Dallas Cowboys: Draft DT or DE in First Round


Anyone who watched a single Dallas Cowboys game this past season could tell the team was lacking an effective pass rush.  Despite doing an excellent job of putting pressure on the opposing quarterback, Dallas ranked nearly at the botom of the league in sacks.  As Julius Peppers showed the ‘Boys, one dominant defender can change a game and the course of a season.

So it is no surprise that most fans are looking to boost the defensive line early in the 2015 draft.  While LineBackers can also make for top pass rushers, the Dallas defensive scheme usually has those guys in coverage or spying the QB.  Even though other positions might be part of particular blitz packages, the heart of the pass rush really is the line.

This means that our focus should be on collegiate Defensive Ends and Defensive Tackles; but before we can answer a question about which one to draft, we need to know who will be on the team next year.  There has been a lot of talk about the team’s impending free agents on the offense, but the defense is likely to take a big hit as well.  On the line in particular, Anthony Spencer. George Selvie, Henry Melton, and Nick Hayden are all unrestricted free agents.

Spencer and Selvie each play the Defensive End position and despite having mediocre seasons (though significantly improving down the stretch), was an integral part of the Dallas D.  Right off the bat, it appears that the Cowboys will be in need of an edge rusher – after all, aren’t rushers off the edge usually the best at reaching the quarterback?

What about Melton and Hayden, though?  Melton had a good season but once again succumbed to injury, and it seems Hayden is good at stopping the run but not much else.  In fact, since it is rare for a Defensive Tackle to accumulate nearly as many sacks as a Defensive End – should they really be part of a conversation about the pass rush?

Before going any further, let’s acknowledge that it’s impossible to tell who, out of the aforementioned group, will be retained by the front office.  You could make a solid case for each player, but with other positions demanding attention, we’ll be lucky to bring back two of the four guys.  At that point, which positions becomes more integral to building a more effective pass rush?

Even though DEs tend to accumulate sacks more, this writer believes that a talented DT would do more for the pass rush.  The reason is that a Defensive Tackle who could penetrate the offensive line will prevent double teams on the Defensive Ends.  This is especially important when you consider that DeMarcus Lawrence, the Cowboys’ shiny new DE from the last draft, is extremely athletic and has the potential to beat Offensive Tackles off the edge.

In other words, a DT does not need to reach the quarterback in order to significantly impact the pass rush.  Given that the Cowboys have at least one solid piece at DE already, there is a lot to be said for going DT in this coming draft.

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Nay-sayers will be point to the fact that Dallas already has Tyronne Crawford, who plays the 3-technique (essentially, the defensive tackle in a 4-3 line who, thanks to the way he lines up, is able to use more finesse at getting around Offensive Linemen rather than powering through them).  With that said, the ‘Boys would, logically, go after a 1-tech, but doing so seems unwise in the first round.  Generally perceived to be a simpler position that relies on brute strength, most observers tend to think that effective 1-techniques can be found later in the draft.

These are valid points, but remember that Crawford’s true position is DE, and it may very well be that Rod Marinelli would like to move him back next season.  Furthermore, one has to consider who will be around when the Cowboys pick at 27.  Ultimately, this will affect the team’s decision more than anything else.  Although it’s way too early to tell, history supports that the top 3 defensive ends will be off the board by pick 20, whereas there is still a chance at getting one of the top defensive tackles, and quite possibly the draft’s best 1-technique.

With all things considered, the draft strategy likely will revolve around the best player available.  Don’t be surprised, however, if that person is a defensive tackle – and don’t be mad about it.  Sometimes big guys up the middle affect the pass rush moreso than what statistics will tell.