Strategies for Addressing the Cowboys Needs at Defensive End

This blog is a continuation of my earlier three part series ranking the Cowboys’ needs. Over the next few weeks I will look at the various players who can fill key positions for the Boys; both free agents and those who will be in the draft. Of course, the Cowboys will fill some of their needs by resigning current players but these articles will take an external focus. To start this series, I will look at the Defensive End position.

Current State

The Cowboys will need to fill at least two DE positions. They will still have Lawrence and Gregory but they will lose Hardy and Mincey. While Lawrence came on down the stretch and looks like a legitimate starter, Gregory is not ready to start and for now needs to stay as a third down pass rush specialist. The Cowboys also have found a quality swing DE/DT in Irving. So the Boys will need one starter to replace Hardy and one run stopping DE who can set an edge to replace Mincey’s role. The good news is that Lawrence can play either side, so this gives the Cowboys maximum flexibility.

The DE is one of two positions with a need that scored a 36 in our grading formula (please see previous series for explanation). That means the Boys are likely to either try to get a starting caliber DE in free agency or early in the draft. With that in mind, let’s look at who is available to the Cowboys and how they would fit.

Before we look at individual players, let’s make some basic assumptions on who might fit the Boys mindset and scheme.

  • Needs to be younger than 30
  • For them to sign a free agent they will either need to be:
    • A star pass three down prototypical type DE
    • A starting quality left DE who can stop the run and provide 5 -7 sacks a year
    • A pass rushing specialist (Boys would then draft a left DE that can set an edge)
  • If starter cannot be found, then they will need to sign a run stopping DE who can be teamed with Gregory on one end.

Possible Splash Signings in Free Agency

Jason Pierre-Paul (Giants) – An all-around DE who can get pressure and defend the run. He is a freak athlete that is growing into his strength. He is still young and in his prime and would be a good fit to replace Hardy. He does have question marks about his hand, so he may be a reasonable priced option. A five year contract in the 10mm a year range might hit the mark. The Cowboy’s doctors would be the ones to determine if the Boys should pursue. The Giants could also put the tag on him.

He would step in and be the starting DE with Lawrence. This would allow the boys to go after a developmental DE in the mid-rounds of the draft.

Other Potential Free Agents of Interest

Olivier Vernon (Miami) – Olivier is 25 years old, in his prime and should continue to get better. His career high for sacks is 11.5, but he is probably a consistent 8 sack per year player. He is a starting quality DE that can be will draw around 7 million per year. While this is probably more than the Boys want to pay, he does provided a solid starting DE that can play the run and can help get pressure. If the Dolphins do not tag him, look for the Boys to make a run at him.

Robert Ayers (New York) – Also a good solid starter. He had his best year as a Giant with 9.5 sacks on the year, but his career average is lower than that, so expect 5-7 sacks per year. He can move inside to play the three technique on pass downs, so there is flexibility with him. At age 30, you probably would not want to do more than sign a three year contract. I expect the Giants to resign him, but if not, he would be a good, solid contributor. You will probably need to pay 5 to 6 million per year for at least a 3 years, with a club option for the fourth year.

Jason Jones (Detroit) – A good, solid starter. But at 29, he can only give you three or possibly four years. If the Boys go that route, I would expect it will take 5 million per year and three or four years to sign him. The Boys would try to back load the option year. While he would be a starting quality DE that can defend the run, he is only a 4-6 sack a year type of rusher. He is a good solid veteran DE that could be teamed with Gregory to hold down the left side DE spot.

Vinnie Curry (Eagles) – A good player that had a down year in 2015. (I don’t believe he ever fit Kelly’s scheme.) Curry could be a starter and could also play the three technique. He is one of my pet players. I think the Boys could get him at a reasonable price and he would be a versatile DE/Three with 6 to 8 sacks per year.

Malik Jackson (Denver) – A solid run stuffing DE with a power game, much like Mincey. He is really coming on as an impact player. In addition to being great against the run, he will get you 4 to 6 sacks a year as well. Plus he can slide in and play the three; which might actually be his best position, in fact. He would be a good addition to match with the pass rushing of Gregory. Price will most likely be in the 5 million per year range.

Andre Branch (Jacksonville) – Still young and in his prime. He can contribute and be a starter when called on. A 4-6 sack type of player. He is still learning and becoming better. Could be a reasonable priced option that would add depth and versatility.

