With OTAs approaching, the Dallas Cowboys will work on starting the 2017 NFL season in the best position possible. There are still a few big-name free agents who have yet to land with a team. Some may fit what the Cowboys are looking for. Others, however, whether it's due to age or scheme fit, may not be in the Cowboys' plans.
When we take a look at the positions, the team could still use an upgrade or a veteran presence at the defensive end position. The only issue with the team adding another defensive lineman is they already have a very crowded DE group.
The Defensive Ends
- DeMarcus Lawrence - DeMarcus Lawrence is coming off multiple back surgeries and hasn't lived up to his hefty expectations after the team traded up to draft him in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
- Taco Charlton - Taco Charlton, after being drafted with the 28th overall pick in this year's NFL Draft, will be forced to play early and often for the Dallas Cowboys. Dallas drafted Charlton to come in and compete for a starting job immediately.
- Benson Mayowa - Benson Mayowa, the team's sack leader in 2016, will look to regain the same form early in 2017 that he finished with in 2016. After starting out the season very slow, Mayowa turned it on in the last month of the season, finishing the season with four sacks in the final five games.
- David Irving - We saw David Irving's ability to absolutely take over a game last year in Green Bay, and then against Tampa Bay. If Irving can learn to play at that level consistently, he may just earn himself a starting job.
- Tyrone Crawford - Tyrone Crawford is looked at to be the veteran along the defensive line, and maybe even on the whole defense. What Crawford lacks is the skill set to really take this defense over the top.Crawford has found himself bouncing all around the line, playing both defensive end and defense tackle. With the emergence of second year player Maliek Collins and the addition of Stephen Paea and Joey Ivie, the Cowboys may make Crawford a primary left defensive end.
- Charles Tapper - The one real question mark in the room comes with second year player, Charles Tapper. Tapper was supposed to be a big addition to the Cowboys defense last year before spending his whole season rehabbing from a back injury that has followed Tapper his whole life.Tapper has a lot of potential coming off the edge. Questions still remain with his health and if he can translate his college success to the NFL.
- Damontre Moore - Damontre Moore was signed this offseason as a free agent after spending time with the Seahawks, Giants, and Dolphins. Moore showed flashes of why some teams viewed him as a first round pick while with the Seahawks last year. Moore by no means has a reserved spot on the team, due to his contract size, off the field issues, and his lack of consistency.
Free Agent Options
- Dwight Freeney - Even at 37-years-old, Dwight Freeney was a valuable piece to the Atlanta Falcons' Super Bowl run last year. Freeney was healthy for all but one game in 2016 and finished the regular season with three sacks while playing in very limited snaps.Freeney was more than just a player for the Falcons. He was a mentor for all the young talents along that Atlanta defensive line. That's exactly what the Cowboys need in their defensive meeting rooms.
- Devin Taylor - I am a bit surprised Devin Taylor is still available this deep into the offseason. At just 27-years-old, Taylor should still have plenty of gas left in the tank and he would be relatively cheap. Taylor racked up 4.5 sacks in 2016 as a starter on the Detroit Lions defense. Taylor is a player who has had success in the league and could be an important role-player coming off the bench.
- Elvis Dumervil - Dumervil is just two years removed from his 17-sack season with the Baltimore Ravens, but is now searching for a job. You don't hear that very often.Dumervil missed about half the season last year dealing with a foot injury that kept him out eight of the team's sixteen games. Dumervil -- when healthy -- is still a very dangerous pass rusher coming off the edge.Dallas would be smart to offer Dumervil an incentive based "prove it" deal.
As you can see, the options are very limited this deep into the offseason, but one thing is for sure: injuries are going to happen and there is no such thing as too many pass rushers.
All three of the free agents listed above have had success in the league and would bring a veteran presence to a locker room full of young guys. The average age of the Cowboys' defensive ends is 24. While youth benefits your defense, having a veteran or two in the locker room to mentor and teach the young bloods a thing or two can take an average defense over the top.
That is something the Dallas Cowboys need desperately to reach an NFC Championship.
Cowboys OT Mitch Hyatt is an Undrafted Rookie to Watch
Going undrafted is hardly a death blow to a player's hopes of making it into the NFL. We've seen many examples of players who have lengthy careers despite humble beginnings, and plenty of them happened right here in Dallas. Could offensive tackle Mitch Hyatt be the next undrafted success story for the Cowboys?
Hyatt just finished his college career at Clemson as a four-year starter, two-time national champion, and two-time All-American. While not an elite draft prospect, many had Mitch rated as at least a 5th-7th round pick. His going undrafted was a surprise.
