The NFL schedule makers didn't do the Cowboys any favors early in the season, as they will take on a ferocious trio of pass rushers in the first four weeks. It doesn't slow down much after that, as offensive line play will be as crucial as ever for Dallas in 2021. Let's look at the top five defensive ends the Cowboys will play this season.
No. 5 – Brian Burns – Panthers – Week 4 @ Dallas
Brian Burns is one of the most exciting young pass rushers in the NFL. He anchors what projects to be a dominant pass rush in Carolina over the next few years. If 2020 draft picks Derrick Brown and Yetur Gross-Matos can take another step forward in their development the Panthers could field one of the best defensive lines by the end of this season.
Burns will be 23 years old for the entirety of the 2021 season, and he already has 16.5 quarterback sacks under his belt. In 2021, he totaled 58 tackles, 9 sacks, 8 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, and four passes defended. If he can get his teammates to help generate more pressure in 2021, it could open the door for Brian Burns to jump up into the 12-to-15 sack range.
No. 4 – Cameron Jordan – Saints – Week 13 @ New Orleans
Cameron Jordan’s numbers were down compared to his normal baseline of play in 2020, but he is still one of the toughest edge rushers to slow down. Even in a down season, Jordan finished with 51 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 11 tackles for loss, 3 passes defended and had 16 hits on the Quarterback.
Cameron Jordan will turn 32 before the upcoming season, but he’s just one year removed from three straight seasons of at least 12 sacks and 15 tackles for loss. The Saints will need to rely on their defense even more as they fully close the door on the Drew Brees era, and a bounce-back season from Jordan would go a long way in making that happen.
No. 3 – Danielle Hunter – Vikings – Week 8 @ Minnesota
There’s a very real chance that Danielle Hunter would be on top of this list had he not missed the entire 2020 season with a fairly scary injury. Before that, Hunter had been extremely durable, as he suited up for all 16 games the prior three years.
Over 2018 and 2019 Danielle Hunter was absolutely dominant, combining for 103 solo tackles, 29 sacks, 36 tackles for loss, and 41 hits on the Quarterback. Over his five-year career, he has racked up a total of 54.5 sacks. Simply put, when Hunter is on the field and healthy, he’s one of the toughest defensive ends to keep out of the opposing backfield.
No. 2 – Joey Bosa – Chargers – Week 2 @ Los Angeles
Joey Bosa has been one of the best pass rushers in the game dating clear back to his time in college. He has hit the double-digit sack mark in three of his first five seasons and is virtually unstoppable when he’s firing on all cylinders. Fully healthy to start 2021, Bosa will anchor what should be a much improved Chargers defense.
He was banged up at times in 2021, but Bosa still came away with 39 tackles, 7.5 sacks, and 15 tackles for loss in 12 games. The Cowboys will take on the Chargers in week 2, but fortunately, they will be working on a few extra days' rest after playing in the season opener in week 1 on Thursday.
No. 1 – Chase Young – Washington – Week 14 and 16
There shouldn’t be any real surprise here at the top of this list. The toughest DE matchup is against Washington’s reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year, Chase Young. He looked every part of the generational talent he was predicted to be in year one, and Dallas has the fun task of playing him twice a season for the foreseeable future.
In two games against Dallas, last season Chase Young totaled eight total tackles and sack in two Washington victories. He put up outstanding numbers overall as a rookie, totaling 44 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 10 tackles for loss, four passes defended, four forced fumbles, and three fumbles recoveries, one of which Young returned for a TD.