Eugene Sims (Rams) – A career backup, Sims is looking for a starting position. He has the talent to be a solid contributor. He could matchup with Gregory to fill one of the DE positions. Not sure if the Boys would go in this direction, as he has a lot of risk. But, he would be a reasonable priced player who can add depth.

Derrick Shelby (Miami) – Not much of a pass rusher, but is stout against the run and can be teamed with Gregory to create a solid DE tandem on one side. He is reasonably priced with a talent level more of a contributor than not a starter, but he would be an affordable contributor.


2016 NFL Draft Prospects

The great news is that there are a lot of DEs in the draft that could make an impact the first year. I have 10 impact DEs in this year draft. So even if the Boys waited until the third round to draft a DE they could get a good player that could help immediately, These are my top DEs as I have ranked them. I look at their strengths, weaknesses, and provided overall comments. I believe these are the DEs that best match the Boys scheme.

Shaq Lawson


  • A bigger DE who is both strong and physical at point of attack.
  • Sets edge very well
  • Plays assignment sound. Knows that his role is and does not get excited and forget.
  • Most well rounded of the DEs. Plays run and pass very well.
  • Never goes backwards. Always moving his man forward. Good leverage.
  • Strong hands (can shock with his punch and arm over)
  • A good mix of quickness and speed.
  • Good spin move. Has a variety of pass moves.
  • Can take on block, get separation, and continue to pursue.
  • Shows a change of pace to set rush up.
  • Is aware and has good instincts.
  • Impact player, comes up bug when he needs to
  • Always in the backfield
  • Can rush from inside, though did not do much of it at Clemson


  • Can get off the ball slow at times. Last off the ball on a few plays
  • Doesn’t always finish the play if it is away from him.
  • Doesn’t always get his hands up when he cannot get to QB


  • Most well rounded DE in the draft
  • A mix size, power, quickness, and attitude
  • He is assignment sound and disciplined, but he is still instinctual and aware
  • I believe he is best suited for left DE in pros
  • He is my number one rated DE and a top 5 pick


Joey Bosa


  • Quick first move
  • Really good motor. Always working to the ball
  • Strong and can play off blocks
  • Plays with leverage. Never goes backward
  • Fundamental sound, knows his assignment. Disciplined
  • Good at both point of the attack and at chasing down from the backside
  • Aware, good reactions to what is going on around him
  • Good motor
  • Good against run, can take on blocker and disengage to tackle
  • Good when on the move


  • Can miss tackles in open field.
  • Sometimes a tick slow off the snap.
  • Can get stuck on blocks at times.
  • Does not make that many big plays in the games I saw.
  • Not a fluid edge rusher. Uses power and leverage.


  • Better rusher on the right.
  • Better inside and power rusher than edge rusher.
  • Can play both DE and three
  • Good quick moves at 3. Better pass rusher at 3. If he has size, might be his best position long term. His best position is probably 3/4 DE.
  • As DE he will be a solid DE who will play sound, disciplined football and will set the edge
  • Could fit Dallas as left DE and he could play some three on passing downs
  • Good solid player for long time, but not the game changer
  • Not sure you will get a 10 sack DE, but maybe 5 to 7 with good run support
  • Probably the safest defensive player in the draft.
  • I have him as the second best DE and a top 10 pick. I do not think he is a top 5


Deforest Buckner


  • Quick off the snap. Maybe the quickest player off the snap (him or Georgia’s Floyd).
  • Really good athlete. Looks the part.
  • Good lateral movement
  • Strong, heavy hands
  • Will get push off the snap
  • Can play off blocks and make tackles
  • Can set the edge
  • Versatile, can play three and DE
  • Quick inside moves
  • Has length that bothers blockers and QBs


  • Not a natural edge rusher as DE, will need more pass rushing moves
  • Occasional will get push backed when playing inside
  • Needs to finish with attitude


  • Not a lot of weaknesses, but will not be an elite pass rush from the edge
  • Best suited for DE in 34 defense or a three technique in 43 defenses
  • For Cowboys, he Is versatile player who can split time playing some left DE, but would play more three technique
  • Mid-first round grade


Kevin Dodd


  • Good prototypical size
  • Quick around edge or diving inside
  • Wee rounded, plays run and pass well
  • He has a quick first step
  • Very disciplined
  • Great awareness
  • Can set edge
  • Has a decent variety of pass moves
  • Great motor


