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Strategies for Addressing the Cowboys Defensive Tackle Needs

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Strategies for Addressing the Cowboys Defensive Tackle Needs

Last week, we looked at the Defensive End position and some of the players that the Cowboys could acquire to fill their needs. This week, let’s look at the Defensive Tackle position.

Before we start, let’s briefly look at the Cowboys’ needs at DT.

The Cowboys are set to lose their starting one-technique and backup three-technique. The good news is that Tyrone Crawford can play the one or three-technique and that gives the Cowboys maximum flexibility. The Cowboys needs will be to find one starter (one or three) and one contributor (three).

Before we look at players that may fill these positions, let’s look at some basic assumptions:

  • The Cowboys will most likely not look at players over three years, unless it is a one or two year contract.
  • The Cowboys do not like big, run stopping nose tackles.
  • The Cowboys will not allocate a lot of salary at the one. That means Crawford may start at the three unless the Cowboys can draft a cheap, starting impact three. If they go that route, the Cowboys will need to draft an impact DT in the first two rounds.

With those basic assumptions in mind, let’s look at options available to the Cowboys.

Splash Signing

Muhammad Wilkerson – Can’t see how the Jets will let him get away. But if they do, the Cowboys would improve their interior defense immediately, both against the rush and the pass.

Free Agent Options

Alex Carrington – Affordable backup as a one-technique. Really does not help the Cowboys find the starter they need.

Tyrunn Walker – Could be an affordable starter for the Cowboys. He was a starter in Detroit before breaking his leg. At 26, he is in his prime and could be an instant contributor, if not starter.

BJ Raji – Has a bigger name than production the last few years, but he could be a penetrating one. Depends on price. I expect he will be outside the Cowboys range, but they might look at a two year contract.

Nick Fairley – A run stopping one, with some penetration capabilities. A good fit for the Cowboys, but most likely asking for more than the Cowboys will spend.

Damon Harrison – A pure nose guard. He would be the run stopper the Cowboys need. He is an immediate upgrade. However, not the style the Cowboys like and will get a good sized contract.

Brandon Mebane – Same as Harrison.

Ahtyba Rubin – Same as above, but not as talented.

Ian Williams – Same as above, with talent.

Terrance Knighton – Same as above, but older.

Al Woods – Could be a good fit for the Cowboys as a starting one. A run stopper with some athleticism. Look for the Cowboys to reach out to his camp and see if the price is right.

Malik Jackson – An athletic pass rusher for a big man, Malik would fit in as the starting one/three next to Crawford. In my mind, he is the one guy to sign if they can get the right price. He would make a great combination with Crawford and provide flexibility to the Cowboys coaches.

Vinny Curry – Would be a versatile contributor at DE and the three-technique. Could see him as the starting three if Crawford played the one. Most likely would be a contributor and improve the Cowboys depth immediately.

Draft Options

Draft Blog - Strategies for Addressing the Cowboys Defensive Tackle NeedsDeforest Buckner

Strengths

  • Quick off the snap, probably the quickest off the snap.
  • 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

Weaknesses

  • Not a natural rusher from DE, will need pass rushing moves
  • Occasional will get push backed when playing inside

Overall

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

Draft Blog - Strategies for Addressing the Cowboys Defensive Tackle Needs 1Andrew Billings

Strengths

  • Quick off the snap, probably the quickest one-technique off the ball
  • Discipline, knows his gap and assignment
  • Disruptive, good penetration for a guy his size
  • Really good leverage and power. Can drive guard and center into backfield
  • Can shed blocker and make tackle
  • Play a lot of downs, does not take many plays off
  • Good lateral movement
  • Strong, heavy hands
  • Will get push off the snap
  • Dropped in coverage quite a lot, but never really saw him defend pass.
  • Versatile enough to play a little at three, but is a one or nose.

Weaknesses

  • Not a lot of weaknesses
  • Did see him lose awareness of where ball carrier is
  • Did get tired in fourth quarter, but he played a lot of snaps
  • At times was late getting into position and it caused him to lose leverage or be slower off the ball

Overall

  • For Cowboys, he is a perfect blend of a nose who can penetrate. Might fit the Cowboys style of play.
  • Very disruptive player. At times saw three blockers on him.
  • Mid-first round grade (top 20)

Draft Blog - Strategies for Addressing the Cowboys Defensive Tackle Needs 2Robert Nkemdiche

