With the 2017 regular season coming to a close, it's now time to focus on one of my favorite times of the football calendar: the 2018 NFL Draft. The Dallas Cowboys clearly have their fair share of needs, which they should look to fill through both the draft and free agency, but defensive tackle is towards the top of that list.
In 2017, the Cowboys ranked 21st in Defensive DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) against the run, and against good-to-great offenses, their run defense was often shredded. Especially when linebacker Sean Lee was missing.
Maliek Collins and David Irving are both good options on the interior, but both are at their best when playing 3-technique. The Cowboys need a true 1-technique in order to reach their full potential as a run defense. Luckily for the Cowboys, the 2018 NFL Draft class is loaded with interior defensive line talent.
Here are just a few options the Cowboys will have come draft day.
DT Vita Vea, Washington
To be honest, Vita Vea (like Vay-uh) is probably my favorite option at defensive tackle for the Cowboys. Vea weighs over 330 pounds and is an absolute load in the middle of the defense. It's his athletic ability and strength which help make him such a dynamic player, however.
Vea consistently dominated offensive linemen at Washington with a vicious push-pull, and showed the ability to anchor against double-teams as a nose tackle. He is at his best against the run, and though used as a nose tackle in an odd front at Washington, I think he can play well as a 1-technique in Dallas.
In terms of pass rush, I think Vita Vea has a solid upside as well. He typically goes to the bull-rush, and considering his strength and get-off, he is often successful.
I also saw him utilized on stunts effectively during his college career.
I will have a full-length scouting report on Vita Vea as the draft process moves along, but for now you should know that he's going to be a legitimate option with the 19th overall pick.
DT Taven Bryan, Florida
The next name you should get to know is Florida Gators defensive tackle Taven Bryan.
Bryan declared for the draft just a few weeks ago, and after my initial viewings, I'm tempted to consider him very early in the 2018 NFL Draft. In fact, I've seen Bryan ranked as high as the top-30 on some respected NFL Draft boards.
Like Vea, Taven Bryan has a powerful bull-rush move, as you can see in the video. Bryan's first step is lethal, as he often beats offensive linemen before they are even out of their stance.
His biggest issue is probably his pad level.
I noticed he sometimes comes off the ball too high, allowing offensive linemen to get into his chest and render his quick get-off useless.
Taven Bryan is a bit of hybrid defensive tackle, showcasing he can play both the 3 and the 1. Regardless, he would be a valuable addition to the Cowboys defensive unit.
DT Da'Ron Payne, Alabama
Last but not least, Alabama defensive tackle Da'Ron Payne is an athletic freak on the interior. The 6'2″, 308-pound junior has been incredibly disruptive during his time at Alabama.
While his numbers don't look all that pretty, Payne's tape speaks for itself. Payne hasn't been as consistent as his former teammate, Dalvin Tomlinson, was as a defensive tackle at ‘Bama, but his flashes show just how high his ceiling can be.
His size, skill, and athletic ability make him scheme-versatile — something we all know Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli values greatly.
Da'Ron Payne would be a solid second-round option during the 2018 NFL Draft if the Cowboys decide to wait until day two to address their 1-technique needs.