Let's talk defensive line for the Dallas Cowboys this morning, shall we?
It appears that most of us agree that the best way to improve the team in the offseason is to go after the defensive line and see how we can find some "blue-chip" quality to insert into the 2-deep and continue to build this thing in a home-grown fashion. That is the key, by the way. In a league with varying ways to skin cats, it seems that everyone understands that the most effective ways to build anything that lasts (sorry, Danny Snyder) is to build it from the draft and development side. This method works for a multitude of reasons, including age, salary, and just teaching players from the start of their careers what your team philosophy and expectation levels are all that should matter - rather than how things used to be when he played in Detroit or Jacksonville.
That said, the Cowboys had to get by last year (and in the recent past) with a fair amount of guys they did not draft. Last year, the looked to Henry Melton and Jeremy Mincey from afar, and the year before it was George Selvie and Nick Hayden who emerged from nowhere to be starters. This worked within the budget because all of the acquisitions were part of various red-tag sales, with Henry Melton - he of a recent ACL injury - was the most regarded of them all. The rest were either at that spot in their career where teams doubt their viability moving forward (Mincey) or guys who were just flat out of the league and forced to take the minimum just to have a job (Selvie, Hayden, and even homegrown Josh Brent).
The two points here would be the following: 1) the Cowboys did very, very well when you consider the resources they were allocating (or not allocating) to address their defensive line. When we line the streets to praise them for their offensive line investments in the 1st round, it always seems at least someone should point out that they completely ignored the defensive line for several years to do that. Choices, choices. It is like continuing to buy electronics in your home when you have no furniture. Sometimes, we need to spread out our resources, and that is clearly the logical plan moving forward. Which leads us to 2) the job the defensive line did with this cast of characters is to be complimented, but now we should focus on adding special talent to this group and maybe the fix won't take long.
Here is the present tense depth chart according to our friends at ourlads.com
We should point out that the red indicates free agents (right now) and ALL CAPS means a player who is 30 or older. You also should notice that quietly, the Cowboys have begun their rebuild with Tyrone Crawford and DeMarcus Lawrence already in house and they were both Top 100 picks - what we consider a reasonable investment. Lawrence was actually a 2nd and a 3rd, so they believe he is exceptional, which his 2 postseason sacks seem to suggest.
The biggest issue presently with this defensive line is the ability to get sacks. With just 28 sacks, the team was ranked near the bottom of the league (28th) and 2nd worst in the NFC (Atlanta had 22). In the NFC East, the Eagles had 49 sacks, the Giants 47, and the Redskins had 36. The NFL Average team had 38, so with 28 sacks, you can see how Dallas should see this as a major issue to address. What would have 1 more sack have meant in Green Bay? We can only wonder.
I was asked what sort of pass rusher one can expect from the #27 pick in the draft by a few readers, recently. I will tell you that this is difficult data to complete because every year is different and the quality at that pick varies. Additionally, the pass rush crop varies and most years the proven rushers go early (as a group). But, for fun, here are the last few drafts in the Cowboys relative draft spot to see what sort of rushers have been available near pick #27.
|Pick||Player||2012 Sacks||2013 Sacks||2014 Sacks||Total|
|#26||Whitney Mercilus, Houston||6||7||5||18|
|#28||Nick Perry, Green Bay||2||4||3||9|
|Pick||Player||2013 Sacks||2014 Sacks||Total|
|#26||Datone Jones, Green Bay||3.5||1.5||5|
|#28||Sylvester Williams, Denver||2||0||2|
|Pick||Player||2014 Snaps||2014 Sacks|
|#26||Marcus Smith, Philadelphia||74||0|
|#29||Dominique Easley, New England||270||1|
|#34||DeMarcus Lawrence, Dallas||233||0|
It certainly speaks to the idea that this is no exact science. Ted Thompson and the Packers have been searching and searching for years to find a bookend for Clay Matthews and spent 2 1st rounders on that guy in 2012 and 2013 in this spot. Then, before the 2014 season, they just signed Julius Peppers and temporarily fixed it. So, just like the offensive line picks, there is more to this than just allocating a resource. We also must nail the pick perfectly. The Cowboys have been a fantastic roll with the Bryant, Smith, Frederick, and Martin 1st round picks (sorry, Mo Claiborne). Now, they need to get the right guy at #27 if they want to start digging their way out of this sack issue.
And guess what? Get more sacks and suddenly your defensive backs look the part.
TODAY'S DRAFT PROFILE:
(Each issue of S.O.D., we shall tackle another draft prospect. No, I have never been a scout or a NFL General Manager, but I am willing to watch a ton of football. By watching about 200 snaps of each prospect, we can really get a feel for a player and then know what we are talking about a bit better. It is no exact science, but the NFL hasn't quite figured out drafting either, so we are going to do the best we can.)
Michael Bennett, DT, Ohio State - 6'2, 290 - Senior
As we continue to dig through the defensive tackles in this draft, we move from the 320+ division down to the sub-300 types. This group is not to be overlooked or undervalued as many of the great DTs in the league are under 300 pounds and they win with quickness and athleticism in the land of the giants.
Today, it is big Bennett from the Ohio State Buckeyes. On their way to the National Championship, #53 was in the middle causing chaos and competing at a rather high level where he had 7 sacks and 14 tackles for loss in his senior season. He was also one of the key leaders on that defense that refused to lose down the stretch against elite opponent after elite opponent. For Bennett, I watched Wisconsin, Alabama, and Oregon in the final month to study his work.
What I liked: He can really be that bull in a china shop and affect the pocket and the line of scrimmage consistently by his high level of compete. He is strong and sudden and seems to be ready to battle all day long for those few plays that can change a game. He does remind me in many ways of Tyrone Crawford with his versatility and his ability to deal with bigger guys with quickness and outside guys with strength. He literally was put all up and down the line and you can see in a 4-3 that he would play both tackle spots and the occasional spell at DE - although that is not his forte. He has a great push/pull move that compliments his swim technique to win right at the snap against guards who are leaning too much and he has real nice quickness inside. I think he is the type of rotational guy who could really wear out a line for 4-Quarters.
What I did not like: It wasn't always there from Bennett. He would have spells of quiet play and even watch the play if he was unsuccessful early. He also spent way too much time on the ground in the games I watched as his quickness sometimes resulted in losing a battle of strength by losing balance and being pancaked. When that happens he gets off balance and loses leverage and then he is of no use on that play. He will also spin too much and occasionally has his back to the play as he gets stuck in his transition in the trenches. I don't think he would be a big sack guy by straight wins, but rather the type to win from coverage or a pocket collapsing into his path.
Summary: There is a lot to like and he will add quite a bit to a team's defensive line. The questions are whether you want to pay the price to get him as he might be part of the answer, but not THE answer. You would need to use him properly and maybe limit his snaps to keep his energy high, but you can see that he would be a real nice fit with a team like the Cowboys who wish to have a 6-8 man rotation at all times. Under those circumstances, I would really value him. He may be somewhat redundant to the type of player Crawford is, but having them side by side on a 4-3 nickel rush is exciting.
Today's Email/Tweet Of The Day:
That is a tough question to completely answer because it is difficult to fully remember how I felt about Lawrence last year. It seems that of the players I have looked at, I would not have him above Shane Ray, Alvin Dupree, Randy Gregory, or Dante Fowler. He does seem a bit like Eli Harold. I really like Lawrence, but I would not hesitate to draft someone who looks like an even better version of him. Bottom line, they need lots of rushers for all sorts of situations.
Next Draft Profile: Jordan Phillips, DT, Oklahoma