Strengths

  • Gets off the snap very quickly, can disrupt with penetration
  • Low center of gravity. Can get under a guards pads and get push
  • Uses the spin effectively
  • Can shift and shoot gaps
  • Uses his hands effectively to get around traffic and find runner or passer
  • Has a swim move, but does not use it often
  • Plays big in big games
  • Spends a lot of time in the backfield
  • Good running stunts and freeing other players to rush
  • Is a versatile player who played everywhere on the line

Weaknesses

  • Did not have the motor I was expecting. Once blocked on initial burst, he would just give in and stay blocked
  • Would not shed blocks on run. Would just take on blocker and let others tackle.
  • He lost his balance quite a lot. He overextended himself trying to break free and would lose balance.
  • He is better pass rushing than against the run. He can be knocked back. Better chasing the ball that at point of attack.
  • He took off a play every now and then; he did not give 100% every play.

Overall

  • He is a disruptive three-technique.
  • He is not afraid, will play any line position and compete.
  • More a pass rusher than run stuffer.
  • Good leverage and quickness for his size.
  • He is a player the Cowboys may like, as his game is penetration. I just question how consistent he can get penetration.
  • I grade him as a mid – first round pick in this draft because of his penetration skill (top 20), but I do not think he is as good as the first round three-techniques that have come out in the last three or four drafts.

Draft Blog - Strategies for Addressing the Cowboys Defensive Tackle Needs 3A’Shawn Robinson

Strengths

  • His game is at the point of attack. He takes on blockers and clogs up lanes
  • Goes forward, strong at point of attack
  • Physical player, who will take on multiple users
  • Has a good motor for a big guy. Will chase down plays all over the field
  • Can work off blocks on the inside to tackle
  • Can shift and slice inside
  • Good swim over move for a big guy
  • Good lateral skills for such a big guys
  • Good sideline to sideline speed.

Weaknesses

  • Gets tired on some plays. Will be limited to 30 -35 plays a game
  • Did see him get driven back by double teams, but not often
  • Wanted to see more pressure from him, but that is not his game
  • Needs to develop pass rush moves
  • Will clog run, but does not give you much penetration

Overall

  • He is a one-technique or nose guard.
  • Good plug holes and taking on blockers.
  • More run stopper than a pass rush threat.
  • Good strength and quickness for his size.
  • What he does well will not necessarily show up in stats.
  • He is not a fit for what the Cowboys do. Certainly not in contention for the first round. Would be a possible pick if he is there in the second.
  • I grade him as a low one (top 30)

Draft Blog - Strategies for Addressing the Cowboys Defensive Tackle Needs 4Jonathan Bullard

Strengths

  • Bigger DE who is strong and physical at point of attack
  • Quick of the snap
  • Great leverage and quickness
  • 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

Weaknesses

  • Undersized for DT, but has a shorter frame if DE
  • Did not always play with awareness
  • Wanted to see more pressure
  • Needs to develop pass rush moves

Overall

  • Think his best positon is the three
  • Strong, quick of the ball and plays with power
  • Rank him as a low second (top 40)
  • Good pick up in the second round if he is available.

Austin Johnson

Strengths

  • Relentless, always moving, always going towards the ball. Comes at you every play
  • Shorter, but can get good leverage
  • Great sideline to sideline abilities
  • Plays with a love for the game and an attitude. Wants to dominate.
  • Comes down the line and cuts off gap
  • Can shift and slice inside
  • Takes on blocker, redirects and then get to runner or QB
  • Quick off the snap
  • Can play against rush and go get QB
  • A mix of quickness and leverage
  • Quick feet which he leverages to redirect blockers
  • Good awareness

Weaknesses

  • Undersized for DT, and looks like he has shorter arms. He has to work to keep guards away from him. Uses movement to help with this.
  • Can be moved with double team. Is not as “stout” as other ones.
  • Is not as strong an athlete as the top one-techniques.
  • He does get off balance at times
  • He seems a tick slower than the other top nose guards.

Overall

  • He is a one-technique.
  • Probably is the type on of one the Cowboys would like.
  • Furious and would be the type of player the team could feed off of
  • He is about the same level as Jarren Reed or Kenny Clark; but he is more the type of one-technique the Cowboys would draft.
  • I know there is a buzz about him, but I grade him as a mid-second rounder (top 50)
  • Should be considered in the second round if he is available.

