10 Defensive Line Prospects Who Could Change the Dallas Cowboys Long-term Outlook
Dallas Cowboys Defensive Line Prospects
Aside from defensive tackle Jason Hatcher, the Cowboys pass rush was virtually nonexistent as defensive end DeMarcus Ware struggled with injuries all season, and NFL-journeyman defensive end George Selvie fizzled out as the season progressed.
It didn’t help the Cowboys’ cause that they lost defensive ends Anthony Spencer (knee) and Tyrone Crawford (Achilles) for the season. Then there was also the trade that sent Sean Lissemore to the San Diego Chargers because he didn’t fit the defensive scheme and the fallout with defensive tackle Jay Ratliff, which ultimately ended in his release.
So, heading into the 2014 season the Cowboys have the daunting task of having to rebuild the defensive front, and it begins with the 2014 NFL Draft. It’s going to be difficult for the Cowboys to fill every hole and solve every problem. I’m not expecting them to; at least, not in one offseason.
As much as Cowboys fans don’t want to hear it, it is a process. A process, however, that has been obstructed by Cowboys owner and general managers Jerry Jones’ pathetic approach to the Draft and huge contracts that have paid little to no dividends at all.
One of the most blatant problems that the Cowboys faced in 2013 was the lack of depth at numerous positions, which can be directly associated with Jones’ approach to the Draft. It is now when players from the 2008 and 2009 Draft classes are supposed to be in their prime and contributing, unfortunately only one player out of 18 from those Draft classes remains on the team. That player is cornerback Orlando Scandrick.
Under head coach Jason Garrett the Cowboys have done a better job of drafting and developing talent, and that trend must continue in 2014 if the Cowboys are going to take the next step to becoming legitimate contenders.
While I have no way of listing them all, let’s take a look at some of the defensive line prospects that can truthfully come in and help the Cowboys rebuild their defensive front.
Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame
Nix is a 6-foot-3, 340-pound beast that is projected to be a first round pick in the Draft. He is arguably the best 1-technique defensive tackle available. His 2013 season was cut short due to a torn meniscus, which he played with until he underwent surgery.
In 2013, Nix recorded 27 tackles and two tackles for a loss, and while his numbers don’t show it, he was one of the most disruptive interior defensive linemen in college.
In 2012, he recorded 50 tackles, 7.5 tackles for a loss, two sacks, five batted passes and one forced fumble. I don’t know about you, but if he’s there at pick 16/17 I wouldn’t hesitate in making him a Cowboy.
Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Ealy is a 6-foot-5, 275-pound defensive end whose combination of size and speed made him one of the premier pass rushing ends in college football. He is being projected as a first round pick and could ultimately be the guy the Cowboys are looking for when it’s their turn in the Draft.
In 2013, Ealy recorded 43 tackles, 14.5 tackles for a loss, 9.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, six batted passes and one interception.
Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Hageman is a 6-foot-6, 311-pound behemoth that is projected to be a first round selection in the Draft. He is another player that would probably be better suited to play the 1-technique in the Cowboys’ Tampa Cover 2 scheme.
In 2013, Hageman recorded 38 tackles, two sacks, 13 tackles for a loss, seven batted passes, and one interception.
Timmy Jernigan, DT Florida State
Jernigan is a 6-foot-2, 298-pound beast that helped FSU secure a National Title in 2013. He is projected to be a first round to early second round pick, and I believe he can probably play either the 1-technique or the 3-technique for the Cowboys.
In 2013, he registered 63 tackles, 4.5 sacks and 11 tackles for a loss. His run defense, specifically in the National Championship game had scouts raving.
Aaron Donald, DT/DE, Pittsburgh
Donald is a 6-foot, 285-pound “one-man wrecking crew” as described by Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly. Donald is a monster in the trenches and to say that his 2013 season was exceptional would be an understatement as he led all defensive linemen in tackles for a loss.
Donald’s interior pass-rush ability is truly something to behold as he shed single and double teams consistently on his way to recording 59 tackles, 26.5 tackles for a loss, 11 sacks, two batted passes and four forced fumbles. I think he would be the perfect 3-technique defensive tackle for this Tampa 2 system.
He is being projected as a second or third round pick because of his height and weight, but that could all change with a strong showing at the Senior Bowl and Combine, where some scouts are projecting him to run a sub 4.70 40-yard sprint.
Kelcy Quarles, DT, South Carolina
Quarles is a 6-foot-4, 298-pound defensive tackle, who put together a solid 2013 campaign with the Gamecocks. He recorded 39 tackles, 13.5 tackles for a loss and 9.5 sacks.
Quarles is projected to be a second to third round pick and I could see him playing as the 3-technique defensive tackle in the Cowboys defense. Quarles’ pass rush is good, but he will need to become a better run defender if he’s going to be successful as a pro.
Marcus Smith, DE, Louisville
Smith is the 6-foot-3, 252-pound pass rushing monster that led the Cardinal’s defense in 2013. He registered 42 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, 15 sacks, four forced fumbles and three batted passes on his way to earning AAC Defensive Player of the Year honors.
He is being projected as a second to third round pick, and could come in and help the Cowboys pass rush immediately.
Chris Smith, DE, Arkansas
Smith is a 6-foot-3, 268-pound defensive end, who has quietly put together some very good seasons as a Razorback. In 2013, Smith registered 36 tackles, 11.5 tackles for a loss and 8.5 sacks. In 2012, he recorded 52 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss, 9.5 sacks, four batted passes and forced one fumble.
He is solid against the run, and his numbers show that he is a consistent threat rushing the passer. Projected to go in the third round, Smith could very well be a huge steal for any team that drafts him
Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas
Jeffcoat is a 6-foot-5, 245-pound defensive end, and if his name sounds familiar, that’s because it should, as he is the son of former Cowboys great Jim Jeffcoat. I’m not going to lie, I’d draft him based on his pedigree if nothing else, but luckily, and just like his dad, he gets to the quarterback.
In 2013, Jeffcoat finished with 80 tackles, which led all defensive linemen, 19 tackles for a loss, 13 sacks, three batted passes and an interception. Jeffcoat is being projected as a third to fourth round pick because some don’t believe he has the size to be an every-down defensive end and not everyone is projecting him to be an outside linebacker.
On top of his size, there are durability concerns, Jeffcoat’s 2012 season ended after six games due to a torn pectoral muscle and he has also suffered from chronic ankle problems that have plagued him since high school.
Daniel McCullers, DT, Tennessee
McCullers is a 6-foot-8, 360-pound mammoth that is being projected to be a third to fourth round pick in the Draft. The Tampa 2 defense requires a 1-technique defensive tackle that can draw the double team, and I think McCullers could easily come in and fill that hole, figuratively and literally.
In 2013, he registered 33 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, one batted pass and .5 sacks. McCullers is not known for his pass rush, but his size and strength will undoubtedly make him a prospect worth considering in the third or fourth round of the Draft.