Connect with us

NFL Draft

Looking Ahead – The Defensive Line

Published

on

Draft Blog - Looking Ahead - The Defensive Line 13

31, 31, 32, and 29. In a sport that seldom rewards age with consistent production and good health, those were the ages of the Dallas Cowboys’ projected starters DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher, Jay Ratliff, and Anthony Spencer at the start of the 2013 NFL season. The Cowboys took a calculated roll of the dice that this well established quartet could provide the splash plays demanded of the defensive line in new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s system and we have all borne witness to the disastrous result.

Ware, who hadn’t missed a game in his career, missed three consecutive contests with a quad injury, and has been unable to muster any impact since his return. Ware’s opposite bookend Anthony Spencer barely got out of the starting blocks and landed on injured reserve. At tackle, Jay Ratliff’s injury situation became so contentious his relationship with the club couldn’t bear the weight and fractured. Only Jason Hatcher has remained healthy enough to stay on the field, and he’s consistently played at an all-pro level while providing clear leadership to the group of new faces that surround him. The catch? Hatcher is an unrestricted free agent in 2014.

In addition to getting zero production from half of the projected starters, the team lost two key reserves in Tyrone Crawford and Ben Bass to season ending injuries suffered on the practice field.

At present, seven of the ten defensive linemen on the Cowboys’ 53-man roster were not with the team last season, and an astounding six weren’t on the roster when training camp opened. Line coach Rod Marinelli has been given the lion’s share of credit for wringing every ounce of production out of a group made up of castoffs from other rosters.

The concentration of age and injury have led many fans that closely follow the team building process to believe that the defensive line will be the team’s primary focus at the top of the draft in 2014, and rightfully so. Lets take an early look at how the team might stock the position group to better prepare for 2014.

With ten defensive linemen presently on the active roster, we’ll work off the presumption that the team will carry ten into the 2014 campaign. What names will make the cut? How many rookies will wear the star?

 
Defensive Ends:

[column]DeMarcus Ware
Age to Start 2014: 32
Contract Status: Under Contract Through 2017
2014 Salary Cap Hit: $16,003,750

Anthony Spencer
Age to Start 2014: 30
Contract Status:
Unrestricted Free Agent
2014 Salary Cap Hit: $0

George Selvie
Age to Start 2014: 27
Contract Status: Under Contract Through 2014
2014 Salary Cap Hit: $730,000

Kyle Wilber
Age to Start 2014: 25
Contract Status: Under Contract Through 2015
2014 Salary Cap Hit: $679,805[/column]
Tyrone Crawford
Age to Start 2014: 23
Contract Status: Under Contract Through 2015
2014 Salary Cap Hit: $733,81

Jarius Wynn
Age to Start 2014: 28
Contract Status: Unrestricted Free Agent
2014 Salary Cap Hit: $0

Everette Brown
Age to Start 2014: 27
Contract Status: Unrestricted Free Agent
2014 Salary Cap Hit: $0

Caesar Rayford (Practice Squad)
Age to Start 2014: 28
Contract Status: Under Contract Through 2015
2014 Salary Cap Hit: $495,000

Edgar Jones
Age to Start 2014: 29
Contract Status: Unrestricted Free Agent
2014 Salary Cap Hit: $0[/end_columns]
[clear][/clear]

 
Defensive Tackles:

[column]Jason Hatcher
Age to Start 2014: 32
Contract Status: Unrestricted Free Agent
2014 Salary Cap Hit: $0

Nick Hayden
Age to Start 2014: 28
Contract Status: Under Contract Through 2014
2014 Salary Cap Hit: $730,000[/column]

Ben Bass
Age to Start 2014: 24
Contract Status: Under Contract Through 2014
2014 Salary Cap Hit: $570,000

Drake Nevis
Age to Start 2014: 25
Contract Status: Unrestricted Free Agent
2014 Salary Cap Hit: $0

Corvey Irvin
Age to Start 2014: 29
Contract Status: Under Contract Through 2014
2014 Salary Cap Hit: $730,000[/end_column]

[clear][/clear]The Cowboys will enter the off-season with five defensive ends and just three defensive tackles under contract for 2014. Of the defensive ends, Kyle Wilber is included in that number, though he may have found his future home at Outside Linebacker after proving largely ineffective as an injury replacement for Ware.

