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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Other 2018 Draft Needs articles:
Cowboys Draft Target: Nebraska RB Devine Ozigbo
NAME: Devine Ozigbo
POSITION: Running Back
CONFERENCE: Big Ten
JERSEY: No. 22
RECRUITMENT RATING: 3-star
By the end of the season, Ozigbo had rushed for 1,082 yards and 12 touchdowns in 12 games. He became Nebraska's first 1,000-yard rusher since Ameer Abdullah in 2014. He also ended with an average of 6.98 yards per carry, which put him at fourth in the Big Ten among players with at least 100 carries.
Devine Ozigbo looks the part of a prototypical NFL running back. He has a well muscled/thick frame, with a strong lower half. He is a physical runner capable of playing in a power/gap or zone blocking scheme, but probably projects best as a zone runner. Has the skill set to be a three-down player, with starting potential. Low tread on the tires, only 419 career carries at Nebraska.
Ozigbo runs with good patients on film, "slow to, fast through", which gives his lineman time to secure their blocks. Runs with good power and leg drive, but also has nimble feet with the elite ankle flexion that allows him to make quick lateral cuts to evade defenders. Finisher in short yardage situations. Shows good vision. Waits for defenders to commit to their run fits before hitting the cutback lane. Has surprising burst and elusiveness for a RB his size.
Can be a threat in the passing game both out of the backfield and split out wide. Has shown the ability to run basic route stems when split out wide. Is a solid hands catcher and has shown he can catch passes thrown outside his frame. Quickly goes from receiver to runner and is surprisingly elusive in the open field. His size helps him in pass protection. He has a strong punch and long arms to keep defenders at bay, but also understands how to absorb contact.
One-year wonder? The lack of production at Nebraska might be the biggest concern about Devine Ozigbo as a running back prospect. He had to finally transform his body in 2018 to get on the field, but found success once that happened. Can he maintain that kind of discipline in the NFL? There are also concerns about his long speed.
As a runner, Ozigbo may be only a zone runner in the NFL. Might be scheme dependent. There are times on film where he struggles with his vision, especially when there are multiple offensive lineman pulling. Will also struggle with his reads at time. Better when his reads are clearly defined pre-snap. Takes time to hit top speed and it looks lackadaisical at times. Might take time to adjust to the speed of the game at the next level.
In the passing game he has struggled with passes thrown at a high velocity. Has double caught, bubbled, and dropped a number of high velocity passes. This could be an issue, because he doesn't have the softest hands to begin with. Needs to clean up his technique in pass protection. Will telegraph cut blocks, allowing defenders to easily avoid and pressure the quarterback. Could stand to become a better route runner to be more of a factor when split out wide as a receiver.
Devine Ozigbo is reportedly one of the Dallas Cowboys 30 pre-draft visitors, suggesting the former Cornhuskers running back is already on their radar. He would immediately become the RB2 behind Ezekiel Elliott as a rookie and give the Cowboys a formidable one-two punch to wear down opposing defenses. He possesses an intriguing skill set, but isn't the change of pace/got back many have wanted to complement Zeke in the running game.
Ozigbo is a physical runner with a surprisingly nimble feet and flexibility for a RB his size. At Nebraska, he was at his best one running inside zone plays, which just so happens to be a staple in the Cowboys zone blocking scheme. He is also a threat as a receiver out of the backfield and a solid pass protector. Overall, he has a three-down back and someone who could help lighten the load on Zeke's shoulders. He could be a steal for the Cowboys on Day 3, which is where he's projected to be drafted.
Cowboys Mock Draft: 2 Different Simulators, 2 Different Outcomes
The Dallas Cowboys have done an outstanding job of filling holes with some cost-effective free agents so far in free agency, which should allow them two approach the 2019 NFL Draft without any glaring "needs". This should free them up to take the best player available if they so choose, but they still have to keep the future in mind as well. After all, there are several players on a one-year deal or entering the last year of their contracts.
For this 7-round Dallas Cowboys mock draft exercise I decided to use the mock draft simulators for Draft Network and Fanspeak. I was curious to see the difference, if any, between the two. I have to say, even though I used two different draft simulators, I was pretty happy with the way things turned out.
