With the need for an edge rusher at an all-time high, the Dallas Cowboys should be looking at all the options in each round of the 2017 NFL Draft
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what went wrong for the Dallas Cowboys in 2016. The team lasted just one post season game after going 13-3 on the strength of the offense led by rookie quarterback Dak Prescott and rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott. In that loss to the Green Bay Packers, their defense simply couldn’t find a way to stop quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The biggest reason was he just had too much time to throw.
The Cowboys have lacked an elite edge rusher since cutting defensive end DeMarcus Ware prior to the 2014 season. Since then they have spent three years patching together a rotational group of players who have struggled to find consistency. 2016 was the worst example of this.
In order to get through the season the Cowboys had to move defensive tackles Tyrone Crawford and David Irving out wide to ends. They were also led in sacks by a backup in Oakland Raiders free agent pick-up Benson Mayowa, who tripled his career total with six. Mayowa was a bright spot, but failed to show up in the playoffs.
Now Dallas has to do all they can to fix this issue. With many mock drafts wisely having them select an edge rusher in round one, the fact is there are other holes to fill as well, which could lead to them looking elsewhere with their top choice. They could also decide that just one guy isn’t enough to fix years of struggling so there could be several guys taken at defensive end.
Whatever they decided, edge rushing has to be a focus. Here is a look at a player they could target at the position in each round of the upcoming 2017 NFL Draft.
Mar 4, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Wisconsin linebacker T.J. Watt speaks to the media during the 2017 combine at Indiana Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Round 1: T.J. Watt — Wisconsin
Listed as an outside linebacker for Wisconsin, T.J. Watt projects as a defensive end for a team like the Dallas Cowboys. There were questions about such a move, but some of those concerns were put to bed when Watt weighed in at over 250-pounds at the combine.
Height: 6-4 Weight: 252 pounds Career Tackles: 67 Career Sacks: 11.5
His size puts him on par with current Cowboys defensive ends Mayowa and Demarcus Lawrence. Mayowa is listed at 6-3 and 240 pounds. Lawrence on the other hand measured in at 6-3 and 251 pounds at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine.
Watt is on line with where Dallas likes their right defensive ends and he is also one of the more intriguing prospects that could be on the board when the Cowboys select 28th overall. He started his career in Wisconsin as a tight end before switching to the defensive side of the ball. After a knee injury slowed him down in 2015, the younger brother of Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt broke out last year.
Watt had 63 tackles, 15.5 which went for a loss as well as 11.5 sacks and an interception. He played well enough to earn First Team All-Big Ten and Second Team All-American honors. The scary thing for opposing teams is that he is still new to his position and will only get better.
Dec 5, 2015; Manhattan, KS, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers quarterback Skyler Howard (3) is chased by Kansas State Wildcats defensive end Jordan Willis (75) during first-quarter action at Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports
Round 2: Jordan Willis — Kansas State
Another interesting edge prospect for Dallas to consider would be Kansas State defensive end Jordan Willis. He isn’t projected as a first round pick, but should the Cowboys decide to fill another hole on defense—like at safety or cornerback—a player like Willis could be a wise investment should he last until they choose a player in the second round.
Height: 6-4 Weight: 255 pounds Career Tackles: 113 Career Sacks: 25.5
Like Watt, Willis recorded 11.5 sacks in his final collegiate season. Unlike Watt, this was done with four seasons of playing defensive end. The extra time at the position could mean that the floor for Willis is much lower than Watt’s, although his ceiling may not be as high.
Willis was named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year for his senior season and probably would have been considered a first round pick in any other draft. The reason he falls into the second round this season is thanks to all the talent at the position.
For the Dallas Cowboys, he would be a sure-fire starter that they could get in the second round. The potential for him being around at pick 60 makes it tempting for Dallas to bolster their secondary early on and bank on someone like Willis later.
One of the more interesting prospects, Tanoh Kpassagnon comes from a school in Villanova known for turning out basketball players, not necessarily NFL guys. Kpassagnon could be the exception as the imposing defensive end has seen his name climb up draft boards over the last couple months.
Height: 6-7 Weight: 289 pounds Career Tackles: 105 Career Sacks: 22
His senior season was his best as the 289-pounder racked up as many sacks (11) in his final year as he had the rest of his career. The one worry for NFL teams may have is that Kpassagnon may not be completely dedicated to football. Per his NFL.com Draft Profile, here’s what an anonymous NFC regional scout had to say on the Nova product:
He’s raw but he’s got a chance. He’s quiet and I don’t think football is going to define him, Do you know what I mean? I just want to make sure that he loves football.
He’s an incredibly smart kid, and some think his aspirations in life may be to do more than simply play a game. He has a chemical scientist in the family and is also an accounting and finance double major. Still, he’s an incredible athlete and if he is all in on playing football he could prove to be a steal late in day two.