  • Is inconsistent getting off the ball at times
  • Not an elite athlete


  • Great size, strength, athleticism ratio
  • Three down player
  • Disciplined DE who can set an edge or provide a pass rush
  • Great motor
  • Smart player
  • Will play left DE in pros
  • Have him rated somewhere around the third or fourth best DE
  • Rated as a low first round pick (20 to 30)


Emmanuel Ogbah


  • Quickness, suddenness
  • Good strength
  • Has above average hands. Can shock with punch
  • Has speed to get to edge.
  • Played some three in pass rush situations with some success
  • Disruptive when he shot inside on stunts
  • Would chase the ball
  • Gets his hands up to deflect the ball


  • Is not as strong as some of the elite DEs
  • Needs more pass rushing moves. Needs to work on techniques.
  • Not as complete of a DE as other top DEs
  • Not a bad motor, but has some play he does not finish (run to the ball). Needs to finish all plays
  • Does not always set edge (Could be scheme, but gets caught inside too often)


  • To start his career, he will be a pass rushing specialist, not a complete DE
  • Is best suited for right DE
  • Great athlete, but needs higher motor and more strength
  • I grade him as low first rounder (20 to 30)


Jonathan Bullard


  • Bigger DE who is strong and physical at point of attack
  • Quick of the snap
  • Goes forward, strong at point of attack
  • Relentless, comes at you every play
  • Can work off blocks to tackle
  • Can shift and slice inside
  • Good lateral skills


  • Did not always play with awareness
  • Wanted to see more pressure
  • Needs to develop pass rush moves


  • Think his best positon may be the three
  • Undersized for DT, but has a frame and skills that fit the DT position
  • Strong, quick of the ball and plays with power
  • Rank him in the 20 to 30 range
  • Good pick up in the second round if he is available. Would bring energy and versatility.
  • I have him graded at the bottom of the first round (20 to 30)


Carl Nassib


  • Good athlete
  • Disciplined, knows assignment,
  • Great awareness
  • Gets his hands up when can’t get to QB
  • Always around the ball
  • Has a few different pass rush moves
  • Above average with his hands
  • Can drop in coverage, better awareness than you would think
  • Strong enough to bull rush, quick enough to go around edge
  • Three down player
  • Can get off of blockers to make tackles


  • Lost his balance at times
  • Needs to work on strength in offseason
  • Caught up inside on a couple plays, but most times he sets edge


  • Looks like prototypical left end
  • Three down player
  • A good athlete, but not elite
  • I rate him between early second
  • Top 5 DE and high second round pick (30 to 40)


Shilique Calhoun


  • Good athlete
  • Disciplined, knows assignment
  • Great awareness
  • Has decent speed around edge
  • Gets his hands up to bat balls. Best of the DEs.
  • Has a few different pass moves
  • Above average with his hands


  • Doesn’t get off blockers
  • Can be driven backwards at time
  • Average motor
  • Not over powering


  • Looks like prototypical right end
  • A disciplined player who will not make a bad mistake
  • Above average rusher, but just average against run
  • A good athlete, but not elite
  • I rate him between mid-second round (top 50)


Noah Spence


  • Good athlete prototypical size
  • Quick around edge or diving inside
  • Gets good knee bend
  • He has a quick first step
  • Has a decent variety of pass moves
  • Good instincts


  • Can lose balance at times
  • Does not have the strength of some of the higher rated DEs
  • Will chase play, then hesitate to finish
  • Can forget to set edge. Just interested in QB
  • Needs awareness of backside blockers


  • Quality rusher but not elite
  • Better rushing than playing against run
  • To start career, he will most likely be a pass rush specialist
  • Better on right side than on left side
  • Would be a good middle round pick up
  • I have him as a mid-second round pick (Top 50)


Bronson Kaufusi


  • Good athlete, good balance
  • Great motor, always near ball
  • Tall, good size
  • Gets his hands up when can’t get to QB, causes issues
  • Better than average quickness
  • Can be disruptive on the move, slant, shifts, etc.
  • Has quickness to get edge at times
  • Competitive
  • Takes on block and fights to disengage.


