At this year’s NFL Scouting Combine, Dallas Cowboys VP Stephen Jones spoke about the team’s philosophy at the nose tackle or 1T DT position. In just a few sentences, Jones all but slammed the brakes on the hype train for the Cowboys selecting Washington’s Vita Vea in the first round of this upcoming draft.
Vea is one of the more intriguing prospects in this entire draft class, quickly becoming a fan favorite of Cowboys Nation this offseason even though he plays the undervalued 1T position. A human wrecking ball at 347 pounds, the hope for Vita Vea having supporters in the Cowboys’ war room is once again alive and well.
The implications of this report are potentially massive on the Cowboys at the 2018 NFL Draft. Even if it doesn’t mean a long-overdue upgrade at DT is on the way in the form of Vita Vea, there is a lot to be learned about the pecking order in Dallas when it comes to grading these prospects.
For 68-year old Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli, this is a topic I have discussed before when questioning just how much pull he would carry in draft decisions this month. At the time, Marinelli was seen working out Florida DT Taven Bryan.
Bryan’s fit with the Cowboys is much more clear-cut, as he solely played the pass rushing 3T position in college. This is the most important spot in Marinelli’s scheme, one that Bryan would fill nicely as “Rod’s type of player”.
If the Cowboys are interested in Da’Ron Payne at 19, it’s because they think he can play some 3-tech, as Stephen Jones said last week at the Combine: pic.twitter.com/4oQrz1tHU1
In initially dismissing the idea of selecting a nose tackle early in the draft, Stephen Jones echoed the Cowboys’ trust in Rod Marinelli’s scheme and need for a better 3T DT – referred to above as the “under tackle”.
Regardless of which Cowboys coach or executive pounds the table the hardest for their player on the clock at 19th overall, I believe they are correct in evaluating both Taven Bryan as an ideal scheme fit and Vita Vea as a three down player.
There is no way around the fact that Vea will primarily play the run-stuffing 1T position in the NFL, but this is a prospect with a legitimate chance to change the entire complexion of a front seven in even his first year.
No matter how Vea lined up at Washington, opposing offensive linemen consistently failed at handling his freakish combination of speed, power, and technique.
Vea is an absolute space eater on the interior of the defensive line, collapsing the pocket when necessary while also flashing some get off ability as a down-the-line nose tackle. Committing to Vea as a three down DT in Dallas would greatly benefit the likes of David Irving and Maliek Collins at the other starting spot.
As the Cowboys depth chart stands now, it appears that Maliek Collins would continue playing the 1T position as he did in the latter half of 2017. Showing so much potential as a 3T DT instead his rookie season, Collins could pair up with Vea at his natural position again to bolster the interior of the Cowboys defense.
Of course, this defensive line needs to be led by franchise player DeMarcus Lawrence again in 2018. Creating opportunities for Lawrence off the edge starts with the match ups the Cowboys create on their defensive interior, where their current depth would be filled out nicely by Vita Vea.
So far this offseason, the Cowboys did re-sign DT Brian Price – who was lost for the year early in his first campaign with the team. With limited reps, Price was a serviceable 1T along with Lewis Neal and Richard Ash.
It should go without saying that none of these players are skilled enough to truly stop the Cowboys from upgrading at DT in the draft, as they’ve shown interest in doing outside of Vita Vea – also hosting Alabama’s Da’Ron Payne for an official pre-draft visit (along with Bryan).