Oct 8, 2016; College Station, TX, USA; Texas A&M Aggies defensive lineman Daeshon Hall (10) in action during the game against the Tennessee Volunteers at Kyle Field. The Aggies defeat the Volunteers 45-38 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Round 4: Daeshon Hall — Texas A&M
The “other defensive end” at Texas A&M, Daeshon Hall was overshadowed by the potential number one pick overall Myles Garrett. Hall’s best season was 2015 when he was credited with seven sacks on the year and 54 total tackles. He was hoping to follow that up with an even better senior campaign, but instead had 50 tackles and just 3.5 sacks.
Height: 6-5 Weight: 266 pounds Career Tackles: 158 Career Sacks: 14
The word was Dallas showed some interest in him during the senior bowl, which would make sense. Hall is a talented player, who could be coached up into a force on the edge. He may not be a typical right defensive end, but has the size to be a beast on the left especially against the run.
With 35.5 career tackles for a loss, Hall showed he can impact games even if he isn’t an elite prospect like teammate Garrett. He also is still pretty raw as a defensive end since he spent a good portion of his career as an outside linebacker for the Aggies. Hall could be a player they look at for depth even if they do spend an early pick on the position.
Nov 14, 2015; Fort Worth, TX, USA; Kansas Jayhawks offensive lineman Larry Hughes (73) blocks TCU Horned Frogs defensive end Josh Carraway (94) during the game at Amon G. Carter Stadium. The Horned Frogs defeats the Jayhawks 23-17. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Round 5: Josh Carraway — TCU
The Dallas Cowboys don’t have a fifth-round pick this season thanks to the awful move to pick up quarterback Matt Cassel in 2015. They do have a pair of seventh-round picks thanks to the deal, but it would be nice to have a choice in this round. Still, there is the chance Dallas could make some moves as they have done in the past and if they end up back in the fifth round a player to look at could be TCU’s Josh Carraway.
Height: 6-3 Weight: 242 pounds Career Tackles: 132 Career Sacks: 18
Carraway showed a lot of explosion and speed as an edge rusher for the Horned Frogs, but really wasn’t much to speak of at the combine. It seemed like he was quicker in college than the 4.74-second time he posted in the 40-yard dash.
He does have plenty of good tape and was pretty consistent in college. In 2015 and 2016 he posted eight sacks in each season. Like most players picked this late he most likely isn’t looking like a starter as a rookie. He does have enough in his arsenal to potentially be a playmaker at the next level.
Nov 19, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Utes defensive end Hunter Dimick (49) lines up opposite Oregon Ducks offensive lineman Cameron Hunt (78) during the second half at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Oregon won 30-28. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
Round 6: Hunter Dimick — Utah
In the final rounds of any draft there isn’t a lot in terms of immediate starters. Instead there are project players with upside like Utah’s Hunter Dimick is a player the Dallas Cowboys could target with a late pick, such as their sixth round selection. He has excellent size and a great love for the game that fans would love. Of course, he wouldn’t be a starting caliber player but he could provide some solid depth.
Height: 6-3 Weight: 269 pounds Career Tackles: 148 Career Sacks: 28.5
An All-Pac 12 Team member during his senior season in 2016, Dimick recorded 13.5 sacks for the Utes in his final collegiate season. He seems to fit what the Cowboys do on defense too as the defensive end is considered a player who wins with his effort and desire more so than his athleticism or skill.
Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has done wonders with such players and would probably be thrilled to have a player like Dimick to work with, as long as he isn’t the only addition to their defensive line that is. They would still need a potentially elite player, but could do much worse than landing Dimick this late.
Oct 29, 2016; Columbia, SC, USA; Tennessee Volunteers quarterback Joshua Dobbs (11) is brought down by South Carolina Gamecocks defensive lineman Darius English (5) and South Carolina Gamecocks defensive lineman Dante Sawyer (95) in the second half at Williams-Brice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports
Round 7: Darius English — South Carolina
An SEC competitor who blossomed in his fifth-year at South Carolina, Darius English posted nine sacks as a redshirt senior in 2016. He was able to win consistently against elite talent, but there are more questions than answers in his game which is why he would be considered such a late-round prospect.
Height: 6-6 Weight: 245 pounds Career Tackles: 134 Career Sacks: 15
The biggest knock on English is no doubt his weight. He has exceptional height, but doesn’t look like he even weighs the 245 pounds he tipped the scales at when he went to the combine. NFL.com calls him “painfully thin” and believes at best he would be a rotational pass rusher.
He is all arms and legs. Painfully thin and lacking the necessary functional strength to hold up at the point of attack. Is widened out of the gap or washed down way too easily. Doesn’t have the base to play through contact and defend the run. Will have to be a space player.