  • Better on the move than playing point of attack
  • Can be driven backwards,
  • Plays high at times and loses leverage
  • Does not have elite quickness
  • Needs to get stronger and have more punch


  • Looks like a right end
  • Good at playing shifts and slants
  • His height is a plus, uses it well
  • But can be driven back when running at him. Better when ball goes away from them
  • Good contributor with possible starter capability in a few years
  • Graded as low second round (top 60)


Shawn Oakman


  • Uses arms to keep blockers away from him
  • Upper body strength
  • Good straight line speed. Can get around the edge.
  • Can get rush passer by getting push, around the edge and shooting to the inside
  • Plays with some attitude
  • Sees it and goes. A reaction type player
  • He has a quick first step
  • Can use his long arms to keep blockers at bay and set edge


  • Better on the move than playing point of attack
  • His motor is inconsistent
  • Not always disciplined
  • Is inconsistent in getting off the ball quickly. He tends to be late setting up which causes issues getting off at the snap
  • Is susceptible to cut blocks due to his length
  • Can get washed sideways.
  • Not always aware of the backside cut off block. If a blocker can get him moving sideways, he struggles


  • He will play right DE.
  • Oakman is a risk/reward pick. As much upside as anyone, but he is a risk.
  • He is physically gifted as anyone in the draft, but his motor is not as good as others and he does have some weaknesses.
  • A better rusher than playing against the run. However, can use his hands and length to set an edge so can be a three down player eventually
  • Has better inside moves than you would think for someone with his length
  • Better going forward than sideways
  • Would be better chasing down plays if he ran harder
  • Would be a better pass rusher if he would get in his stance earlier
  • Expect him to put up solid combine scores in 40 and in the lefts. His shuttle score will not as good.
  • He is a little more inconsistent and has more risk, otherwise I would have him higher. His talent is a first or second rounder.
  • I project him as a low third rounder (top 70)


Overall Rank

  1. Shaq Lawson
  2. Joey Bosa
  3. Kevin Dodd
  4. Emmanuel Ogbah
  5. Carl Nassib
  6. Shilique Calhoun
  7. Noah Spence
  8. Bronson Kaufusi
  9. Shawn Oakman

Moved to DT

  1. Jonathan Bullard
  2. Deforest Buckner


Strategies for the Cowboys

Al lot of what the Boys do will be determined by free agency of course. If the Boys can go get someone like Pierre-Paul, Vernon, or even Ayers, then I do not expect them to make an early pick at DE. In this scenario, if they get an impact free agent and a DE falls to them with the fourth, I would expect that they would use this as leverage on teams that need a pass rush and trade down for more picks.

However, if they do not get one of the aforementioned free agents, I would expect that the Boys will try to sign a free agent DE who can contribute as a backup and then draft a DE with one of their first two picks. The good news is that DE is a deep position in this year’s draft and the Boys should be able to get an impact player in the second, and possibly even in the third.

If Nassib fell to them in the second, I would jump on it. Spence could be another impact player they could grab in the second. As for the first round, well if they can get Bosa or Lawson, I think they are two of the best players in this the draft, with a slight preference for Lawson. I feel he will be a better pro than Bosa, but I wouldn’t be unhappy with either.

Personally, I think that the drop off between Bosa and Lawson and the other DEs that they could get in the mid-first round isn’t that big. So if I were the Cowboys and I had the chance to get Bosa or Lawson with the 4th and I had DE is my highest need, I would still trade down, gain picks, and they would be able to grab a quality DE in the mid to late first, or even second. Look forward to seeing what they do.

What do you think?

Tommy Simon

Written by Tommy Simon

Tommy Simon is an entrepreneur, writer, speaker and sports enthusiast. He is currently CEO of TechBAA, an investor and board member of TPC Technical and CommunitesFIrst, and acting CFO for ALS Communities. In addition to investing and advising companies, Tommy is also a Sales Management coach and is working with companies as a Fractional CMO/CSO.

Tommy is a life long football player, coach and Cowboy fan. He currently coaches and sponsors several 7 on 7 teams. He manages/coaches an adult flag football team that is the top team in Florida one of the highest ranked teams in the country.

Tommy's hobbies include international travel, fantasy football, reading, and engaging in intelligent political discourse. He is married to a wonderful women for 18 years; which is the best thing he has ever accomplished. He has a dog that is the best dog ever. He also has 9 siblings and roughly 30 nieces and nephews.

For more information about tommy, or to request him to speak, please contact him at


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