Last week, I discussed particular athletic thresholds the Cowboys tend to stick to when drafting a wide receiver. Basing the training data on all wide outs drafted by Dallas since 2010, trends in how the Cowboys select pass catchers became clear. These trends can be used to aid predictions about which players the Cowboys may be targeting during the upcoming NFL Draft.
This week we take a similar look at the defensive line. Since 2011 the Cowboys have drafted just four interior defensive linemen, two of which came in 2017. Of these four, three were seventh round picks. Being that they were such late selections, it's a bit tougher to gauge what the Cowboys are looking for in their defensive tackles within the first three rounds. If we treat Maliek Collins as the “ideal” 3-technique, however, some trends become clear once again.
On first glance it becomes easy to narrow down what a Cowboys defensive tackle board may look like.
Florida State's Derrick Nnadi has been receiving a lot of love from Draft Twitter the past few months, and while I like the player on tape as well, his combine performance makes him a long shot to end up in Dallas. His 40 time, 3 cone time, and broad jump all point to a lack of explosion and athleticism in his game. The Cowboys will probably be looking for a 1-technique during the draft, but that doesn't mean they'll target a relatively nonathletic player by their standards.
Florida's Taven Bryan is an interesting case. While he passes the athleticism marks with flying colors, he is much taller and lighter than any other defensive tackle drafted by the Cowboys since 2011. His height and weight would make him an outlier in terms of previous picks. But with solid tape and excellent combine numbers, Bryan may be a target for the Cowboys regardless.
The player which best fits what the Cowboys are looking for, both on the field and athletically, would be Alabama's Da'Ron Payne. Payne can play the 1-technique in Dallas and would certainly be a day-one contributor to the Cowboys. His height and weight are ideal to the Cowboys' standards, and he performed better than average on each of athleticism tests.
The way things are looking, it would take a first round pick in order to get Da'Ron Payne to Dallas. Depending on how the board falls, I may be okay with this. But if someone like Washington's Vita Vea is available, there is no way I'd lean towards taking Payne. Da'Ron Payne is currently the 3rd-best interior defensive lineman on my board behind both Vea and Michigan's Maurice Hurst.
Nonetheless, I believe Payne is a good prospect, despite some inconsistencies on tape. He fits the bill for what the Cowboys look for in defensive tackles, and he is someone you should keep an eye on during the rest of the draft process.