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NFL Draft: What To Look For In DT Prospects

Brian Martin

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Cowboys Headlines - NFL Draft: What To Look For In DT Prospects

Today, we will continue scouting on the defensive side of the ball and take a look into the defensive tackle position.

When analyzing any position, the most important tool at your disposal is game film. I think game film makes up about 90% of a scouting report for an individual player. The other 10% is split between a player’s background check and their pre-draft workouts. Add all three of these together and that is what I use to finalize the scouting report.

Here is a look at the previous positions that I have broken down and what I try to look for when scouting: Quarterback, Running back, Wide receiver, Tight end, Offensive line, and Defensive end.

When scouting players, it is important to keep in mind that in the NFL different teams choose to use different types of defenses. Many teams have chose to use the 3-4 defense, but the Dallas Cowboys use the 4-3 defense and that is what I will mainly focus on for this article.

Scheme Fit

The defensive scheme fit might just be the most important thing to pay attention to when scouting a defensive tackle prospect. You don’t want to miss identify a prospect that is a better fit in a 3-4 defense and then draft him to play in a 4-3 defense, or vice versa.

Cowboys Draft - NFL Draft: What To Look For In DT Prospects 13-4 defensive tackles are usually bigger and are mainly used to keep offensive lineman from getting to the second level and blocking linebackers. They are usually one or two gap players that are asked to stop the run by clogging the running lanes.

4-3 defensive tackles are usually smaller and quicker than 3-4 DTs. They are usually dual threat players that can play effectively against the run and also be disruptive in the passing game.

4-3 DTs can line up anywhere from the 0-technique over the center to the 4-tech, which is lining up on the inside shoulder of the offensive tackle.

I personally like to keep a chart when analyzing defensive tackles to keep track of exactly where they lineup and then determine what defensive scheme they fit best in.

Athleticism

A player’s athleticism is probably the first thing that will catch your eye and it’s usually the first thing that jumps off the tape.

I like athletic defensive tackles, especially when analyzing players to play in the 4-3 scheme. You can’t really coach athleticism, you either have it or you don’t.

A DT can improve his technique, his strength, and his knowledge of playing the position, but you can’t learn athleticism no matter how hard you try.

Unfortunately, being an athletic player doesn’t mean that it will result in success. It takes a lot more than athleticism to succeed in the NFL.

Technique

A defensive tackles technique a lot of times is really difficult to analyze at the collegiate level.

Cowboys Draft - NFL Draft: What To Look For In DT Prospects

Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

In college, defensive tackles usually rely more on their athletic ability than they do on the technical side of the position, but in the NFL they will have to use both to have any longevity in the league.

There have been really athletic defensive tackles to enter the league, but their careers were cut short because they were never able to grasp the technical aspects of the position.

Technique can be coached up at the NFL level, so what I try to look for when analyzing a prospect is if they have any bad habits that might be hard to break. Also, I want to see where their pad level is at when playing.

Are they playing too high and getting blocked easily?

Sometimes bad habits are really hard to break, which could mean a short unsuccessful career in the NFL.

Quickness

Quickness is a trait I really look for when analyzing defensive tackles, especially when it comes to scouting players to fit in the 4-3 defensive scheme.

This trait is especially important to a coach like Rod Marinelli, who likes to provide pressure with just four down lineman. He likes his defensive tackles to be quick and athletic so that they can get up the field and put pressure on the quarterback, while also holding up at the point of attack in the rushing game.

The 3-technique is the defensive tackle position that relies more on quickness than the 1-tech does. The 1-tech or nose guard is mainly responsible for clogging up the middle of the defense and fighting off double teams, so that the 3-tech can take advantage of single coverage and apply pressure to the QB.

I really like to see a defensive tackle that can fire out of their stance when the ball is snapped and use their quickness to disrupt the opposing offense.

The quicker the defensive tackle is, the less likely that the offensive lineman can get their hands on them and that makes it a lot more difficult to block the DT.

Strength/Leverage

Again, I have linked both strength and leverage together because I think they go hand in hand when scouting a defensive tackle, just like they did when I analyzed the defensive end position.

Cowboys Draft - NFL Draft: What To Look For In DT Prospects 2Strength comes in handy when a DT wants to bull rush or in a goal line stand, but without leverage it will often come to nothing. That is why I think the two traits work together when analyzing a defensive tackle.

