At the 2014 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys opted to trade up in the second round for pass rusher DeMarcus Lawrence – who will enter 2018 as their franchise player, recording 14.5 sacks last season. While it is safe to say they made the right decision on that night, we no longer have to speculate on what could have been. The Cowboys' original plan at 47th overall was to draft Missouri DE Kony Ealy, who instead went at pick #60 to the Carolina Panthers.
After three seasons with the Panthers, and a 2017 campaign with the New York Jets, Ealy now finds himself in Dallas. The latest Cowboys free agent acquisition adds further depth at DE, a position the team should still be looking to address early in this month's draft.
As far as FA signings in April go, Kony Ealy is certainly a worthwhile name for the Cowboys to “kick the tires on” as they continue to search for a starting right end. As a rotational player with the Jets last year, Ealy rushed off of both ends with minimal success, appearing in 15 games but only securing one sack.
DE Kony Ealy: Strengths
Kony Ealy is a lengthy pass rusher that takes long and balanced strides off the edge to capture the corner. Earning opportunities to “rush the half man” was not a problem for Ealy with the Jets, as he consistently fired off the ball with above average burst – sometimes enough to generate leverage and disengage.
Ealy's ability to play with lower body power was the most impressive part of his game at both left and right defensive end. Ideally, this is a situational RDE for the Cowboys, although Ealy is certainly solid enough against the run to warrant snaps on both sides.
Ealy is a fluid player, one that has no problem flowing to the ball while keeping blockers at a distance with his length. At 6'4″, this is a lanky rusher that can be difficult to control at the line of scrimmage.
Kony Ealy was rarely seen completely washed out of a play, as he is not afraid to counter inside of his blockers and plug gaps.
DE Kony Ealy: Weaknesses
This is a player that gets stopped too easily through a lot of his rush moves, which Ealy does not have a great feel for. There were plenty of snaps where Ealy would set the tackle up to be beat to either side, only to allow him to recover by working into Kony's frame.
There is very little power in Kony Ealy's slender upper body or hands, which is a very noticeable weakness in his game. Despite showing some ability to flip his hips and attack the pocket, Ealy has to do a better job of disengaging to finish these plays.
When Ealy does not get a great jump on the snap, he will struggle to gain any leverage, despite showing off some decent corner bend. This is the area that Ealy is most affected by not having a reliable counter rush move.
DE Kony Ealy: Summary
As mentioned, this is likely as good as it gets for depth signings by the Dallas Cowboys prior to the 2018 NFL Draft. In no way should Kony Ealy be looked at as a progress stopper for any of the young DEs on this team – including ones that may be added at the draft.
When any player hits the open market, every team will look back at their initial evaluation of that player from their respective draft. Like many other teams, the Cowboys did not quite hit on what Kony Ealy would be in the NFL.
This is not to say that Rod Marinelli won't get the most out of a rusher with some solid traits to play as a sideline-to-sideline defensive end, but overall expectations should remain rather low for Kony Ealy with the Cowboys.