Dallas Cowboys: Predicting the 2021 defensive line

Dan Quinn, DC, Dallas Cowboys Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Dan Quinn, DC, Dallas Cowboys Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports /
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Demarcus Lawrence #90 of the Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

Dallas Cowboys Defensive End Room

The only significant change between outside linebacker and defensive ends in this situation is that defensive ends line up in a three and four-point stance. They can line up as a five-technique and onward, but in run support usually play the C gap.

DeMarcus Lawrence

I don’t think there was any speculation regarding Lawrence’s spot on the 55-man roster, but if there was I would like to put it to rest. He has been the team’s best defensive player for the last four seasons and that likely won’t change any time soon.

His motor is great, his upfield burst continues to challenge offensive tackles, he possesses good play strength in the run game to neutralize blocks, he is seamless in changing his pass rush plans, and he is versatile with the ability to play inside on NASCAR packages. (Replacing traditional interior defensive linemen with faster and leaner players)

Lawrence has been well worth his contract thus far and if you disagree you probably just aren’t watching closely enough.

Chauncey Golston

Golston was selected with the second third-round pick the Dallas Cowboys had in their 2021 NFL Draft haul. Seen as a reach by many at the time of the selection, Golston was probably a beneficiary of the Senior Bowl where he showed versatility taking reps at the EDGE and interior defensive line positions in 1-on-1 drills throughout the week. Considering his play style and athletic profile, his versatility of being solid at both positions gives an easy advantage to securing a roster spot.

A common trend with the defensive linemen in this Cowboys’ draft class was their arm length; Golston measured in with 34.75-inch arms. Dan Quinn’s modus operandi for winning on the line of scrimmage is by being the first to engage at the point of attack so the defensive line can dictate the movement as opposed to the offensive line.

Golston displays good upfield burst smartly keying the ball quickly and with his natural acceleration but his pass-rushing game is fairly limited to playing with power; a common trait for Iowa EDGE rushers. He can use his long arms to club-rip and bull rush and his good pad level allows him to maintain strength through his move. (Being 269 pounds may also help)

The Hawkeye also seems like a lovely person to talk to based on recordings of interviews and draft weekend calls. He wants to play anywhere if it means helping out the team. He seems like a natural fit when considering his defensive coordinator. In all, Golston seems like the perfect reserve player on a team that has struggled to find good EDGE depth in previous seasons.

Dorance Armstrong

A name Cowboys fans probably hate to see again, Armstrong is a natural fit for what Dan Quinn wants in his defense. Armstrong came along as a solid run defender for the team last season using his 34-inch arms and his good play strength to contain the edge and constrict rushing lanes while also providing valuable reps on special teams. With a new defensive coordinator likely in love with his athletic ability and the same special team’s coordinator, Armstrong’s roster spot is likely set in stone unless he looks completely out of place during the preseason.

Armstrong still only has 2.5 sacks and eight QB hits in his career thus far. While a solid pass rusher in college, he has yet to make that stride at the professional level as a result of his punch timing and pass rush arsenal. With his long arms and solid upfield burst, he can win with power but not much else. He doesn’t have the agility to work counter moves and he isn’t fast or bendy enough to win with speed. He could look to improve the nuance of his hands.

All of this isn’t really an issue if he only plays 30 percent of the snaps like he did last season. However, you do have an issue when a stubborn defensive coordinator chooses to use him on passing downs like the Cowboys did last season when Bradlee Anae was patiently waiting for his opportunity on the bench.

With Chauncey Gholston, Tarell Basham, and Randy Gregory all available on passing downs for the team, Armstrong’s role will hopefully be limited. With him in the final year of his contract, maybe Armstrong has his most productive season yet and possibly as a pass rusher as well? Worst case scenario, the team moves on, but for the time being take advantage of his run defense and special teams work.