There are few players on the Dallas Cowboys that go as under-the-radar as DE Ryan Russell. The state of the team's pass rush has been talked about endlessly this off season, with every single defensive linemen – from the experienced to the inexperienced – being challenged to step up.
Ryan Russell certainly hopes to factor into this equation, after being drafted by the Cowboys in 2015 with the 163rd overall pick in the 5th round.
Rookie defensive linemen often face a tough adjustment when they come to the NFL, and this was likely going to be especially true for the Purdue University product in Russell. Spending his final two collegiate seasons in a 3-4 defense, Ryan was going to need some serious work with Rod Marinelli to develop into a consistent edge rusher for the Cowboys.
Instead, Russell would battle injuries during a 2015 campaign that saw him only appear in one game for 33 snaps against the Falcons in a week 3 loss. He was later placed on the injured reserve, forcing him to officially look ahead to 2016.
In a best case scenario for Cowboys fans this season, Russell progresses similarly in year two to DeMarcus Lawrence, who battled injuries of his own during a 2014 rookie campaign that saw D-Law appear in just seven games.
While Lawrence now hopes to take his 2015 momentum into this season, his four-game suspension also opens the door for players like Russell to take snaps at LDE.
Ryan Russell's best chance to see significant time in Marinelli's defensive line rotation is likely on the left side, as the defensive coordinator may feel comfortable with Lawrence's development to move him back to the right side in week 5 to split snaps with Randy Gregory, Benson Mayowa, and Tapper.
If this is the case, I think Russell's main competition at left defensive end comes from David Irving. To beat out Irving, the skillful Russell will have to be able to stack up against the run while also providing some leverage and edge -rush ability as a pass rusher.
The Dallas Cowboys' season is going to depend heavily on the performance from a lot of their second-year players. This is particularly true for the 2015 draft class, which has a chance to be one of their most complete draft hauls in years should defenders like Russell along with Mark Nzeocha and Damien Wilson step up and play major roles.
I'll continue to take a look at these guys throughout this series here on Inside The Star, but for now Cowboys Nation should keep an eye on Ryan Russell as an impact defensive end for a team that could desperately use them in 2016.