A DT uses his strength to keep offensive lineman from getting into their body and he uses leverage to maintain his position and keep from getting driven back.

Leverage comes into play mostly on running downs when a defensive tackle needs to keep his pad level low and keep offensive lineman from reaching the second level the defense. This allows the linebackers the opportunity to make plays without having to fend off offensive lineman.

Leverage and strength really comes into play in short yardage or goal line situations where defensive tackles have to hold up at the point of attack and stop the offense from converting.

Both leverage and strength can be coached up at the NFL level, but analyzing where a defensive tackle is at already in these areas can go a long way in determining how ready that player is to contribute.

Hand Use

Hand usage at the defensive tackle position might be more important to this position than any other position in the NFL.

Defensive tackles are in the trenches were all the dirty work is taking place and they have to be able to use her hands properly to stack and shed blocks to free themselves from offensive lineman in order to make plays in the running and passing game.

This trait is especially useful for 4-3 defensive tackles, because they are asked more to get off blocks and make plays in the backfield. This is especially true in Rod Marinelli’s 4-3 defense. Marinelli prefers penetrating defensive tackles.

Hand usage is a key factor when a defensive tackle is trying to remain unblocked. If a DT is not very effective at using his hands, more times than not he is nothing more than a space eater that is clogging up the middle of the defense.

Diagnose and React

The DT position doesn’t receive a lot of the hype that other defensive positions do, but that doesn’t make it any less important to the overall success to a team’s defense.

A DT has to be good at diagnosing a play in a split second and then properly react to what’s going on. This can happen in just a blink of an eye and the better defensive tackles in the NFL are really good at diagnosing and reacting.

A DT has to know whether it’s a run play or pass play, and then act accordingly.

I like to see a defensive tackle get in the hip pocket of a pulling offensive lineman and work their way down the line chasing after the ball carrier.

Is the offense throwing a screen pass? Are they running a draw play? Is it a running or passing play?

These are all questions that need to be answered when scouting the defensive tackle position and the players that can diagnose and react as quickly as possible to these questions can be successful in the NFL.

Summary

It’s my personal opinion that the defensive tackle position is one of the more difficult to scout and finding really good DTs is sometimes a difficult and frustrating task to take on.

There are just so many different variables and traits that you should look for when analyzing the position and you have to be meticulous in studying game film and when determining what type of defensive scheme fits the best in the NFL.

One player that I think fits into defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli’s 4-3 defensive scheme is Hassan Ridgeway, out of the University of Texas. Ridgeway can play at both the 1-technique and the 3-tech, and is a type of athletic DT that Marinelli likes in his system.

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Level C2/C3 quadriplegic. College graduate with a bachelors degree in sports and health sciences-concentration sports management. Sports enthusiast. Dallas Cowboys fanatic. Lover of life with a glass half-full point of view.

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NFL Draft

Cowboys Draft: Time for OL in Round 1 Again?

Sean Martin

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Cowboys Draft: Time for OL in Round 1 Again?
Brad Loper / The Dallas Morning News

Four of the five starting offensive linemen for the Dallas Cowboys were first round selections in the NFL Draft. Left Tackle Tyron Smith, Center Travis Frederick, and most recently Right Guard Zack Martin have all done their part in establishing the Cowboys’ identity up front — collectively signaling a culture change in Dallas as the team has thrived with their running game.

Considered a bust prior to starting alongside Frederick and (mostly) Smith at left guard for the Cowboys this season, Jonathan Cooper is also a former first-round pick who will now enter free agency. Add in the once projected first-round status of RT La’el Collins, and the Cowboys offensive line is truly a modern football masterpiece — a crafty collection of talent that does well to not handicap the team’s salary cap.

Coming off of a 9-7 season defined by who wasn’t on the field through crucial stretches, a serious case could be made that no absence set the Cowboys back more than that of Tyron Smith in 2017. Lingering back issues remaining a concern, Smith missed three games entirely this season, also exiting the Cowboys’ final home loss to the Seahawks after one series.

Without Tyron Smith in the lineup, the Cowboys did their best to get franchise QB Dak Prescott killed. In a loss that began with a stretch of three straight in week 10 at Atlanta, Prescott was sacked eight times with Chaz Green unable to hold up at LT.