Let's take a look…
|Rd 2 (58)||DE, Christian Miller||DE, Christian Miller|
|Rd 3 (90)||DT, Trysten Hill||S, Amani, Hooker|
|Rd 4 (128)||OT, Bobby Evans||TE, Kahale Warring|
|Rd 4 (136)||S, Marquise Blair||RB, Rodney Anderson|
|Rd 5 (165)||WR, Jalen Hurd||DT, Michael Dogbe|
|Rd 7 (241)||RB, James Williams||WR, Cody Thompson|
Even though I used two different draft simulators, you can clearly see the positions I was targeting for the Dallas Cowboys. I think each one of these players I selected can challenge for a starting job in 2019, but at the worst can be solid depth this year and then become starters in 2020.
Let's dive into this a little deeper so I can tell you why a selected each one of these players…
2nd-round (58th overall)
Christian Miller is the only player I drafted in both mock drafts for the Dallas Cowboys. He is one of my "pet cats" this year and someone who I believe fits the criteria the Cowboys look for in their defensive ends. I believe he could challenge to be a starter as a rookie, but at worst would be a really good rotational piece with starting potential down the road.
3rd-round (90th overall)
Trysten Hill is a penetrating DT who could challenge Maliek Collins to become the starting three-technique as a rookie, but at the very least be a really good rotational piece with starting potential.
Amani Hooker is someone who I believe could start next to Xavier Woods as a rookie, even after the Dallas Cowboys added George Iloka to the mix.
4th-round (128th overall)
Bobby Evans has the ability to play the left or right tackle position in the NFL and could immediately challenge La'el Collins at RT. At worst, he would be Collins' replacement in 2020.
Sitting behind Jason Witten and learning for a season would be ideal for Kahale Warring, because he does have the potential to become the Dallas Cowboys TE1 in 2020 despite his lack of college production.
4th-round (136th overall)
Marquise Blair is an underrated safety in the 2019 draft class and someone who would also pair nicely with Xavier Woods. He played mostly strong safety at Utah, but as the ability to be a factor in coverage as well.
Rodney Anderson would immediately step in and become Ezekiel Elliott's backup as a rookie. He is an upgrade over Rod Smith and has starting potential if he can stay healthy.
5th-round (165th overall)
Despite signing Randall Cobb, the Dallas Cowboys could use a slot receiver for the future. I personally really like Jalen Hurd as a "big slot". He gives the Cowboys some size at the WR position and a big target for Dak Prescott to throw to in the slot.
Michael Dogbe is another potential three-technique with starting potential for the Cowboys. He'd likely be a rotational player as a rookie, but could take over for Maliek Collins in 2020.
7th-round (254th overall)
James Williams would bring an intriguing skill set to the Dallas Cowboys as Zeke's backup running back. He is arguably the best receiving RB in the entire draft out of the backfield and when split out wide like a WR.
Cody Thompson reminds me of LA Rams WR Cooper Kupp and would play a similar role with the Cowboys. He needs to fine-tune his route running, but I think he can become their future slot receiver.
Cowboys Draft: Evaluating the Need for a Tight End
Tight end has become a very intriguing position in Dallas. For the first time in 15 years, the Cowboys went through a season without Jason Witten lining up with the offense in 2018. Instead, Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz took over and didn't contribute much to a struggling offense. They both had a few flashes here and there, but TE production wasn't really special for the Cowboys last season. Now, Witten is back from retirement and he'll work with the younger guys to upgrade the offense.
However, tight end still feels like a team need at this point. Jason Witten will be 37 years old when the season begins. His speed was a problem during the last years of his career and that problem will likely show on the field now that he's back. The Cowboys made a good decision bringing him back, but he's clearly not a long-term answer.
It seems like Witten will get the starts, but don't expect Blake Jarwin to have no say on who's the most important TE on the team. Jarwin didn't have the best stats in 2018 but, how could he? There were only three games last season in which he was targeted more than three times. In those games, he had 229 yards, including a three touchdown performance versus the New York Giants (when he was targeted eight times).
With Kellen Moore taking over as the offensive coordinator, tight ends might be more involved on the Cowboys offense than in previous years. If that's the case, the Cowboys will have Jason Witten, Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz on the roster. All three of these guys will be able to contribute. Schultz is the one who's still unproven, but he did a decent job as a rookie both as a blocker and as a receiver on the rare occasions a ball was thrown his way.
We talk about drafting a tight end for the future when the Cowboys might see their future in Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz. These two along with Jason Witten are virtual locks to make the roster. The Cowboys would need to carry four tight ends for it to make sense to draft one in the first place.
Fortunately, the Cowboys have done something at pretty much every position of need this offseason, giving them flexibility to take a "best player available" in April. I truly won't be surprised if the front office doesn't prioritize the need for a young TE. If they do, let's hope they get a very good one.
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