I have been asked quite a few times to throw out a name I think is most likely to emerge from the ashes and become a real contributor on defense. Now, this is the type of story that will be used against me down the road if it never materializes, but that is the fun of this time of year. You take some flashes from the season before, you focus on the man at practice, you eye the most important element of opportunity and your brain spits out a name that is right in front of your face.
David Irving is one of those players who those of us who watch football all year have always been interested in. He has all the tools. He is a massive man standing at 6-foot-7 but also is slender, athletic and has arms that are absurdly long. He also has the sweet bird of youth on his side as he is still just 22 years old. In other words, many rookies are older than he is as he takes his second trip around the NFL.
He was at Iowa State until he was kicked off the team for a few incidents during his time there. The charges were dropped on the serious one (alleged domestic abuse) and the other one sounds like something 20-year-old football players might do (taking part in an altercation where he was holding a vandalized stop sign when photographed and then arrested). Nothing like killing your draft stock by being kicked off a program that is not exactly known for turning out NFL stars.
So, he went undrafted and was signed by the Kansas City Chiefs. He did not make their team out of camp -- many of us thought that was a weird scheme fit for him to be in a 3-4 defense -- and was signed to their practice squad in September. Less than a month later, the Cowboys came calling when they were running low on defensive linemen (and had just been humiliated by Atlanta in Week 3) and offered him a roster spot in Dallas. He jumped on that chance Sept. 29.
Basically, the Cowboys were trying to figure out how to piece their defensive line together on the fly at the time. Greg Hardy was about to return, Randy Gregory was getting healthy, DeMarcus Lawrence was starting to play, Tyrone Crawford was trying to play through a hurt shoulder and so on and so on. With David Irving, they just wanted a player to develop.
Well, he played very sparingly. In fact, he played 199 snaps over 12 games -- roughly 16 snaps per game (the defense played about 65 each game). All told, he played the 19th-most snaps of anybody on the Cowboys' defensive roster last year. Hardly a drop in the bucket.
So why would I choose him as my "pick to click" in 2016? I really enjoyed those 199 plays.
And as you know, Gregory, Hardy and Lawrence won't be keeping him nailed to the bench. Starting this weekend, if David Irving can play defensive end like they think he can, he should be able to move that workload up to 35 snaps per game in no time.
The Cowboys desperately need some defensive ends to step up. By the way, this is the portion of the blog where I should emphasize how great DeMarcus Lawrence looks. I really wish the suspension didn't occur, but since it did, his first double-digit sack season may not happen. But, he looks ready and fully developed.
Otherwise, it is Ryan Russell, Benson Mayowa (who we haven't seen yet), Charles Tapper and Irving. If Mayowa and Irving are the top two on Sept. 11, I would be pleased. I think Irving is ready.
But he needs to really show up in these games in August to prove that.
I pulled all of his splash plays from 2015 on the All-22's and thought you may enjoy seeing those eight moments from his action last year where he "made a play." Irving is No. 95 in these cut-ups.
Here is his NFL debut in New Orleans. Days after being signed he was getting action at 3-technique and showing the tools. How quick is this guy? Dive bombs a play in the opposite direction like DeMarcus Lawrence might and logged a tackle for loss. That is what we are looking for from these guys. Some penetration and production.
If there is one play you remember clearly, I would think it is the fourth-quarter blocked field goal against Seattle where he preserved the lead for the Cowboys in his first home game. This is obviously his gift as he has the size and the arm length to be a field goal blocker for years and years. Set him up right off the center's shoulder and tell him to push and leap. A real game-saver (temporarily). Again, the movement skills after the block are not those of a defensive tackle. He seems super athletic inside.
Three-technique again the following week against Philadelphia. The left tackle (Lane Johnson) has to close that gap or Irving may shoot through. He does exactly that with cat-like quicks and scores another tackle for loss. We hoped for this from Tyrone Crawford, but his injury messed up his 2015. But, wow, this was available off the streets? Those are really impressive bursts.
Same song, different verse -- 3-tech. Run away from him. Ask the tackle to close him off. Irving destroys it, this time with power. Sproles had no chance. Get this guy on the field more! You will also notice Lawrence killing the tight end, too. It would be nice to see these guys on the field at the same time in October.
Now, let's see some pass rush. Keep in mind all of this is from the defensive tackle spot -- not defensive end. This poor guard barely touched Irving off the snap. Quick, quick, quick. He is in Bradford's lap in an instant. You have to like that ability -- the kind that will get him double-teamed very soon.
You are probably thinking that with all of this action in his first month in Dallas, he would play even more down the stretch.
... He didn't. There were three more plays down the stretch that were notable, and they started playing him out wider, too. Here is a shared sack in Miami in the final minutes.
Look at that crew. Hardy, Crawford and Gregory with Irving. A little stunt with four athletic men weaving in and out and meeting at the quarterback. Those appear to be the best-laid plans. Again, the quickness of Irving combined with his ability to convert it to power is just not common. You could tell me those are first-round traits. He is 22. He has that in his bag.
Thanksgiving Day, he is back at the 3-tech and isolated with a guard on a pass play where he gets those long arms on a throw from Cam Newton. Guards don't want to deal with Irving in pass protection and that may be his best attribute if he shows he can play defensive end -- the versatility to play everywhere. So useful.
Here was his final "splash play." I score holding penalties drawn as splash plays because they often end drives. Here, a high-quality guard, No. 71, Josh Sitton, has to hold him to keep a play from being destroyed and gets caught.
Overall, I think he has a real chance to be something. Of course, he is also an undrafted free agent who is just trying to prove he belongs in the NFL. In other words, the Cowboys are exposed at this position badly because of the suspensions and now must roll the dice on a kid who is largely anonymous across the league, and even to many Cowboys fans.
But I liked his 2015 and I like his training camp. Now, the talented youngster has to prove he can handle things in preseason. If he can, he starts opening night. From there, this guy can make a ton of money playing pro football if he keeps doing what he is doing.
Sometimes, all a kid needs is a chance. And he is definitely about to get one.