Chaz Green

Dallas Cowboys OT Chaz Green

Thinking all the way back to training camp in Oxnard, Green was originally the favorite to be the Cowboys’ starter at LG, after Collins made his transition to RT. Starting Cooper allowed the Cowboys to instead keep the injury-prone Green as tackle depth off the field, having Collins as additional insurance inside should the line be forced to reshuffle.

Of course, Cooper also did not survive 2017 without injury, departing the Cowboys’ meaningless week-17 win in Philadelphia with a knee injury. All indications are that he should be ready for next season, whether he is with the Cowboys or elsewhere.

This sudden uncertainty on the Cowboys’ offensive line warrants this question:

Should Dallas use the 19th pick on another offensive lineman?

The Cowboys could get maximum value out of this pick by drafting a tackle with the ability to start his career at guard. In a draft class that lacks “star power” at the top, where the best overall player may be Notre Dame Guard Quenton Nelson, making this safe pick at 19th overall is far from the worst thing the Cowboys could do.

In doing so, there is no hiding the fact the Cowboys would have to ignore more pressing needs elsewhere on both sides of the ball. Plugging Jonathan Cooper back in at left guard, and looking for depth behind Smith later in the draft or in free agency could open up the board elsewhere in the first round. If recent history is any indication, this will basically be the Cowboys approach leading up to the draft.

The Cowboys don’t like entering the draft pigeonholed at any one position, allowing them to draft the best player available.

Last year’s draft also tells us a pure “BPA in round one” approach is far from reality for the Cowboys, as Head Coach Jason Garrett made his winning pitch for Michigan DE Taco Charlton over other highly graded prospects in Dallas.

Dallas Cowboys: What's The One Thing That Makes The OL Great? 1

Dallas Cowboys LT Tyron Smith, RG Zack Martin, C Travis Frederick

Knowing how well this current front office and scouting staff evaluates offensive line talent, making the greatest strength even stronger feels like one of the most reassuring ways for the Cowboys to return to form in 2018. Expecting 16 games out of Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys could be much closer to the 13-win team they were in 2016, or 12-win team of 2014 with a better-than-ever OL and healthy defense.

As the Cowboys roster stands currently, there aren’t many positions where immediate starters could be drafted in the first round or beyond.

Defensive tackle, linebacker, safety, and wide receiver stand out as four potential areas in need of young talent.

Whether or not the team feels like they can wait to continue building their fast-developing defense or add weapons for Prescott until later in the draft — or wait to risk seeing their offensive line actually hold them back again — is going to be a difficult decision that will leave some fans unhappy, no matter the outcome.

For a talented team with ten picks in this 2018 NFL Draft, starting the roster build in April by hitting on a potentially needed OL pick at 19th overall feels like a great way to get the Cowboys back on track.

Tell us what you think about “Cowboys Draft: Time for OL in Round 1 Again?” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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NFL Draft

Sean’s Scout: UTSA’s Marcus Davenport Fills Pass Rush Need for Cowboys

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: UTSA's Marcus Davenport Fills Pass Rush Need for Cowboys
Daniel Dunn / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It is not often at all that a team picking 19th overall may be out of range to draft a small school prospect, but this is rightfully the case for the Dallas Cowboys and UTSA’s Marcus Davenport. For scouts who only care about how these prospects can help their NFL teams, Davenport has all of the traits to be an impact defensive end the second he enters the league.

Should the Cowboys find themselves in position to draft Marcus Davenport in the first round, he would fill an immediate need as another pure pass rusher to pair with DeMarcus Lawrence.

Firmly a first round player on my 2018 NFL Draft Board, let’s take a closer look at Davenport’s potential fit in Dallas.

Davenport5 – Streamable

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What is most exciting about Davenport’s projection to the NFL is that he’s an ideal right defensive end prospect that played mostly on the left side in college. That means Davenport is stout against the run as a powerful player who also displays freakish speed, dip, and balance as a quarterback hunter.

“Simply forcing offensive tackles to respect his rare combination of speed and dip allows Marcus Davenport to knock them backwards with hands-above-eyes technique.”

Davenport1 – Streamable

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This quote and accompanying film clip comes from my full scouting report on Marcus Davenport on Slant Sports. There simply aren’t many EDGE prospects at the top of any given draft as complete as Davenport, while still showing elite upside to get even better.

