys and the ninth overall selection.

He's Tyron Smith, and the USC tackle appears on a lot of mock drafts as a future Dallas Cowboy.

That Smith is considered a top-10 pick now is something of a shock to many. At the beginning of the 2010 season, USC listed him at 280 pounds, and there were many around the program who felt that that weight was generous. Watch him work out, and Smith's chiseled physique looks more like that of an NBA small forward than an NFL offensive lineman.

At the start of the season, few rankings of the top offensive tackle prospects for the 2011 draft included Smith's name. Such preseason lists usually started with Boston College's Anthony Castonzo and Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi. Some mentioned Colorado's Nate Solder and/or Mississippi State's Derek Sherrod. But Smith was viewed almost universally as being in the second tier of tackle prospects.

But Smith began to grow into his frame, showing up at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis with 307 pounds strapped to his 6-foot-5-inch frame. That's a lot of weight to add in a single year, but Smith seems to have held it on and reportedly has lost no speed or quickness. Even when considered "undersized," Smith impressed with his powerful blocking, quickness and footwork. What impressed a lot of scouts was that adding size and strength (he recorded 29 repetitions on the NFL-standard 225-pound bench press at the combine and 31 at USC's Pro Day) did not take away his speed, quickness, balance and lateral movement. Smith is not a big player with athletic ability; he is a pure athlete who has been able to add size.

Smith did only the bench press at the Combine, but USC's Pro Day (at which head coach Jason Garrett was part of the Cowboys' contingent of representatives), he dazzled scouts. Of the elite tackle prospects, he is the only one to record a 40-yard dash time under five seconds (4.91). He jumped 29 inches in the vertical jump and 9-1 in the broad jump, and showed exceptional speed, quickness and agility in the shuttle drills.

Then the comparisons began: is Smith this year's Bruce Campbell?

Campbell is the offensive tackle the Oakland Raiders drafted out of Maryland last year. Like Smith, Campbell made scouts drool with his off-the-charts workout numbers. But as is the case with Smith this year, there were some who thought Campbell was more of a workout warrior than a pure football player, one of those players whose workout numbers exceeded his football ability. Prior to the 2010 draft, some pundits projected Campbell to go as high as the upper half of the first round.

As it turned out, teams shied away from Campbell, who slid to the fourth round, where the Raiders grabbed him with the 106th overall pick. When then-head coach Tom Cable moved Campbell to guard, some whispered the word "bust." But Cable insisted he saw so much ability in Campbell that the move was designed simply to get his impressive rookie on the field.

Campbell played in 10 games as a rookie, and Cable said several times that he thought getting Campbell that late in the draft was something of a coup. His success as a rookie has helped convince some teams — including the Cowboys, ranchreport.com has learned — that Smith's accolades (among Smith's accolades: he was named first-team All-Pac 10 and won the Morris Trophy as the conference's top offensive lineman, as voted by Pac-10 defensive players) were indicative of his ability, not just his overwhelming physical gifts.

Whether the Cowboys end up taking Smith next Thursday remains to be seen, of course. The team is believed to have considerable interest in shoring up the secondary (at both cornerback and safety), and has done extensive research on a number of defensive ends, including Wisconsin's J.J. Watt and California's Cameron Jordan, and in the days before the draft, speculation about the possibility of trading up or down heats up.

But there are more and more teams that now see Smith as the top offensive lineman in the draft, and if Dallas goes for an offensive lineman with its top pick, it's likely to be Smith.

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