One thing that I really enjoy about my career choice is that every new day allows me to learn about an athlete that I knew nothing about. This is easy in covering the draft because I follow the NFL much closer than college football, so when you start getting deeper into the NFL draft, it is not difficult to find a player that I have flat-out, never heard a thing about in my life.
This also works for my passions of hockey and world soccer. Every day, there is no reason why you can't learn about a brand new story that has put an athlete in the top level of his profession. I will say, though, sometimes it is more difficult to find NFL players that I don't know anything about. But, they are out there. Usually, they play in the AFC and usually on a team that hasn't been very good for a while and usually they are a reserve. And then the Cowboys decide to splash a little free agent money in their direction and it is time to learn.
This is an interesting plan by the Cowboys who are looking for defensive end help without throwing big money at the veterans on the market. Instead, they are looking through other team's reserves and trying to find someone who would be giddy about up-front money that would exceed all of their career earnings and try to poach them away.
To fully understand where they are on Mayowa and why the Cowboys think this is worth the trouble, we must do two things - 1) look at Oakland's positional situation at DE. and 2) look at what type of player Mayowa actually has shown in his age-23 and age-24 seasons in Oakland.
The Raiders had two starters play the edge of their defensive front in 2015 who were top draft picks in the last few drafts. The amazing Khalil Mack was taken with the 5th pick in the 2014 draft and already is off the charts with his awesome overall play. Then, in 2015, the Raiders took Mario Edwards at the top of Round 2 and instantly inserted him at the other edge as more of a strong-side DE threat. Now, in free agency, they grabbed the speed rusher Bruce Irvin from Seattle for a large 4-year, $37m deal a few weeks back. So, with the money they will allocate to Mack and Edwards going forward and the money already invested in Edwards, Mayowa moves down the depth chart and they may not have much of a role for him. But, they have the cap room and could elect to just keep Mayowa and not really feel the pain. Then, when they must pay Mack or Edwards for extensions, Mayowa's big 2016 number will already be done.
Last year, Benson Mayowa played 376 defensive snaps for Oakland - which represented a career high. For those wondering, the average defense plays about 1,000 snaps in a season and that is around 62 or 63 a game. So, after missing four games, he played about 31 snaps a game in 12 games. He would get a few series a game from Mario Edwards as a rotational and then would replace Edwards on some 3rd downs as more of a pass rusher. Later in the season, Edwards would miss time, so Mayowa was able to get 1st team-action against Green Bay and Denver.
He was undrafted out of Idaho as a very lanky edge guy. This is important because if Oakland does not match the deal (which they reportedly will), they would be due no draft pick compensation from Dallas. He was signed by Seattle and played with them in 2013 on their Super Bowl Championship team (with Bruce Irvin) and played 2 games in September. Then, he was released in 2014 before camp ended and was grabbed by Oakland. He has been with the Raiders in 2014 and 2015 and has played roughly the same role as backup edge guy ever since. His production has been extremely modest with 2 fumble recoveries and 2 sacks but according to a source with the Cowboys, "He has really developed his game over his three years in the league and looks like he is ready for a bigger role". Well, Oakland has really loaded up at this spot and isn't afraid to aim much higher than developmental guys anymore, so while his paycheck is not guaranteed to improve, his playing time may actually go backwards in Oakland. But, Dallas has cash and a spot.
So, now Dallas had to put an offer out that found the balance between paying enough to make Oakland think, but not too much that if Oakland did pass that it would be considered absurd.
They think they did. So, let's see what inspired their interest in this young - but will turn 25 at training camp - athletic edge guy.
Here are 10 or 11 plays I wanted to show you from looking for his contributions in the 2nd half of 2015 that I have found for you, as we try to get an idea of what inspired the Cowboys' interest.
Look for big #95 off the edge here who first over pursues on the bootleg, but then rallies back to the play and finds a ball laying on the ground. Once you see him run with the ball, his athleticism is apparent. That has never been an issue as his 40-time going back to his regional combine of 4.65 always caught the eyes of the scouts. He is surely not very stout as a defensive end, but the arm length and the ability to move is always going to be attractive in today's NFL.
He does this pretty well. He holds the edge on a running play and is able to dive at the runner and get in on the tackle. It looks questionable from this angle wether he got part of Danny Woodhead, but in fact, he did. You certainly want someone who can not only hold up the flank, but then make a play on the ball carrier, and Mayowa does this repeatedly when you watch him.
Above, against the Vikings, he is at that RDE and when Adrian Peterson gets stuck on his run, Mayowa is one of many to close him down after Benson is clearly held and held well by the pulling right guard who is not fast enough to get over and hold up the edge. I think that is a tactically odd plan by offensive lines against quick edge guys, but the Vikes tried it and it was a disaster. You can see that in plays like this, he certainly looks more like an outside LB in a 3-4, to be honest. And with Oakland's hybrid front, they were more than happy to employ that. He might be the text-book tweener.
Mayowa is on the far left of your screen here and when the Packers zone right, he is in full sprint to close down any cutback ideas. James Starks decides to cutback when he sees nothing frontside, and Mayowa is right there to help on the tackle. He is great for this play, where it should be noted, he is not accounted for. This will never be an issue with him as his motor runs hot.
Here is one we will really like. Here he is on the other side. Far right, is Benson Mayowa. Again, the Packers try to confuse the edge guy with the mesh point, but Benson is watching the ball go to John Kuhn inside. Here is what we want to see. Mayowa pounces hard with the full body pounce with legs parallel to the ground. Ideal work. You know what the Cowboys want in edge guys and he is checking those boxes with high motor, willingness to lay out, and the traits of wheels and long arms.
On this play he is back on the left side. Starks blows by him, but his chase allows him to eventually close in, strip the ball, and recover it. You are never out of the play. We do not loaf. This is potentially a useful Marinelli player.
But, Bob, will he get pressure on the QB? I don't want to misrepresent his abilities. He is not going to be a sack machine. Much of what he accomplishes is going to be on motor and effort, with some developing ability with leverage and using the arm bar to hold off his man and get his body around the corner. But, when you watch him here abuse Lions' LT Riley Reiff, you can dream that there is more where this came from. That is just beautiful.
Same game, a few plays later, he again holds up the edge and then pounces on the ball carrier to the inside. It helps to have a smaller workload, because when he gets on the field he is looking to jump on anything that moves. He is not pacing himself. This is why you want a full rotation of 8 defensive line contributors. Energy off the bench.
Back playing that standup edge on the far right. The Broncos try the end around and look at this guy close down the edge in a hurry. No issue here as a 3-4 OLB, basically, and he turns those hips and then again flies and pounces. I am not sure he is going to kill the run if you run right at him, but in space, there is a lot to like.
How about dropping him back into pass defense? He will rally to the play properly, not take a loaf, and get in on the tackle downfield.
Finally, on this one, he is there as an active body to clean up the mess caused with this pressure from the other side as Khalil Mack proves he is a beast again and when the ball comes loose, Mayowa is there to battle for it (it ended up being a safety).
So, again, this is not Mack or Lawrence Taylor. This is a 24-year old that the Cowboys wish to put in their rotation and are splashing enough money up front that they will make the Raiders make a decision over a guy that Oakland was admittedly trying to upgrade from.
If I am Oakland, I probably keep him because their roster is so affordable right now, and after you write him that bonus check, the rest of his deal is nice insurance in case somebody gets hurt. If I am Dallas, I had to not get carried away with a contract on a player who would likely just be a reserve and give you another athlete at a spot on your roster where they need help quickly.
But, either way, now I can say I spent a few hours getting to know young Benson Mayowa. Hope this helps you, as well.