Davenport does not exactly have a plan for each of his rushes, but pointing him at the quarterback on every play from the RDE spot in Dallas could do him nothing but good from day one. This is a player who captures the corner with ease, thanks to his burst and length, doing so with the balance to absolutely punish blockers.

When Marcus Davenport hits someone, they go backwards. This is a great thing to say about any defensive prospect, particularly a pass rusher who can also bend the corner.

Davenport4 – Streamable

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“There simply aren’t many snaps on which he allows a blocker to work inside of his frame.”

The only slight projection that has to be made on Davenport playing defensive end with the Cowboys is his transition from playing mostly in a two-point stance to putting his hand on the ground. This technical change does little to affect a defensive end’s pass rush approach.

The strength Marcus Davenport shows in his hands is absolutely stunning, and equally as impressive is his controlled acceleration ability. These two traits alone are more than enough to expect Davenport to be able to beat left tackles at the next level with consistency, attacking them before they can reach this lengthy prospect.

“Tapping into Davenport’s full potential could be as simple as getting him in the habit of rushing the half man on every rep, but expecting him to do so right away is a projection.”

With Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli notorious for getting the most out of his defensive linemen, there is no question that Dallas is an ideal landing spot for Marcus Davenport to instantly reach his full potential.

The key to unleashing Davenport on the NFL will be teaching the mental aspects of the position to a player who dominated with raw traits in college.

Davenport3 – Streamable

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The Cowboys have some numbers to sort out at defensive end before the draft, as the likes of Charles Tapper and Randy Gregory could potentially give them enough of a presence across from Lawrence to warrant looking elsewhere with the 19th overall pick.

Of course, Dallas also used last year’s first selection on DE Taco Charlton — who took major strides in his game towards the end of 2017.

None of this should deter them from reinforcing their defensive front with another versatile pass rusher.

Marcus Davenport has a legitimate case to come off the board within the first 15 picks of the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft, making him a great value for the Cowboys, slated to pick 19th.

Sean Martin ✭ on Twitter

My latest scouting report is UTSA’s Marcus Davenport. Get to know this tenacious EDGE prospect — https://t.co/Fm9FYpNvsT https://t.co/DBcLiQEYhP

Tell us what you think about “Sean’s Scout: UTSA’s Marcus Davenport Fills Pass Rush Need for Cowboys” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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NFL Draft

Cowboys Land Small School WR in Latest PFF Mock Draft

Kevin Brady

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Cowboys Land Small School WR In Latest PFF Mock Draft
Photo by John Leyba/The Denver Post

It’s officially draft season around the NFL, meaning — whether you like it or not — it’s now mock draft season. Pro Football Focus is the latest of the national football media outlets to release a mock draft. Their version of the draft was controversial towards the top, but their pick for the Cowboys was equally intriguing.

PFF has the Cowboys taking Colorado State Wide Receiver Michael Gallup, with the 19th overall pick, a player they graded with a 92.1 in 2017.

“Dallas could go a number of ways here, but they add another receiving threat in Gallup, who can win with speed down the field and toughness at the catch point. He was the nation’s top-graded receiver in 2017 at 92.1 overall, and he adds another weapon for QB Dak Prescott.”

Personally, I’m a huge fan of Michael Gallup. As I stated in my scouting report of Michael Gallup for Slant Sports, I believe he is one of the top-five receivers in the 2018 draft class. Gallup caught 100 passes last season for Colorado State, finishing with 1,413 receiving yards and 7 touchdowns.

At 6’1″ and about 200 pounds, Michael Gallup is the perfect productive Z receiver that any NFL offense would want.

nfldraft2018 michael gallup 2 – Streamable

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Gallup is a smart, athletic, and tough wide out, with consistent hands and excellent ball tracking skills. He was incredibly productive in college, and should be able to contribute to an NFL offense right away as a rookie.

Drafting Gallup in the first round, however, may not be the best move.

I think he’s a fantastic day-two option for the Cowboys. But if they were to pass on Vita Vea and Roquan Smith for Michael Gallup, as they did in this PFF mock draft, I don’t think Cowboys Nation would be too happy.

Of course, this is just one of many mock drafts circling around the inter-webs, but Michael Gallup would be a great fit for the Dallas Cowboys. Dallas desperately needs this type of wide out in their offense, but I hope they can get him 50th overall, rather than 19th.

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