 
Defensive End:
The very first off-season decision that must be made at end is on the weak side, where the team faces the real consideration of parting ways with one of the best defensive players to ever wear the uniform in DeMarcus Ware. The future of a long time star is never an easy subject to debate, but there is no room for sentimentality in the present state of this defense. There is zero likelihood that DeMarcus ware plays for the team under his present cap number. It is simply too cumbersome for a team that will have to make major changes to get far enough under the salary cap to address multiple needs.  Ware has been rendered ineffective by a combination of injuries. There are only three options, release, re-structure, or a negotiated pay cut. Of the three, release might actually be the most prudent based on his current production level, but it hinges on the team’s ability to find an adequate replacement. Designating Ware a June 1st cut would cost them just $3.75M in dead money against the 2014 salary cap, and $4.8M against the 2015 cap. The organization would no longer owe his 2014 salary of $12.25M for a net savings of nearly $8.5M in 2014, funds sorely needed to re-load this roster. A re-structure or pay cut are possibilities, but a cut is always tough to reach agreement on and why convert salary to bonus if you don’t expect to get a big return on that investment? I strongly believe the Cowboys and Ware are headed for divorce, leaving a critical starting position that can’t be filled by anyone on the roster.

On the strong side, a healthy return by Tyrone Crawford from his Achilles injury is the team’s ideal scenario. He’s young, economical, and shows good promise. This would allow the surprisingly productive George Selvie to work in pass rushing situations and provide much needed depth at both end positions. Coming off surgery for a degenerative knee condition and 30 years old, I don’t see the team entertaining the possibility of bringing free-agent Anthony Spencer back.

The situation at defensive end is so murky, it has to be a priority for player acquisition both in free agency and the draft. Potentially needing two starters, with Crawford the only in-house candidate, if they make a run at a starter in free agency I expect this to be the position. Below are some options to look at in 2014’s prospective free agent and draft classes:

 
Free Agency:
Michael Johnson – Cincinnati Bengals
After a breakout year in 2012, the former Georgia Tech All-American is playing this season under the franchise tag in Cincinnati. His sack numbers are down, but his performance in all facets of the game continues to grade extremely highly. The 6’7”, 270lb. Johnson is a true 4-3 defensive end and will be 27 years old to start the 2014 season.

Michael Bennett – Seattle Seahawks
Bennett has been an extremely productive member of the Seahawks’ defensive rotation. After recovering from a torn rotator cuff in the off-season he has rebounded to record 7.5 sacks through week 15. The 6’4”, 274lb Bennett is a native Texan who starred at Texas A&M.

 
2014 NFL Draft:
Defensive line is perhaps the most dependent position on scheme for NFL success. Some of the top-ranked collegiate defensive ends simply don’t have the size to succeed as an every down player in a four man front. With that in mind, here are some targets to watch in bowl season and through the post-season all-star games. I’ll exclude South Carolina’s superlative Jadaveon Clowney, who will be well out of the Cowboys’ reach given the projected draft order.

Shawn Oakman *
6’9” 275lbs.
Baylor

Players Oakman’s size aren’t supposed to move the way he does. Explosive, with a basketball background and tremendously powerful with his hands, he’s a two way end that can rush and ravage run games. The Penn State transfer is a draft eligible red-shirt sophomore and has yet to declare his intentions. He’s a first rounder should he enter the draft this year, and possibly a top 10 selection in 2015 if he returns to school. Big 12 coaches are rooting for the former.

Kony Ealy *
6’5” 275lbs.
Missouri

Opposite the more heralded, but undersized Michael Sam, Ealy Recorded 7.5 sacks in 2013. Ealy has prototypical size for the position and could potentially kick inside on passing downs. He’d benefit from more functional strength in the run game and Ealy’s inconsitency may push him into the second round, but his potential as a pass rusher will likely have him off the board within the first 50 picks.

