Some fans believe that the Cowboys are truly one piece away from a Super Bowl. If that's the case, what is that piece? In this series, I will offer potential needs for the Cowboys, examine who might be able to fill them, and explain why this is the missing piece that will bring the Cowboys to the Super Bowl.
Just 12 months ago, the Cowboys were courting JJ Watt as a candidate for the No. 9 overall pick, which was eventually used on Offensive Tackle Tyron Smith. Despite carrying a number of Defensive Ends on the roster, the Cowboys, and Rob Ryan, apparently felt a player like Watt would be an asset to the team, even at 9th overall. Watt's rare combination of size, power, and tenacity confirm that. As the first Offensive Tackle selected in the draft has historically been before pick 9, it's likely that Watt was a contingency plan in the event Smith was drafted by the time the Cowboys were on the clock.The Cowboys only moves at the position since passing on Watt have been the signing of Kenyon Coleman and re-signing of Marcus Spears. The possibility remains that the Cowboys are targeting a pass-rushing 5-tech.
What makes a great 5-Technique Defensive End?
The 5-technique, played on the outside shoulder of the Offensive Tackle, requires a large-framed player that can match bodies with the Tackle. 6'6" or taller is ideal for the position, as the associated long arms will help to keep the Tackle from locking onto the DE's body, aid in batting down passes, and allow the DE to quickly shed his blocker and rush the quarterback or make the stop against the run.
Defensive Ends need to hold up against Tackles. Great Defensive Ends need to drive those Tackles back into their beloved Quarterbacks' laps. The total body strength required to match-up with, let alone over-match, the best athletes on the Offensive Line is difficult to fathom.
The 5-technique isn't just a single technique. Playing the 5-tech involves mastery of a full arsenal of pass-rush moves, as well as the ability to set the edge. When you look at the Cowboys' recent experiences with the likes of Kenyon Coleman and Igor Olshansky, it becomes apparent that strength alone will not suffice. Technique is equally important.
Who will be the Cowboys' next pass rushing Defensive End?
The Cowboys next 5-tech can only come from one of three places: the draft, free agency, or their own roster. First up, the draft prospects:
5-Tech Defensive End Prospects, 2012
|Age at Start of
|1||7 (10)||Quinton Coples
||6' 6"||284 lbs.||65.6||22|
|1||10 (16)||Michael Brockers
||LSU||6' 6"||322 lbs.||--||21|
|1||17 (11)||Fletcher Cox
|6' 4"||298 lbs.||64.7||21|
|1||23 (20)||Devon Still
||Penn State||6' 5"||303 lbs.||--||23|
|1-2||27 (43)||Jerel Worthy
||6' 2"||308 lbs.||--||22|
|1-2||30 (37)||Kendall Reyes
||Connecticut||6' 4"||296 lbs.||80.0||22|
|2||44 (53)||Brandon Thompson
||Clemson||6' 2"||310 lbs.||74.4||22|
|2||54 (34)||Jared Crick
||Nebraska||6' 4"||279 lbs.||--||23|
|2-3||66 (254)||Billy Winn
||6' 3"||300 lbs.||60.0||23|
|2-3||78 (82)||Mike Martin
||Michigan||6' 1"||306 lbs.||79.0||22|
|3||102 (187)||Tyrone Crawford
||6' 4"||285 lbs.||--||22|
|3||104 (98)||Kheeston Randall
||Texas||6' 5"||293 lbs.||--||23|
|3-4||117 (117)||Marcus Forston
||6' 1"||301 lbs.||71.9||22|
|4||130 (141)||Trevor Guyton
||California||6' 3"||285 lbs.||--||22|
|4||136 (165)||Derek Wolfe
||6' 5"||295 lbs.||75.5||22|
|4||137 (109)||DaJohn Harris
||6' 3"||306 lbs.||--||23|
|4-5||145 (210)||Brett Roy
||Nevada||6' 3"||273 lbs.||71.5||23|
||6' 5"||284 lbs.||61.75||22|
If the Cowboys are looking to draft a Defensive End, there's no shortage of them in this draft class. If you needed convincing that height is important at this position, look no further than the top of the class. It pained me to green Brockers' weight, as his performance in the combine was indicative of a weight problem. The lightest of the bunch, Brett Roy, was actually a productive Defensive Tackle in college, while some of the heavier names played primarily at Defensive End. Kendall Reyes, a name I haven't heard mentioned much as a potential second-round pick, presents excellent value (boasting an explosion number of 80.0, as well as impressive speed for his size). A few names present impressive value if they slip (Coples to 14, Cox and Still in the second round). Still others present huge question marks. Billy Winn, for example, ranks 66th on CBS' Big Board, but falls to 254th (UDFA territory) on Drafttek's list. To be safe, I wouldn't take a player , especially in later rounds, any lower than his lowest ranking among the reputable listings.
The Free Agents
Free Agent 3-4 DEs are somewhat more challenging to find. As with Nose Tackles before, we'll focus on candidates from PFF's Top 10 Free Agent Interior Defensive Linemen.