Kenny Clark

Strengths

  • Really good at point of attack. Never goes backwards.
  • Good shoulder turn to gain penetration
  • Great leverage and strong hands
  • Good over under moves
  • Uses hands to shock and keep lineman away, then comes off and makes tackle.
  • Relentless, keeps coming and comes at you every play
  • Can work off blocks to tackle
  • Can shift and slice inside
  • Good combination of strength and agility

Weaknesses

  • Not elite penetration or pass rush
  • Wanted to see more pressure, more big plays
  • Needs to develop more pass rush moves
  • Not the biggest or strongest, but better penetration than most of the one-techniques.
  • Not the best sideline to sideline player

Overall

  • His best positon is the one
  • Takes on blocker, uses hands to keep him off, then a good shoulder turn to gain penetration.
  • Good feet and hands combination.
  • Probable the best one at shedding block and making tackle.
  • Good well rounded one, but not the elite quickness, strength or leverage of the other top ones.
  • Rank him as a middle of second round pick (top 50)
  • If the Cowboys decide to trade back in second, they may be able to get in mid to late second range.

Draft Blog - Strategies for Addressing the Cowboys Defensive Tackle Needs 5Jarran Reed

Strengths

  • Stout. Really good at point of attack. Never goes backwards.
  • Takes up two blockers so linebacker can make tackles.
  • Strong hands. Can blow up a guard with his punch.
  • Good overall strength. Can take on double team, get a turn and plug hole
  • Can drive the guard into backfield
  • Can come off block and make tackle, but his game is to consume two blockers and plug hole
  • Good athlete for his size
  • Not a sideline to sideline type player

Weaknesses

  • Not elite penetration or pass rush
  • Not a sideline to sideline type player
  • Not enough tackles for loss
  • No pass rush
  • Can get high at times and lose leverage

Overall

  • His best positon is the one
  • Is a tree. Not going to be moved.
  • Functionally strong. Does not get pushed back
  • Probable the best one at plugging hole.
  • Good well rounded one, but not the elite quickness or leverage of the other top ones.
  • Rank him as a mid-second round (top 50)
  • Like Clark, he would be a good pick up in the third round for the Cowboys if he is available. If they trade back in second, they may need to get in mid to late second. Of the two, I think Johnson or Clark is a better fit for the Cowboys at the one.

Chris Jones

Strengths

  • One of the quickest players off the snap
  • Has “suddenness”. Can be in the backfield in one step.
  • Good shoulder turn to gain penetration
  • He is probably the best penetrator of all the threes I evaluated
  • Great over under moves and swim technique
  • Versatile, played DE, One and Three on rush downs
  • Tall, bit good athleticism for size.
  • Long arms can help keep blockers off his body
  • Can play off blocks to tackle
  • Good combination of size, quickness and agility
  • Will chase ball, good motor

Weaknesses

  • His first move is so quick he can get himself off balance
  • Needs better control. Several games he had sacks but was out of control, moving too quickly and missed the sack
  • Can be driven backwards when playing the one-technique
  • When blocked, sometimes he will stay blocked
  • Had some games where he was not as impactful. Needs game to game consistency.

Overall

  • His best positon is the three
  • Is a penetration specialist and rusher
  • Is the type of disruptive three the Cowboys would like
  • He also have the position versatility they like
  • This is a player I like a lot
  • I lot of people have him in the third. I do see him moving up boards. I have him graded as a middle second round pick (top 50)
  • For the Cowboys, he would be a good pick up in the third round if he is available. He fits their scheme as a three and he does play some DE as well.

Draft Blog - Strategies for Addressing the Cowboys Defensive Tackle Needs 6Adolphus Washington

Strengths

  • Slasher, can slash through a gap.
  • Maybe the best swim move of all the defensive tackles
  • Good shoulder turn to gain penetration
  • Good technique on stunts
  • Ability to penetrate is his best asset
  • Will take on double team to free linebackers
  • Good lateral quickness
  • Knows his role, good at executing it

Weaknesses

  • Not elite power, speed or size.
  • Needs to develop more pass rush moves than just swim technique
  • Not the biggest or strongest, but better penetration than most of the one-techniques.
  • Can be knocked back. Saw him driven back 10 yards one play and pancaked by a double team on another play. Not the traditional nose tackle type one.
  • Lost his footing on several plays
  • Not the athlete of several other one-technique
  • Did not get the feel of a mean, tough, hard nose player

Overall

  • His best positon is the one
  • As a one-technique, he gives you more pass rush, but less against the run. His game is more like an Austin Johnson than Reed
  • He is the Cowboys style one. Can give you penetration and rush from the one.
  • May be more of a solid contributor than a starter for a couple of years
  • Played in big games and always
  • Rank him as a bottom second round pick (top 80)
  • He is a possible pick for the Cowboys in the third round

Draft Blog - Strategies for Addressing the Cowboys Defensive Tackle Needs 7Sheldon Day