Kareem Martin
6’6” 265lbs.
North Carolina

Martin seemed to have finally bloomed into the potential as a pass rusher long expected of him over the second half of the 2013 season. Finishing the season with first team all-ACC honors, he recorded 78 tackles, including 20 behind the line of scrimmage and 11 sacks. I’d presently project Martin anywhere from a late second round pick all the way through the third.

Aaron Lynch
6’6” 244lbs.
South Florida

The case of Aaron Lynch is a curious one. After an outstanding freshman campaign at Notre Dame, he abruptly left the program citing homesickness and returned to Florida. After sitting a mandatory season during which he lost more than 30 pounds, Lynch has declared for the draft after playing a single campaign at South Florida. He wasn’t the same player at 245lbs and finally began to produce as the season wound to a close. Teams will want to answer questions about his dedication to football, but his frame, athleticism, and what he put on tape at Notre Dame will have teams looking his direction very early if he can convince them the game is important to him. He’ll be one of the true wild cards early due to my anticipation that teams could have very different takes on where his head is at regarding football.

Chris Smith
6’3” 268lbs.
Arkansas

Smith posted back-to-back very productive seasons in the SEC. His biggest concern is that production coming against weaker competition while being effectively marginalized by the conference’s heavyweights. I think its unlikely that Smith makes it out of round two without hearing his name called.

Jackson Jeffcoat
6’5” 250lbs.
Texas

Jeffcoat’s production has been outstanding, though concerns persist about his size translating to the NFL effectively. 2013 Big 12 defensive player of the year and Hendricks award winner, Jeffcoat is highly decorated and I don’t see him transitioning to linebacker. With 80 tackles and 12 sacks to his credit as a senior, I believe Jeffcoat comes off the board in round two in May.

* Denotes underclassmen that have not yet declared for the 2014 draft

 
Defensive Tackle:
The song remains the same for the Cowboys at defensive tackle. Jason Hatcher has been fantastic this season, holding together a unit in tatters and producing what I feel has been an All-Pro campaign. What exactly do you offer a 32 year-old defensive tackle? My answer is that I hope the Cowboys establish a very low walk away number, thank Hatcher for his contribution, and set about finding his replacement in earnest. To invest heavily in age again would be throwing good money after bad. New contracts are about paying for future production, not rewarding past performance and at Hatcher’s age the odds of recouping the investment are astronomically against.

Ben Bass and Nick Hayden certainly factor into the mix, but neither projects as a full time starter on an adequate defense. As position groups go, however, the cupboard at defensive tackle is very nearly bare. Doing the right thing for the team’s future with Hatcher means that defensive tackle will top this club’s off-season priorities in my opinion. Here’s a look at the potential groceries:

 
Free Agency:
Henry Melton – Chicago Bears
Melton lost this, his franchise-tagged year, to injured reserve much the same as Anthony Spencer did here in Dallas. Melton will be 27 in 2014, and the Grapevine, Texas native has proven his ability as a disruptive three-technique tackle that this team covets.

Linval Joseph – New York Giants
After Melton, the selection of potential free agent tackles under 30 years old falls off sharply. Joseph is a player the Cowboys have a lot of familiarity with and could hit the market at just 25 years old. Players like Miami’s Randy Starks sound appealing based on production, but the Cowboys have wisely shied away from older players on the open market.

 
2014 NFL Draft:
Ra’Shede Hageman
6’6” 311lbs.
Minnesota

Hageman may not be the pure three-technique model in this system, as pure speed is not his game, but his combination of power and ability to create disruption will surely have him high on the Cowboys’ board. Hageman also has the versatility to play the one-technique as he’s seen duty in both roles at Minnesota. An impressive athlete, Hageman is a sure first round talent and will be mocked to the Cowboys frequently as draft season picks up steam.

Dominique Easley
6’2” 285lbs.
Florida

Easley suffered a season ending ACL injury in September, but put down plenty on film to ensure NFL interest will be high. He wins with quickness and definitely has the one gap ability to get in the backfield and disrupt offenses that this defense demands. He can improve at locating the football faster and finishing, but provided the knee checks out his athleticism is unmatched in this class. Easley projects from the late first throughout the second round.