While he measures with good size at 6'5" and a little over 300 lbs., Hyatt lacks upper body strength. But he's overcome that deficiency through the years with work ethic, motor, and smarts.
For the Cowboys, it's a lot easier to help a guy gain strength than it is to try and improve motivation or intelligence.
Dallas was not the only team interested in Mitch Hyatt once he hit free agency. But from the rookie's own lips, he didn't have a hard decision to make.
“'I received a fair amount of calls. It was a pretty chaotic five to 10 minutes for me,'” Hyatt said. “'I had a whole bunch of people in my ear. But I knew what kind of team the Cowboys were, I knew what they were about.'”
Whether it was the reputation of the Cowboys organization, its vaunted offensive line, or the chance to work with Coach Marc Colombo, Hyatt was clearly drawn to Dallas. Another reason for that may have been the perceived opportunity to make the roster.
The Cowboys seem to already be preparing for life without La'el Collins in 2020, when Collins is set to hit free agency. They gave Cam Fleming a two-year deal which keeps him through next year, plus drafted Connor McGovern in the third round of the 2019 draft. It suggests Dallas isn't planning to pay La'l the significant money he should demand.
If Fleming gets promoted to the starting job at right tackle, that would leave a vacancy for swing tackle in 2020. Mitch Hyatt could be one of Dallas' options for that role.
Even if the Cowboys don't keep Hyatt on the 53-man roster in 2019, they will likely try to put him on the practice squad. Ideally, a year of physical development there will make him a much stronger candidate for the 2020 season.
Of course, the reason we know those undrafted success stories so well is because they aren't typical. The odds are against Mitch Hyatt having any NFL career, but his collegiate success and intangibles speak to a guy who's worth taking a chance on.
If it works out, credit the Cowboys for continuing the tradition of Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Jeff Heath, and other undrafted players who became significant contributors.
Could CB Michael Jackson Prove To Be Cowboys Best Value Pick?
Looking back to the third day of the 2019 NFL Draft for the Dallas Cowboys, running backs Tony Pollard and Mike Weber are the most discussed players among fans and analysts. The front office made some pretty promising selections in the late rounds that could have important roles on the team in the near future. While many thought the Cowboys would be quick to add a rookie safety, it wasn't until the fifth round that the team drafted a defensive back, and it wasn't even a safety. Kris Richard got his guy Michael Jackson, from the Miami Hurricanes.
A few weeks apart from training camp, the 6-1 cornerback has been overlooked by many fans. Although the team got plenty of quality players in the late rounds, Jackson might end up being the best value pick when we look back to this rookie class a year from now.
In college, Jackson started 23 games between 2017 and 2018 as he racked up four interceptions and 10 pass deflections. He seems just like the kind of guy we know DB Coach Kris Richard loves. A tall, long, press cornerback with pretty solid range. Jackson is far from a player ready to start in the NFL, but Richard will have a lot of raw potential to work with.
When the former Seahawks defensive coordinator joined the Cowboys, he let it be known that he saw a lot of potential on Byron Jones. The 2015 first round pick's career was turned around after last season, when the team finally stopped moving Jones around the defensive backfield. As a full-time corner, Jones went on to become a second-team All-Pro last year.
While it would be unfair to compare Jones and Jackson, both of them arrived to the NFL with very different expectations, I can't help but wonder how far can Richard take the Miami product. Although it wasn't discussed as much, cornerback was an important need for the team because of a lack of depth and the uncertainty surrounding Jones' future on the team.
After an impressive 2018 season, extending Jones will be a huge challenge for the Cowboys front office. After all, there's a lot of homegrown talent due for big paydays. Who knows if when the day comes, the team will have what it takes to keep Jones in Dallas. Not to mention, Anthony Brown is entering his contract year. A solid nickel corner for the Cowboys could be gone, leaving Kris Richard's unit with very little depth.
Fortunately for the Cowboys, Michael Jackson has the size and potential to play in any spot in the secondary, giving Richard the chance to develop him at the position he wishes. After all, Richard will be in no hurry to get Jackson on the field. It's tough to imagine Jackson getting an important role for the upcoming season, but he could certainly get a few snaps throughout the year. Having said that, it's in the long run that the All-ACC second-team CB can truly prove his worth.
In an ideal world, the Cowboys would keep their current CB but the cold, hard truth is NFL teams can't keep all of their players all the time. Jackson might have to eventually step up to an important spot on the defense. If Kris Richard develops him properly, Dallas won't be that concerned about a couple of their CBs potentially leaving. We'll see if Michael Jackson is ready when his name is called.
