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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.



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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Dallas Cowboys

Have the Dallas Cowboys Overcome Their 2nd-Round Curse?

Brian Martin

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Have the Dallas Cowboys Overcome Their 2nd-Round Curse?

You may not be aware or maybe you've simply forgotten, but the Dallas Cowboys have struggled drafting players in the 2nd-round who can come in and contribute. Typically players drafted this highly are not only immediate contributors as a rookie, but are cornerstone players for years to come. That hasn't been the case for the Cowboys.

I don't know where you stand, but I was beginning to think the Dallas Cowboys were cursed with their 2nd-round draft picks. I know this was an area where they would gamble on players for some reason or another, but unfortunately it never really paid off. Hopefully, things are changing for the better.

Let's take a look back at past drafts to see what I'm talking about.

Past 2nd-Round Draft Picks Dating Back to 2006:

2018 Connor Williams
2017 Chidobe Awuzie
2016 Jaylon Smith
2015 Randy Gregory
2014 DeMarcus Lawrence
2013 Gavin Escobar
2012 (no selection) used to trade for Morris Claiborne
2011 Bruce Carter
2010 Sean Lee
2009 (no selection) traded out of 2nd-round
2008 Martellus Bennett
2007 (no selection) used to trade back into 1st for Anthony Spencer
2006 Anthony Fasano

You may be wondering why I decided to start all the way back in 2006. Well, I believe that's when the 2nd-round draft picks curse started for the Dallas Cowboys.

Anthony Fasano ended up having a solid career in the NFL, but he never lived up to his draft status as a former 2nd-round draft pick. The same can be said for Martellus Bennett, Gavin Escobar, and Bruce Carter. Shed a tear for them if you want, but I'd put them in the "bust" category.

Sean Lee

Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee

The sad truth is, Sean Lee is the only 2nd-round draft pick on this list to ever see a second contract with the Dallas Cowboys. Although, I guess you can include DeMarcus Lawrence since he will be playing under the franchise tag in 2018. But, that's still not a very good hit percentage in the 2nd-round for more than a decade. Luckily, it looks as if things are changing.

DeMarcus Lawrence might end up being another "hit" for the Cowboys. It may have taken him four years to reach his potential, but there's no denying how dominant he was last season. If he can maintain that dominance this season, he could be looking at a big payday from the Cowboys.

The Dallas Cowboys took a risk on the next two players they drafted after D-Law. They knew Randy Gregory had his off the field issues, but were willing to take a chance on his talent in the 2nd-round. That has yet to pay off, but Gregory has a chance to rebound now that it looks as if he has his life back in order.

Jaylon Smith

Dallas Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith

The Cowboys took another risk in the following draft when they drafted Jaylon Smith. No one knew if he would ever be able to play again after the devastating knee injury he sustained in his final collegiate game, but it's looking as if he could make a full recovery and return to his pre-injury form. Year 3 will be big for him, but he could end up being an absolute steal.

Fortunately, the Cowboys 2017 and 2018 2nd-round draft picks (Chidobe Awuzie and Connor Williams) look to be cornerstone players for years to come. That's what you're looking for in players drafted this highly.

I say all of this because it's really looking like the Dallas Cowboys have finally broken their 2nd-round curse. Maybe it's a change in draft philosophy or maybe it's because Will McClay's voice carries more weight in the draft room, but it's definitely good news for the future of the franchise. Hopefully it continues.

Do you think the Dallas Cowboys 2nd-round curse has ended?



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NFL Draft

Cowboys Draft Class: How Many Will Be Starters In 2018?

Kevin Brady

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2018 NFL Combine: 3 LBs Who Impressed
Photo by David Becker/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys have been showered with praise by most national NFL media outlets for their 2018 NFL Draft class. NFL.com graded the Cowboys as having the 2nd best class in the league, and most other analysts have agreed that the team had a strong showing.

But now, of course, it's time to see what these new players will actually do on the field. Some are hoping the team found 3-5 new starters for the 2018 roster, but history would suggest that is pretty rare.

Dallas' 2016 draft class has been lauded as one of the best in the last decade, especially considering they look to have found their franchise quarterback in round four. That strong class only features four full-time starters heading into 2018, but we have to wonder if that's the outlier and not the norm.

Still, as we look back and examine this 2018 draft class it really appears they have found three day one starters in the first three rounds.

First round pick Leighton Vander Esch is expected to be the starting MIKE linebacker this season, with former second round selection Jaylon Smith moving to SAM. Vander Esch wasn't my favorite option at 19, but he is certainly starter-worthy in this Cowboys LB corps.

On day two the Cowboys added OL Connor Williams and WR Michael Gallup, two of my personal favorite picks of their entire class. Williams should be the starting LG week 1 of the season, and Michael Gallup may overtake Allen Hurns as the most productive WR on the roster by year's end.

