After the Dallas Cowboys gave up 273 rushing yards in last season's playoff loss to the Rams, the defensive tackle position became a greater concern for 2019. It's one of the key spots that Dallas may address in this week's NFL Draft.
It's unfair to allow one game to paint the entire picture. Before going to Los Angeles, things were looking good at DT with solid play from Maliek Collins and Antwaun Woods. We weren't even bemoaning the absence of David Irving; the Cowboys' defense had emerged as one of the top groups in the league.
But then Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson ran wild, and now it's left folks wondering if Dallas is going to be able to stand up to the elite teams in the NFL without some better talent in the middle of their defensive line.
Collins and Woods are back in 2019, and veteran Tyrone Crawford should be used more at DT this year now that Robert Quinn here to play defensive end. Dallas also signed free agent Christian Covington from Houston to add to their interior rotation, plus re-signed Daniel Ross for depth.
It's a solid group, but none of these players can claim to be a game-changer at this point. There are high hopes for what Antwaun Woods might be evolving into, but that's hardly guaranteed.
Not only could the Cowboys stand to add more talent to the mix, but they may need to draft someone now in preparation for the future.
Assuming everyone sticks around in 2019, next year could see a mass exodus from the current DT depth chart. Crawford is likely to be a salary cap casualty while Collins and Covington will be unrestricted free agents.
Even Ross and Woods will technically be free agents, but they will be under the Restricted and Exclusive Rights designations so Dallas can easily keep them if they choose to.
Clearly, though, the Cowboys should be thinking ahead when it comes to their defensive tackles and this draft. And their second-round pick, 58th overall, may give them an opportunity to get better now and find a long-term answer.
True, Dallas has not typically used high picks at the DT position. The third-round pick they spent in Maliek Collins in 2016 was the highest since Willie Blade was a third-round pick in 2001 (Crawford and Jason Hatcher were originally drafted as 3-4 defensive ends).
But this 2019 presents some unique circumstances. Dallas is covered at almost all of their “glamour” positions; it's rare they don't have a crucial need for a WR, CB, DE, or some other position of greater notoriety.
Plus, you could make a case for DT being the most pivotal need on the entire roster. It depends on how you feel about the current talent at safety and tight end, but you could make a case for the interior defensive line needing an upgrade as badly as any spot on the team.
Because of comparable need at positions like TE and S, the Cowboys aren't going to reach to fill any position. They will only take a player who they feel offers great value.
One guy who could fall to the 58th pick is Dexter Lawrence from Clemson, a mammoth DT at 6'4″ and over 340 lbs. He's not only a run-stuffer but has shown the athletic ability to even get into the backfield at times.
It's going to take that kind of player to make Dallas pull the trigger on a DT in the second round. But even if it doesn't happen then, you can expect someone to probably get drafted somewhere in the team's earlier picks.
Because of their 2019 depth, Dallas might also be willing to take a chance on Jeffery Simmons out of Mississippi State. He has an ACL injury from the combine which might cost him most of this year, but Simmons is a first-round talent.
As we saw a few years ago with Jaylon Smith, the Cowboys are willing to take the risk for those kind of players. And Simmons' prognosis isn't nearly as dangerous as Jaylon's was.
Draft Likelihood: 90%
Projected Round: 3rd-4th
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