Strengths

  • Slasher, can slash through a gap
  • His game is getting penetration
  • Quick feet
  • Relentless motor
  • Good leverage
  • Good lateral quickness
  • Knows his role, good at executing it
  • Captain and leader
  • Smart player, knows his assignments
  • Tough and relentless

Weaknesses

  • Not elite power, speed or size.
  • Needs to develop his techniques at the three
  • Not the most physical DT against the run, but will get penetration
  • Is only six feet, so is not prototypical defensive tackle
  • Not the athlete of several other one-technique

Overall

  • His best positon is the three, but can played the DE position as well
  • His game is getting up field, he is not a point of impact player
  • He is the Cowboys style of a three. Can give you penetration and rush from the three and can play some DE.
  • Would be a backup three for the Cowboys
  • A lot of people have him as a fourth rounder, but I think he is better than that.
  • Rank him as a middle if the third round pick (top 80)
  • I really like him and think he would be a steal in the fourth.

Sheldon Rankins

Strengths

  • Low center of gravity, uses it to gain leverage.
  • Once he gets moving in a direction, it is hard to stop him or redirect him
  • Ability to shift and slash
  • Lateral movement is better than straight speed
  • Will work to the ball
  • Will run stunts and work to free other rushers
  • I get the feeling he is a tough player
  • Can anticipate, shed blocker and meet runner in hole

Weaknesses

  • Not elite power, speed or size.
  • Shorter arms allow offensive linemen to handle him at time
  • Can be knocked back. He was pushed back on several short yardage runs
  • Did not appear to be exceptionally quick
  • Not the athlete of several other one-technique

Overall

  • Others like him better than me. He is a traditional nose, not a penetrating one.
  • He is better at defending the run than pass rushing
  • I do not think he would be the typical one the Cowboys would look for. More of a
  • May be more of a solid contributor than a starter for a couple of years
  • Played in big games and always
  • Rank him as a bottom of the third round pick (top 90)
  • Someone will like him more than I do and draft him in the third. But if he falls to the Cowboys in the fourth, they should look at him. If not, they should stay away.

Vernon Butler

Strengths

  • Plays with attitude, wants to hit someone
  • He is a quick, penetrating one-technique
  • Lateral movement is above average
  • Will continue to work to the ball or QB
  • Can anticipate, shed blocker and meet runner in hole
  • Can get push when he gets under the pads of the guard
  • Looks to finish every play
  • Can take on block, redirect, then rush QB
  • Good production in games I watched

Weaknesses

  • Not elite power, speed or size.
  • Not the quickness of the top 10 DTs
  • Can be knocked back. He was pushed back on several short yardage runs
  • Not the athlete of several other one-technique
  • Lacked awareness on several screens.

Overall

  • Good player, but not elite
  • His best positon is the one
  • He is better at pass rushing than playing the run. Although, he is good at both.
  • He would be the type of one-technique the Cowboys would look for.
  • May be more of a solid contributor than a starter for a couple of years
  • Would bring the team a toughness and attitude
  • Rank him as a low third round pick (top 60)
  • But if he falls to the Cowboys in the third, they should look at him. If he does not, they should stay away.

Looking at the draft, it is pretty deep in both the one and three-technique. Looking at the depth of the line, I can see the Cowboys drafting both a one and a three. However, to do this, it will mean that they will have to trade down in the draft to get more picks. I can see the Cowboys bringing in a one that can start just to provide insurance if they do not get who they want in the draft. I do not think they will address the backup three until after the draft.

For the draft strategy, look for them to trade down. They can look at Austin Johnson in the second (I disagree with Bryan Broaddus, I think he will be there), and then come back in the third for someone like Chris Jones (my pet pick) or Sheldon Day in the third or fourth.

As for the vets, look for someone with versatility like Vinnie Curry (DE and three) or Malik Jackson (one and three). Some backups entering their prime may also be affordable options. In this case, look for Al Woods or Tyrun Walker.

Next week, we will look at middle linebackers. Until then, I hope you enjoyed the article.

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 info@techbaa.com

1 Comment
  • redbeans

    The Tampa Bay Bucs had Warren Sapp, but their defense did not reach the Super Bowl until they drafted Anthony (Booger) McFarland in the first round. His presence at the 1 technique solidified them up the middle. After seeing Dallas’ defense get shredded during 2015 (see Atlanta, Carolina, Buffalo, etc.), we need to get someone that is not going to be pushed back. Probably not with a first round draft choice, but definitely in the second round Dallas needs to get this position improved.

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