Will Sutton
6’1” 305lbs.
Arizona State

Sutton was the PAC-12 defensive player of the year, and has received an invitation to participate in the senior bowl. Extremely disruptive, and adept at using his hands and leverage to get off blocks and finish plays, Sutton may be more polished if less athletic than Easley. He didn’t match the production of his junior season when he recorded 13 sacks, but figures to make an early impact for the team selecting him on the draft’s second day.

Aaron Donald
6’0” 285lbs.
Pittsburgh

I have described Donald as the most “Kiffin” three-technique in this year’s class. Extraordinarily productive with 26.5 tackles for a loss this season and 10 sacks, he augments his physical ability by dedicating himself to the study of his opponents. His film rat nature will certainly impress defensive line coaches during the interview process. His size limits his versatility, but the Cowboys are in desperate need of his skill set. He figures to be selected in the second or third round and could immediately help the Dallas front seven.

Timmy Jernigan
6’2”, 298lbs.
Florida State

A first team All-ACC selection, Jernigan has been the most productive interior player on a talent laden Seminole defense. Another player that makes his way with quickness and leverage, Jernigan shares the versatility to play both spots in the Cowboys’ interior line. With at least a double dip at defensive tackle expected by the team in this draft, Jernigan is a prospect that could be available into the third round.

In a league that is continually officiated to favor the passing game, getting to the quarterback is the only equalizer. The failings of the defensive line are the catalyst for the monumentally poor defensive performance the Cowboys are presently enduring. The lack of a reliable rush exposes everyone in coverage, and as exhibited by the state of the roster, the Cowboys are in desperate need of an infusion of youth and production up front. I expect no fewer than four defensive linemen to join the team, and with talented veterans potentially departing, those players need to be prioritized as major contributors. They aren’t just building depth here. The Cowboys must re-make the defensive line as thoroughly as possible in a single off-season, but the reward could be the incremental difference that turns close games into wins. They gambled and lost on age this season. 2014 depends on their ability to stack the deck in the team’s favor, and it starts with the defensive line.

ADVERTISEMENT

NFL Draft

Cowboys Draft Target: Michigan DT Maurice Hurst

Kevin Brady

Published

on

Cowboys Draft Target: Michigan DT Maurice Hurst

Heading into the 2018 NFL Draft, it’s pretty clear defensive tackle is toward the top of the Dallas Cowboys’ needs. Dallas has invested multiple draft picks and resources into the secondary, linebackers, and defensive ends, but their interior defensive line still needs to add depth and talent. One potential target to fill this need is Michigan Wolverines Defensive Tackle Maurice Hurst.

Over at Slant Sports I completed a full scouting report on Hurst, giving him a first-round grade and ranking him atop this defensive tackle class.

At 6’2″ and about 280 pounds, Maurice Hurst clearly projects as a three technique at the professional level. Hurst played the under-tackle most of the time at Michigan, but he did kick down over the center or inside the guards at times. Still, I wouldn’t expect a team to draft Hurst to be their one tech of the future.

Hurst is an explosive beast at defensive tackle.

Playing with a nonstop motor, Hurst won off the ball often, but also created effort and hustle plays behind the line of scrimmage during his college career. Hurst’s first step, quick hands, ability to win with leverage, and overall explosiveness shine through on film.

nfldraft2018 maurice hurst 5 – Streamable

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

“Here’s an example of that explosive first step. Hurst is lined up as the 3-technique on the far side. Winning with his first-step quickness and burst, Hurst gives the offensive linemen absolutely no chance to block him. He then powers through the recovery attempt by the lineman to make the tackle in the backfield.” ~Slant Sports

Hurst clearly doesn’t have the prototypical size of a defensive tackle in the NFL, but his play style suits his body well.

His explosiveness and burst off the ball make him incredibly dangerous, and his quick hands, low pad level, and strong lower body help him to win against any offensive lineman.

He obviously isn’t at the same level, and may not deserve eye-to-eye comparisons with this player, but Maurice Hurst’s play style and body type remind me of a young Aaron Donald. (I’m not saying he’s better than Aaron Donald, save the comments).

nfldraft2018 maurice hurst 8 – Streamable

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

In terms of his fit with the Cowboys, Hurst would compete with Maliek Collins for playing time at three technique.