Cowboys Land Small School WR In Latest PFF Mock Draft

DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 1: DUPLICATE***Colorado State Rams wide receiver Michael Gallup (4) picks up a few yards after catch as Colorado Buffaloes defensive back Isaiah Oliver (26) comes in for the tackle during the first quarter on September 1, 2017 in Denver, Colorado at Sports Authority Field. (Photo by John Leyba/The Denver Post)

What about the rest of the class?

Dorance Armstrong will probably have too much competition to start at defensive end this season, but he should be an interesting rotational pass rusher. TE Dalton Schultz has the chance to surprise some people, but overtaking Geoff Swaim as the "starter" would be unexpected.

After that, the player with the best chance to make the team and contribute early on might be Boise State WR Cedrick Wilson. Wilson was a late day-two, early day-three pick to me so snagging him in the sixth round should provide incredible value to this roster. That wide out room is getting very crowded, though, so Wilson has his work cut out for him heading into camp.

How many of the Cowboys' 2018 draft picks will be starters in 2018? Let us know what you think in the comment section below.



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NFL Draft

Did the Dallas Cowboys Find 4 Starters in the 2018 NFL Draft?

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Did the Dallas Cowboys Find 4 Starters in the 2018 NFL Draft?

One of the many winners of the 2018 NFL Draft were, without a doubt, the Dallas Cowboys. Not only did they addressed some of the team's most pressing needs, but they managed to draft very talented, capable players beyond the first round.

Cowboys Nation had to feel better about the rookie class the front office walked away with, specially after the second day of the Draft. Just like last year, they managed to find steals in the second and third rounds. In 2017, they did so with Cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis. Now, they stayed put at their original picks and walked away with OL Connor Williams and WR Michael Gallup.

But first things first. In the eyes of many, Leighton Vander Esch wasn't worth the 19th overall pick. While I do agree that Vander Esch was a questionable selection, the Cowboys fixed arguably their most concerning position of all. As much as it pains to admit it, Sean Lee has yet to play an entire NFL season and Jaylon Smith was pretty much the only other capable starter on the roster.

Cowboys en Español: Dallas Selecciona a Vander Esch, ¿Quién Sigue?

Although Vander Esch needs to develop a ton before reaching his full potential. he's a week 1 starter and an early contributor for this defense. Whether it felt like a "reach" or not, the Cowboys took a starter in the Boise State linebacker.

Later, the Cowboys managed to add an arguably first-round talent with pick #50 to plug-and-play along the offensive line. Texas OL Connor Williams was also seen as a tackle prospect, but he'll likely start at guard for Dallas as a rookie.

Since Ron Leary left for Denver, the left guard spot hasn't been as stable. Jonathan Cooper did a decent job filling that spot, but with Williams taking his place, the Cowboys dominance in the trenches will finally return. Playing next to All-Pros Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick, Connor Williams might become the best rookie in this class for the Cowboys.

One can't simply say the team found a "replacement" for Dez Bryant since he's a special player and with a very specific skill set, but Michael Gallup from Colorado State has the potential to become the team's WR1 pretty soon.

In the team's effort to build a Dak-friendly offense, Gallup is a crafty and smooth route-runner who has what it takes to play in any spot of the offense. His skill-set will allow him to play anywhere on the field and become Dak's favorite target in a year in which Jason Witten and Dez Bryant will no longer be lining up on his squad.

Taken in the first three rounds, Vander Esch, Williams and Gallup will be unquestionable starters. The question, however, is who else could become a starter for the Cowboys? Who could line up and start in week 1?

Dallas Cowboys Add Depth on Day 3, Building Future with Young Starters 1

Even though it definitely isn't as certain as the other three rookies, I'm betting on Dalton Schultz to be a more important starter than we imagine. Listen, maybe it's not an ideal scenario to have the TE from Stanford start in week 1, but it could be necessary.

The Rico Gathers Adventure might just be over before it starts and Geoff Swaim and Blake Jarwin may not be anything special. In college, Schultz was pretty good at run blocking. In the Cowboys' offense, led by one of the best running backs in the league, Ezekiel Elliott, Schultz may be able to find success earlier than expected.

Besides, he has what it takes to catch passes in the NFL and although he certainly won't be the flashiest, he could be enough to give Dak Prescott a reliable tight end.

Dalton Schultz could be the surprise of this Draft for Dallas. He'll probably become a starter at some point in the season and for a fourth-round pick, that's a very good thing to say.

For a front office that's constantly bashed by Cowboys Nation, their job at this year's NFL Draft was a pretty good one. Now it's just a matter of time to find out which picks were as good as we originally thought.

Tell me what you think about "Did the Dallas Cowboys Find 4 Starters in the 2018 NFL Draft?" in the comments below, or tweet me @PepoR99 and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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