The Dallas Cowboys have been relying on band-aids for a while now in the middle of their defensive line. It may finally time to make a big investment at tackle, which is why the DT position has been targeted in the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft.
While Dallas had the 8th-best defense in terms of total rushing yards allowed last year, they were only average (tied for 16th) in yards-per-attempt. Now that they've found their dynamic pass rusher in DeMarcus Lawrence, attention can be turned to a dominant presence in the interior.
There is already a lot of talent at DT, but it's all guys who excel at the same thing. David Irving. Maliek Collins, Tyrone Crawford; these are all players who are best suited as the “3-technique” tackle who can use athleticism to beat his man and get in the backfield.
What the Cowboys have lacked for some time now is a truly great space eater. That guy, typically called the “1-technique” or “nose tackle,” commands double teams and opens things up for others.
There have been some solid players in that role. Terrell McClain did well in 2016 and earned a nice contract from Washington. Nick Hayden had the job before him and was durable, but never exceptional.
No, since the Cowboys switched back to the 4-3 defense in 2013, they haven't had a great player in that 1-tech spot. Perhaps that will change after this weekend.
Investing a first-round pick at DT could pay dividends across the defense. The immediate impact would be allowing Maliek Collins, who had to play the 1-tech spot last year, to get back to his more natural position. After his impressive rookie season playing next to McClain, Collins was not as effective in the 1-tech role last year.
Similarly, David Irving could be even more dangerous with a stronger presence beside him. We've already seen what a force Irving can be on the field, and another guy commanding attention could make him even more lethal.
As we said before, Dallas wasn't bad against the run last year. But what if they were much better? What if they could take it away from opposing teams?
With the pass rush on the rise and exciting young talent now in the secondary, forcing teams to throw more could lead to more sacks and turnovers. Sticking offenses with long 2nd and 3rd-down plays increases your defensive opportunities.
This is why a run-stuffing defensive tackle, while perhaps not a glamorous player to use your first-round pick, could be a very wise choice in this 2018 draft. It's why you've seen a guy like Washington's Vita Vea mocked to Dallas in the first round.
Of course, wide receiver has become the hot topic since Dez Bryant's release. But a rookie WR probably won't have the same overall impact on his side of the ball, at least not in 2018, that a great DT could have on defense.
The Cowboys know this as well as anybody, and their defensive coordinator has a soft spot for defensive linemen. If Rod Marinelli sees a guy he thinks can be a star, that opinion will go a long way to deciding what Dallas does this weekend.
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