For years, the defensive end position has been hot topic around NFL Draft time. Dallas has been trying to fix their pass rush since the glory days of DeMarcus Ware. Thankfully, the Cowboys appears to be close to that goal in 2018.
After the new DeMarcus' breakout season last year, the Cowboys have their catalyst on the defensive line. Laerence will be back for this year, if nothing else, on the one-year franchise tag.
Dallas also enjoyed seeing first-round rookie Taco Charlton improve over time, becoming an effective contributor by the end of the year. If that growth continues, he could be a starter next season.
These big investments of cap space and draft picks, especially such a recent one in Charlton, may dissuade the Cowboys from taking another DE high in this draft.
That possibility is helped by some of their other young talents on the roster, as well as a potentially underrated free agent signing.
As was reported last week, Randy Gregory may be close to returning to football. If he is reinstated, and if he can still play, Gregory could be exactly what Dallas needs as a weak-side rusher. None of the current players project to that side, taking on NFL left tackles, the way Randy does.
Along with Gregory, third-year DE Charles Tapper will hopefully be ready to get back to business. He's only been able to appear in two games so far due to two separate injuries. The former fourth-round pick has potential and just needs his body to finally cooperate.
With Benson Mayowa leaving in free agency, Dallas added some veteran depth when they signed fifth-year pro Kony Ealy. While not yet the breakout star some have expected, Ealy was a solid contributor for three years in Carolina. He ended up miscast as a 3-4 defensive end last year with the Jets, which limited his opportunities.
There are a lot of question marks with all of these guys, of course. Gregory has to prove he can still play after a long time away and stay out of trouble. Tapper has to stay healthy. Ealy has to deliver on the hope that a return to the 4-3 scheme will produce results.
Even Taco Charlton, mentioned before, needs to make a significant leap from last year to secure a major role. That isn't guaranteed.
Thankfully, the Cowboys have a lot of flexibility in their defensive line. While technically inside tackles, guys like Tyrone Crawford, David Irving, and Datone Jones can play outside if needed. That gives the team some security against their risk/reward backups at defensive end.
Given all this potential talent, it's unlikely the Cowboys will prioritize defensive ends in the first round. But with DeMarcus Lawrence not signed long-term, the team won't just dismiss the position. If the right guy is there on Friday, particularly a pass rusher who can play on the weak side, Dallas can make a case for adding that player in the second or third round.
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