Despite their defensive success in 2018, there's no question the Cowboys could afford to add some talent across their defensive line this offseason. In particular, the Cowboys need some defensive tackle help, with Maliek Collins entering a contract year and David Irving remaining MIA.
Our search for a run stuffing defensive tackle in this year's NFL Draft class begins with Auburn's Dontavius Russell. The 6'3″ 320 pound tackle certainly looks the part of an interior run stopper, and his film shows one as well.
In his senior season, Russell tallied 36 total tackles, 6 for loss, and 1.5 sacks in 13 games. While not eye popping numbers by any stretch, Russell's flashes on the defensive line are impressive. Playing with high effort every snap, Russell is a strong run defender who can anchor inside. He is rarely moved off the ball, and can stone double teams to free up linebackers behind him. His play strength is another key to his success, as he has to maximize that strength to overcome what he lacks in other areas.
Here we see Dontavius Russell at his best. Lined up as a 2i technique, Russell stones the guard with a good first step and punch. He gets his hands inside of the guard and controls him, bench pressing him into the backfield. Then, when the quarterback is forced to choose a side, Russell sheds his blocker and makes the tackle at the line of scrimmage. He needs to improve his ability to get off blocks laterally and shed at the point of attack, but his strength and hands help him to make plays like this.
Dontavius Russell is far from an explosive player, and lacks the burst in his first step that top tier defensive linemen have. He's often a tad slow off the ball, and relies more on his ability to play strong and clog running lanes.
On this play we see Russell flash some explosiveness, however, as he will do from time to time. The 3-technique on the far side of the screen, Russell beats the offensive line off the ball with an excellent first step. The tackle tries to come down and wash Russell down the line of scrimmage, but his get-off is too quick on this rep.
Still, these flashes of explosiveness are few and far between. Dontavius Russell is a load, playing with solid strength and good hands. He is not the type of tackle who will offer much in terms of style points often.
Russell doesn't offer much as a pass rusher either. His best (and really only) move is his bull rush. Russell does a solid job of pushing the pocket from the inside with his bull rush, and keeps his hands active throughout his rush.
Still, he is not flexible or twitchy enough to be a consistent pass rusher in the NFL. Most likely Russell will be relegated to a two-down player, used on run stopping downs and in short yardage situations.
Russell is not a player with a ton of upside either. He kind of is who he is, a run stuffing defensive tackle who understands his responsibility and does a good job of executing it.
The things is, for what the Cowboys need and where you can get Russell, that type of player is fine. Adding Dontavius Russell to their defensive unit as a rotational 1-technique would be a smart move, especially if they can snag him in the third round or beyond.
If he can keep his pad level down, loosening up his hips and making him even more difficult to deal with inside, Russell could be a key addition to Rod Marinelli's defensive line rotation.