Respected draft guru Dane Brugler, has mocked Hurst to Dallas in his latest mock draft, but the way they handle both Collins and impending restricted free agent David Irving will play a huge role in determining if Hurst would even fill a need.

Regardless, Maurice Hurst is a name deserving of first-round buzz, and Cowboys Nation should keep their eyes on him this offseason.

ADVERTISEMENT

Continue Reading

NFL Draft

Sean’s Scout: Memphis WR Anthony Miller a Needed Weapon for Cowboys

Sean Martin

Published

on

Sean's Scout: Memphis WR Anthony Miller A Needed Weapon For Cowboys
AP Photo / Jessica Hill

Slotted to pick 19th overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys find themselves in position to add a first-round talent to a team that fell just short of the playoffs at 9-7 in 2017. Faltering entirely on offense without RB Ezekiel Elliott too many times this season, it’s hard to argue this asset is not best spent on new talent at WR.

The Cowboys haven’t drafted a wide receiver in the first round since 2010, trading up for Oklahoma State’s Dez Bryant. Frequent injuries and the inability to develop with QB Dak Prescott have diminished Bryant’s status as a star receiver in Dallas, and it may be time to overhaul the position entirely.

After scouting Memphis WR Anthony Miller, he may be just what the Dallas Cowboys need. Let’s take a closer look at his fit in the Cowboys’ offense in the first draft-season edition of Sean’s Scout.

WR Anthony Miller 2 – Streamable

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

With 96 receptions for 1,462 yards and 18 touchdowns in his final season at Memphis, Senior WR Anthony Miller is one of the top players at his position in the 2018 NFL Draft. These inflated numbers in the Tigers’ pass-happy offense do little to highlight Miller as a next level prospect…

This film clip and quote from my full scouting report on Miller shows the pure play-making ability Miller has. Miller wouldn’t fill the Cowboys need for an over-the-top burner at WR, but he has no problem tracking the ball with ease and adjusting in the air to make big plays down the field.

…Miller is as tough of a cover as you’ll find thanks to his explosive and concise release off the line.

Anthony Miller is certainly a “Dak-friendly” pass catcher, as he possesses the catch radius to snag passes away from his frame using his exceptionally strong hands. Even when he is covered, Miller is open vertically.

With that said, Miller has more than enough ability to separate with good initial quickness and elite balance through his routes.

WR Anthony Miller 4 – Streamable

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

…he wastes no time accelerating through the secondary, and running with a powerful stride that makes it difficult to bring him down.

There may be better technical route runners in this draft class, but few set up defenders as consistently well as Miller — who has the production to match these NFL traits.

A willing run blocker too, Miller could walk into Dallas and immediately earn snaps as an X, Z, or Y receiver. Miller’s best fit to start his career is likely as a Z receiver, drawing less attention in coverage while being allowed to run a full route tree.

…Miller gets on cornerbacks in a hurry, setting them up with his fluidity and size to track the football through contact.

A potential replacement for Terrance Williams with the Cowboys, Miller is somewhat of a similar player in the way he wins with mostly size.

The Memphis product would still be an upgrade over Williams though, as it is much easier to get the ball in Miller’s hands. Add in the red-zone ability that Anthony Miller has to box out defenders, and the run-after-catch burst as an inside target, and Miller is a weapon the Cowboys could desperately use.

WR Anthony Miller 1 – Streamable

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

…I found myself constantly impressed with the speed at which Miller gets up the field when taking the ball underneath.

Miller will have nothing but opportunities to raise his draft stock over the coming months. He will be at this month’s Senior Bowl, receiving NFL-level coaching to refine his game. The Scouting Combine will also be critical for Miller’s testing numbers to confirm the athlete seen on tape dominating at Memphis will take the next step.

Earning a second round grade on my 2018 NFL Draft Board, there is a chance the Cowboys have to use their first round pick if they truly want Anthony Miller in Silver and Blue. A very complete player that fills a need, Miller as the Cowboys first pick could make plenty of sense in April.

Tell us what you think about “Sean’s Scout: Memphis WR Anthony Miller a Needed Weapon for Cowboys” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

ADVERTISEMENT

Continue Reading

NFL Draft

Luxury or Need for Cowboys to Draft Another 1st-Round OL?

