As usual, the Dallas Cowboys are facing some major depth issues with the regular season just around the corner. It’s gotten so bad that they will be forced to start Nick Hayden at defensive tackle following the recent placement of Jay Ratliff on the PUP list.
The Carolina Panthers’ sixth-round pick out of Wisconsin in 2008, Hayden has only seen an NFL field twice since 2010. He was signed by the Cowboys on February 11 to add depth at defensive tackle, but was never expected to play an integral role in Dallas’ new 4-3 defense.
Hayden first found an opportunity to rise up the depth chart when Ratliff spent most of the offseason and training camp sidelined by groin and hamstring injuries. After showing well throughout spring and summer, he got the start in every Cowboys’ preseason game and outplayed the expectations.
In 96 snaps, he managed a 2.0 overall rating according to Pro Football Focus. Hayden tallied six total tackles while hurrying opposing passers four times. Although he was generally ineffective as a pass rusher (-0.3 pass rush rating), he excelled against the run (2.9 run defense rating). His ability to plug up the middle was a big reason why the Cowboys called his name when Ratliff landed on the PUP list.
Throughout the preseason, Hayden outplayed Sean Lissemore, Landon Cohen, Jeris Pendleton and Jerome Long for the right fill in next to Jason Hatcher in the starting lineup.
Hayden spent all of the 2012 season out of football after getting the ax from the Cincinnati Bengals during the preseason, but has landed in an ideal situation with the Cowboys.
Maybe if everything goes as planned, Hayden will allow the Cowboys to sever ties with Ratliff. Just some food for thought.