Look we all know this Defense stunk last year. And after seeing empirical evidence rather recently of what's working in this league, the answer to all these high powered offenses is stacking the deck of your Front 7. Specifically being able to generate pressure on the QB with only 4 guys and dropping the rest back into coverage. I'm of the opinion that if we got a true NT we could move Ratliff out to DE in our 3-4 with Hatcher manning the opposite DE spot. Hatcher's not a world beater by any means but he has shown the ability to generate some pressure from that position. It might also be less expensive to obtain a good NT than signing one of the top-tier DE's?
When I started to write this piece, after looking at some of the newer Mocks just released, I didn't think the Cowboys were going to be in position to pick up a difference maker in this years draft at NT or that we should reach to find one in the draft. But the more I started to research Free Agents I noticed there just aren't many good pure NT's in the NFL, there's a dearth of talent at the position.
Dontari Poe is massive and will probably be a pretty solid player but he's a bit of a reach for our pick @ #14. The other guy being bandied about has been Alameda Ta'amu. He's a wide body as well but has been rising up some draft boards lately, in one I saw him going #11 Overall. Many of us were mocking him to us in the 3rd & 4th rounds just a month ago. If he does well at the combine it's doubtful we'd be able to get him after the 2nd round. The other potential draftees would likely have to be coached up and wouldn't be of an immediate impact.
However if I'm the Cowboys I'd still try and draft one in the later rounds that you could groom like Nick Jean-Baptiste(6-1,335lbs) or Akiem Hicks(6-4,324lbs). It's difficult to find good players for the 3-4 NT position - we got really lucky finding Rat but he isn't getting younger. Also he's not the prototypical size and we have him signed long term so it makes sense to try and prolong his career by pushing him out to the outside.
So I think prior to the draft we should try and pursue a NT on the Free Agent market to fill this need. If we can't find good value for one in FA then I'd place more of a premium on trying to draft one. Unfortunately it's not a huge FA NT class, it's riddled with some guys that are on the wrong side of 30 that are good players but wouldn't fit into our long term plans, guys like Cory Redding(31), Sione Pouha(33), and Antonio Garay(32). But there are still a few solid options that wouldn't break our Free Agent Bank so to speak.
Paul Soliai, NT, Dolphins. Age: 28.
At 6-4, 355 pounds, Paul Soliai is a monstrous, run-stuffing nose tackle. He made $12.3 million with the franchise tag this season. Probably will command top dollar on the FA market similar to Ratliff or Wilfork of NE- 5yr/40million.
Red Bryant, DE/DT, Seahawks. Age: 28.
6-4, 323 pounds, Red Bryant is a powerful run-stuffer who can play in both the 4-3 and 3-4. Blessed with exceptional size and mobility. Has the tools and skills to be a force along the line, and we could probably plug him in at the NT position. Would probably garner a contract similar to Casey Hampton of PIT - 3yr/21million.
Kendall Langford, DE/DT, Dolphins. Age: 26.
6-6, 295lbs, Kendall Langford is a really good, young five-tech who excels in both stopping the run and putting pressure on the quarterback. He's a key piece of Miami's 3-4 stop unit. Very versatile along the line. Is a nice mix of run stuffer and pass rusher. He could add more bulk to his frame and possibly be placed into the NT spot in our 3-4. Probably looking for a contract in the range of what Jonathan Babineaux gets from ATL - 5yr/25million
Sammie Lee Hill (RFA), NT, Lions. Age: 25.
6-4, 330 pounds, Sammie Hill is a young, skilled run-stuffer who offers decent pass-rushing ability for someone his size. Very fluid for a man his size and also highly mobile. Has the raw physical tools and football smarts to succeed. Contract would probably be similar to Isaac Sopoaga of SF - 5yr/20million
Jason Jones, DT, Titans. Age: 26.
6-5, 276 pounds, Jason Jones thrived as a defensive tackle in a wide-nine scheme prior to this season. He was moved to defensive end in 2011 and consequently struggled. A big, athletic, and versatile lineman, although he's probably too small to man the nose we could plug him in at DE and keep Ratliff at the nose. Likely to command B.J. Raji money in FA - 5yr/23million.
Please tell me your preferred guy in the comments section if I don't have him listed above.