Brian Martin

Published

on

Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, Travis Frederick, offensive line

Due to growing concerns about Tyron Smith‘s availability and future health, due to reoccurring back injuries, there seems to be a growing consensus among Dallas Cowboys fans that there’s a need to draft an offensive lineman with the first-round pick. But, is it actually a need, or would it be more of a luxury?

There is legitimate concern about Tyron Smith and his future health.

Back injuries have a way of flaring up at the most inopportune times. It’s also not an injury that’s going away anytime soon, if ever. This is the unknown the Cowboys are faced with heading into the off-season, and it could end up having a major impact on the direction they go in the 2018 NFL Draft.

There seems to be a growing consensus around Cowboys Nation that the Dallas Cowboys should seriously consider selecting the best available offensive tackle with the 19th overall pick.

There are probably two reasons for this:

  1. Tyron Smith’s health concerns, and
  2. the need to upgrade the swing tackle position after watching Byron Bell and Chaz Green play in 2017.

But, the question remains: is drafting yet another offensive lineman in the first-round a luxury or need for the Dallas Cowboys?

Personally, I can see both sides of this argument. So, let’s break it down a little and examine each.

Luxury

Zack Martin

Dallas Cowboys RG Zack Martin

The Dallas Cowboys have already invested an enormous amount of resources to build arguably the best offensive line in the NFL.

They’ve spent three first-round draft picks to acquire Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin, two of which have already received long-term extensions with Martin waiting in the wings.

That’s a lot of money devoted to one position, which ultimately means the Cowboys have to go cheaper in other areas in order to fit under the salary cap. This is the money that would be used in free agency to acquire some of those higher-priced free agents fans are always hankering for.

It also can be used to re-sign some of the Cowboys players at other positions, such as DeMarcus Lawrence.

But, it’s not only the money that makes drafting a first-round OL a luxury.

Four out of five of the Cowboys OL are already pretty much set in stone. The left guard position is really the only unoccupied position right now, but that could be filled rather easily. This, of course, is assuming Tyron Smith stays healthy, but regardless, he is the starting left tackle when the 2018 season begins.

Need

Byron Bell

Dallas Cowboys OL Byron Bell

There’s no reason to believe Tyron Smith will be able to play an entire 16-game season going forward. The last two seasons he has had to sit out several games due to injuries, and unfortunately his back issues aren’t going away anytime soon.

To make matters worse, Dallas doesn’t have an adequate backup, which was proven on more than one occasion in 2017. Hence the need.

With the exception of the quarterback, the left tackle position is arguably the most important on offense. They protect the QB’s blindside and are largely responsible for keeping him healthy and upright.

There’s a reason they are drafted so highly and paid so handsomely: they are that important to a team’s success.

There was also a reason the Dallas Cowboys offense started to sputter once Tyron Smith started missing time. Opposing defenses no longer respected the Cowboys LT, and started putting their best pass rusher on that side to get after Dak Prescott.

Prescott ended up having happy feet and it had a ripple effect throughout the entire offense, and not in a good way.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

Quite honestly, I think it would be a luxury to draft any kind of offensive lineman with the Cowboys’ first-round selection, but I wouldn’t be completely surprised if that’s the direction they went. There are positives and negatives to both sides of the argument.

But, if they stick to the draft board and an OL is their highest rated player there, I say go for it.

The only thing we can do is have faith that the Dallas Cowboys know more about Tyron Smith’s health and his availability to play then we do as fans. If they decide to draft an offensive lineman early, I think we should all take that as an indication that they are worried about Smith, at least a little bit.

Luxury or Need: Do the Cowboys draft a first-round OL?

ADVERTISEMENT

Continue Reading

Reader Survey

Want to help make Inside The Star better?

We’re collecting feedback from our readers about the site. It only takes <2 minutes to complete, and can be done from any device.

> Take the survey now

Don’t worry, your information will not be shared with anyone but me (Bryson T.).

Advertisement
Advertisement
Enjoy 40% commissions on officially licensed products as a FanPrint affiliate. You can even make your own, fully licensed Cowboys and player designs! Get started here

Trending