Dorance Armstrong, Kerry Hyder Stand Out in Cowboys Practices
With Left Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence rehabbing from offseason shoulder surgery, Defensive End Taco Charlton rehabbing a shoulder and foot injury, and Right Defensive End Randy Gregory currently suspended indefinitely, there have been plenty of snaps at defensive end for other players to make a name for themselves in the offseason training activities (OTAs) and this past week's minicamp. The two players that stood out above all others on the defense were defensive ends Dorance Armstrong and Kerry Hyder.
You might be asking yourself, "what does it matter? DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn are the starters. Why should we care about a couple of backups."
First, the backup defensive ends for the Dallas Cowboys will play. After DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford, the leaders in defensive end snaps in 2018, Randy Gregory got 44% of the snaps on defense and Taco Charlton saw 39%. Dorance Armstrong, who played sparingly as a rookie, saw 26% of the snaps. The defensive ends that make the 53-man roster are going to get playing time.
Secondly, there's no guarantee that DeMarcus Lawrence will be ready for week one. Tyrone Crawford, who was the starter at right defensive end in 2018, could miss week one if the NFL deems his offseason altercation is worthy of a suspension. That leaves a whole lot of potential snaps at the left defensive end spot if either of those two guys misses week one.
Dorance Armstrong, the Dallas Cowboys fourth-round pick from 2018, caught the eye of several observers from the media and finished his offseason with a strong minicamp.
"These coaches have to be happy with what they’ve seen from Dorance Armstrong during these practices. Armstrong has been mainly filling in for DeMarcus Lawrence on the left side, but on Wednesday he switched over to the right. There were several snaps where he was a handful for Cam Fleming to handle. Armstrong started off well last season before hitting the rookie wall. He physically looks bigger and is also now equipped with the knowledge of how he has to prepare to play at a high level the entire season. Keep an eye on Armstrong to make that jump from the first to second year."
Bryan Broaddus - DallasCowboys.com
Armstrong had a really nice training camp as a rookie and as Broaddus notes, tailed off during the regular season. Reports are that he's added size this offseason -- as most players do between their first and second year -- and if all the reports are correct, could be a breakout player in the making.
Kerry Hyder is another intriguing player and one of the more underrated offseason acquisitions by the Dallas Cowboys front office.
Coming from the Detroit Lions, where they used Hyder as a nose tackle in Matt Patricia's 3-4 alignment, he was played severely out of position. In 2016, playing primarily as a defensive end, Hyder recorded eight sacks for the Lions. In 2017, he suffered a torn achilles which kept him out all of that year.
Now with the Dallas Cowboys, he gets to return to his more natural defensive end position. And he's making some noise in these offseason practices.
D-Linemen never get any shine during OTAs, so today is for them. With Tyron Smith & La'el Collins sitting out today, Dorance Armstrong & Kerry Hyder absolutely wrecked practice. Murdered it. I legitimately don't think Dak would've gotten a single throw out if sacks were allowed.
Of course not playing against the starting tackles in Tyron Smith and La'el Collins will allow players to shine a bit more, but let's not forget that Cam Fleming started in the Super Bowl for the New England Patriots before signing with the Dallas Cowboys. Connor Williams, who has been getting snaps at tackle as well, is no slouch as a former All-American for the Texas Longhorns.
Here's what Bryan Broaddus had to say about Kerry Hyder in one of the previous OTAs his "Scout's Notebook" from May 22nd.
"I have to be careful with my love for veteran defensive linemen, but Kerry Hyder looks like a different man playing at end instead of head-up tackle. The coaching change in Detroit did him no favors last season. Having to play in a spot where he had to fight blocks all day to now working on the edge in space is a good thing for him. It appears that Hyder has his quickness back, but he also has some pass rush moves in his tool belt. I thought maybe they were going to use him as an under-tackle, but putting him back at end might be his best shot at making the roster."
Bryan Broaddus - Dallas Cowboys.com
The Cowboys found a really good player in Kerry Hyder. He's capable of playing some 3-technique defensive tackle if needed as well as on the edge. He has a good motor and is able to make plays in the running game.
With the emergence of Kerry Hyder and Dorance Armstrong this offseason, it puts Taco Charlton behind the eight ball as the team heads to Oxnard. If they continue to play well, it's a real possibility that Charlton could be a gameday inactive during the regular season, especially if Randy Gregory is reinstated.
However they end up being deployed, this group of defensive ends will cause fits for opposing offensive lines. They've been aiming for waves of pass rushers for Rod Marinelli's defense and for the first time since becoming defensive coordinator, he looks to have just that.
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