Free Agent (Potential) Defensive Ends, 2012
Salary Cap Hit
||Height||Weight||Stuffs||Age at Start of
||DEN||6' 2"||306 lbs.||18||28|
|22.0||$523,824||Derek Landri||PHI||6' 2"||290 lbs.||19||28|
||MIA||6' 6"||295 lbs.||11||26|
|-9.3||$830,000||Jason Jones||TEN||6' 5"||276 lbs.||14||26|
Although sparse, these top prospects are all extremely promising. You may recognize Brodrick Bunkley from last time. He spent the majority of his career playing in a 4-3 defense and was relatively unimpressive. After being cut by the Eagles (after their signing of Cullen Jenkins), Bunkley found a home in the Broncos' hybrid 3-4 scheme. As a result, he blossomed into a vintage Jay Ratliff style Nose Tackle. That said, if signed by the Cowboys, Bunkley could likely find his home at Defensive End just as easily. His combination of power, pass-rush, and stoutness against the run would be an immediate upgrade over anyone currently manning the position.
Derek Landri, another Eagle, was the veteran backup on the Eagles' D-Line to start the season (at least, after being cut in the preseason and re-signed in October). Despite this fact, he went on to be the highest graded DT on the Eagles' roster, and earned a more prominent role on defense than the aforementioned Jenkins. Signing him away from the Eagles would be a similar tactical move to the Giants signing away Chris Canty, although likely (hopefully) at a lower price.
Kendall Langford, the first of the young prospects, is an idea height for a 3-4 DE. He came from the same position in Miami, a roster that appears to be interchangeable with our own. Though not incredibly productive, Langford appears to have room to blossom into a difference-maker, especially if he's willing to take a reduced salary.
Jason Jones, the most interesting prospect, had a pretty bad season. The Titans switched back to a 4-3 defense, casting Jones, a 3-4 DE, into the role of 4-3 DE, where he did not fair well. He is determined to find a new home in a 3-4 scheme. Two seasons ago, Jones was impressive, garnering a grade of 17.3 from PFF, as well as being considered a top-10 interior pass-rusher, and recording 10 total stuffs. Given his poor performance last year, Jones may be available at a discounted rate.
Defensive End is a position of relative depth for the Cowboys. Following are the numbers for those who played last season.
Cowboys Defensive Ends, 2012
Salary Cap Hit
||Height||Weight||Stuffs||Age at Start of
|13.8||$502,150||Sean Lissemore||3||6' 4"||306 lbs.||2||24|
|8.9||$2,100,00||Jason Hatcher||7||6' 6"||302 lbs.||5||30|
||11||6' 5"||306 lbs.||11||33|
|1.9||RFA ($405,000)*||Clifton Geathers||3||6' 7"||320 lbs.||0||24|
|-3.6||$2,700,000||Marcus Spears||8||6' 4"||315 lbs.||15||29|
A favorite to many around these parts, Sean Lissemore headlines this list by being the most effective and least expensive Cowboy DE, as well as tying for youngest. Marcus Spears, at the opposite extreme, was the least effective, and will command the highest salary in 2012. History shows his production, however, garnering 15 stops (just don't compare them to the Free Agents above...) in his 7 prior seasons. Our last ray of hope, Clifton Geathers, will be only 24 years old at next season's opening, and is a physical specimen, standing 6'7" tall and weighing 320 lbs. His absence of production has been largely due to lack of playing time, but his positive PFF scores (in only 31 snaps) may indicate good things to come. Jason Hatcher's contract year is 2012, so we can hope for increased production from him (if we believe in such fallacies).
How will a 5-tech benefit the Cowboys?
$8.8 Million. You know where I'm going with this. Lost? Okay. Anthony Spencer, our Strongside Outside Linebacker, was franchised for an as-of-yet-undetermined amount which will be at least $8.8 Million. Spencer's production, however you view it, has come from behind Marcus Spears. Spears' responsibility in our defense has typically been to occupy the Tackle, and stop any runs into the B-Gap, inside the Tackle. Now, something's not right about that. Outside the Tackle is the C-Gap, where Tosses, Sweeps, and other outside runs go. Spears, to this point, has not been able to secure the C- and B-Gaps simultaneously. This has required Anthony Spencer to "set the edge," which is another way of saying secure the C-Gap. If Spears was able to play 2-Gap 5-technique, he would effectively neutralize the Tackle, and secure the B-Gap and C-Gap leaving Spencer to rush against the Tight End and attack the Quarterback with little other responsibility.
The 5-tech DE collapsing the pocket, pushing the Tackle back toward the Quarterback, also shortens the distance the OLB must travel in order to reach the quarterback. On plays when the OLB is not rushing, the 5-tech plays the role of pass-rusher and run-stuffer, essentially Anthony Spencer, while allowing the actual Anthony Spencer drop into coverage, rush inside, or take a breather while an extra DB comes in.
The impact of the 5-tech DE may not resonate on the stat-sheet. They may accrue a couple of sacks, and some tackles, but their real impact is on the man playing behind them. A true difference-maker at DE will convert "Almost" to "Always," which may in turn help Terence "Old"man look "New" again (assuming the salary cap next season is...a bajillion dollars and Newman isn't cut). The Cowboys' defense needed help last year, in whatever form it may take. Rob Ryan wanted a JJ Watt, is that the Missing Piece?