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Cowboys Outlook: Defensive Line Depth A Strength in 2019

It isn’t too big of a stretch to look at the current construction of the Dallas Cowboys and see a team that is one of the deepest in the NFL. Take a look at the position groups and you see a team that will have a lot of competition to make the 53-man roster. Wide receiver, offensive line, cornerback, and defensive line all look to be really deep.

At defensive line, there are legitimately 10-12 players who will push for a roster spot during training camp. Some will be squeezed out by the competition and others by how the rest of the roster is constructed.

Let’s look at the defensive line depth that the Dallas Cowboys are going to be taking into training camp this offseason.

Defensive End

The Cowboys defensive end group look like it’s going to bring a lot of heat in 2019. With DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn bookending the defensive line, the Dallas Cowboys pass rush will be one of the better ones in the NFL.

The Dallas Cowboys finally did what they needed to do and got their All-Pro Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence locked up for the next five years. Lawrence is one of the premier pass rushers in the NFL. There are few 4-3 defensive ends who are as great a pass rusher as Lawrence is, who plays the run with equal effectiveness.

Coming over from Miami in a trade during free agency, Quinn is going to get the benefit of not being the most feared pass rusher on the defensive line. With opposing offenses looking to slow down DeMarcus Lawrence on the left side of the line, Quinn is going to face more one-on-one rush situations. Teams won’t be able to provide help to both of their tackles, so they’ll have to pick their poison. With Quinn on a one-year deal, he looks primed to return to his All-Pro form.

Behind Lawrence and Quinn are a plethora of intriguing players who will battle for snaps throughout the preseason. Dorance Armstrong, Taco Charlton, Tyrone Crawford, Kerry Hyder, Joe Jackson, and Jalen Jelks will all be competing for playing time behind their top two defensive ends.

As it stands now, Armstrong (right defensive end) and Crawford (left defensive end) are probably the players who will get the first snaps behind Lawrence and Quinn. Crawford is a valuable leader on the team that provides some flexibility to rush on the inside as well. Dorance Armstrong showed some promise in his rookie season and has a lot of potential.

Taco Charlton has had an up and down first couple of seasons in the NFL. After starting slow his rookie season, he finished strong toward the last half of the 2017 season. His second year in the league was a bit more underwhelming, but he struggled with a shoulder injury in the middle part of the season and had a difficult time finding a role when he came back from the injury. Going into his third season, he needs to show some of the potential that made him a first round pick. Otherwise this could be Taco’s final season in Dallas.

Kerry Hyder is very much like Tyrone Crawford in his ability to play both inside and on the edge. Back in 2016, Hyder had eight sacks for the Detroit Lions, but struggled with injuries in 2017 and playing severly out of position as a 3-4 nose tackle for the Lions. Hyder is an intriguing player heading into 2019 as the Cowboys could use him similarly to Crawford all over the defensive line.

Rookie Defensive Ends Joe Jackson and Jalen Jelks have a lot of work to do this offseason to make a push for a roster spot, but are likely headed for the practice squad in 2019.

This whole discussion doesn’t even include Randy Gregory who is facing an indefinite suspension. The Dallas Cowboys sound optimistic about his potential to play this offseason, but he remains a big unknown. If he’s available, he’ll be on the roster.

Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods, Defensive Tackle
Dallas Cowboys’ Defensive Tackles Maliek Collins and Antwaun Woods

Defensive Tackle

After years of begging for the Dallas Cowboys to invest in the interior defensive line, the Cowboys brought in a defensive tackle with 1-tech and 3-tech ability in free agency in Christian Covington. Then in the NFL Draft, they spent their top pick in the draft on Trysten Hill in the second round.

On the interior, the Cowboys have four players in Antwaun Woods, Christian Covington, Maliek Collins and Trysten Hill who will be really good for team in 2019.

Antwaun Woods was an incredible find off of the Tennessee Titans practice squad. In 2018, Woods started 15 games for the Dallas Cowboys as their 1-technique defensive tackle. Only DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford played more defensive snaps along the defensive line than Woods in 2018.

Woods partner in the 1-technique defensive tackle rotation is former Houston Texans 3-4 Defensive End Christian Covington. Covington brings similar size to the position as Woods, but can also play some 3-technique as well. He had 3.5 sacks, four tackles for loss, and eight quarterback hits for the Texans.

Woods and Covington should provide a nice pairing at the 1-technique, which will allow Maliek Collins to play his more natural 3-technique role.

After his rookie season where he had five sacks for the Cowboys, Maliek Collins has been forced to play more 1-technique defensive tackle. Play the 1-tech instead of the 3-tech defensive tackle spot means he has to take on more interior double teams and isn’t allowed to be the gap penetrator that suits him more naturally. When allowed to play more at the 3-tech, Collins has been a disruptive player. Now he’ll go into his first contract year attempting to hold off rookie Trysten Hill, Tyrone Crawford, and Kerry Hyder for snaps at the position.

Trysten Hill probably slots in as the second 3-tech defensive tackle behind Maliek Collins. Hill offers a lot of burst and power off of the line of scrimmage and will be a disruptive player in the NFL. He’s quick off of the snap and with Rod Marinelli in his ear, Hill will be the starter at 3-tech at some point in 2019 or 2020.

The other rookie defensive tackle to keep an eye on during the preseason is Defensive Tackle Daniel Wise. Wise was thought to be a player that could go in the fourth or fifth round, so the Dallas Cowboys feel like they got a steal when they signed him as an undrafted free agent. Wise was a very productive player at Kansas and has a shot to make the final 53-man roster.

Daniel Ross will be competing for a roster spot and offers nice depth if there’s an injury on the defensive interior.

The Cowboys have five guys who could take snaps at 3-technique and that’s before you start talking about the potential of moving DeMarcus Lawrence inside on some pass rush downs.

Along the defensive line, there are a lot of interesting camp battles that will be really fun to watch play out. The Cowboys could carry up to 10 defensive linemen on their final 53-man roster and there may be one or two surprises by the end of training camp.

What do you think?

John Williams

Written by John Williams

Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could.

Make sure you check out the Inside The Cowboys Podcast featuring John Williams and other analysts following America's Team.

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