In his recent excellent post on Dallas pre-draft visits, the inimitable OCC articulated the clear correlation between the collegians who receive one of the 30 invitations to Valley Ranch and the players - and positions - the team ends up drafting. And, after demonstrating that the team has tried and failed to bring in a defensive tackle in recent years, he offers a provocative notion: "Will we see a carpet bombing of defensive linemen on this year's invite list?"
Certainly, this is a strong possibility, made stronger due to the team's recent behavior: to strafe a position that they have tried to bolster but, due to the vagaries of the draft, failed to replenish in previous drafts. So, we will see every defensive tackle on Mel Kiper's list booking a trip to Dallas, yes? Not so fast buckaroo; the list will be shorter than you think, as the Cowboys have a very clear set of physical parameters for the kind of DT they want to man the Monte Kiffin-Rod Marinelli (hereby referenced as "Kiffinelli") defensive system.
What might this position profile look like? Thankfully, we have solid ground on which to begin: Monte Kiffin's global statements on "Defensive Team Philosophy" from his 1998 Tampa Bay Buccaneers playbook. There are ten of these, one of which is directly pertinent to today's discussion:
5. Quickness: The quicker the defense, the harder it is for the offensive team to score. It only makes sense [that] if your defense has overall team quickness the better the opportunity to swarm and gang tackle. The best of both worlds is size and quickness, but if something has to give, take the quickness.
The Kiffinelli scheme favors defensive tackles who fire off at the snap before rival offensive linemen can set to defend them. In short, they don't need mammoth size to hold up opposing O-linemen, because Kiffinelli's ideal DTs are by them before they can get their bodies on them. You can't hit what you can't catch, right?
And, as Kiffin writes, "if something has to give, take the quickness." This thesis is borne out by looking at the defensive tackles who started in Kiffanelli-led defenses in Minnesota (1991) Tampa Bay (1996-2005) and Chicago (2010-12). To wit:
- Minnesota: Henry Thomas (6-2, 277); Ken Clarke (6-2, 268)
- Tampa Bay: Brad Culpepper (6-1, 277); Warren Sapp (6-2, 303); Anthony McFarland (6-0, 300); Chartric Darby (6-0, 270); Chris Hovan (6-2, 296)
- Chicago: Matt Toeima (6-2, 301); Anthony Adams (6-0, 300); Tommie Harris (6-3, 300); Henry Melton (6-3, 280); Stephen Paea (6-1, 306)
This group doesn't have a single player heavier than 306 pounds, nor does it have anybody taller than 6-3. This is because a key aspect of the DT skillset for a Kiffinelli defense is leverage, with the principle that the lower man wins. Defensive tackles who are taller than 6-3 get more upright and, as a result, can be twisted, blown up, and driven out of the hole. The combination of quickness and leverage is, frankly unbeatable.
Further confirmation is offered by looking at the DTs who populated last year's Dallas draft board. In total, ten defensive tackles received draftable grades, as follows:
Notice a pattern developing? The tallest DT on the Cowboys' 2013 board stands 6'3"; the heaviest weighs in at 313 pounds. Lest we think that this was the result of an unusually short or lightweight draft class, let's look at the guys who didn't show up on their board at all. The following players all numbered among the CBS Big Board's top 20 defensive tackles yet failed to appear on Dallas board altogether (I've included their ranking in order to demonstrate that their omission from Dallas' board was not a matter of consensus):
5. Jesse Williams (6-4, 323)
6. Johnathan Hankins (6-3, 320)
8. John Jenkins (6-4, 346)
9. Brandon Williams (6-1, 335)
11. Montori Hughes (6-4, 329)
14. Nick Williams (6-5, 309)
17. Lawrence Okoye (6-5, 304)
18. Cory Grissom (6-2, 306)
19. T.J Barnes (6-6, 369)
20. Kwame Geathers (6-6, 342)
Note that every top defensive tackle left off of Dallas' board, other than Cory Grissom, stood at least 6-4 or weighed 320 or more pounds - or both. This suggests that their defensive tackle profile is quite clear: no guys taller than 6-3 and none heavier than 310 pounds, with exceptions made to weight in the case of exceptionally quick bigger men (It must be noted that the Cowboys most productive D-lineman last year, the 6-6 Jason Hatcher, exceeds their height limit by a goodly margin - but his quickness compensates for his lack of leverage).
The question we turn to now is: how can we use this information to project who might be on their board in 2014? In order to answer this, let's turn again to the CBS Big Board, and every DT they consider, at this pre-Combine moment, to be a draftable talent. As I worked my way down this list, I struck out the names of the players who exceeded the Cowboys positional criteria, either via height or weight.
Louis Nix (6-2, 345)
Aaron Donald (6-1, 288)
Timmy Jernigan (6-2, 298)
RaShede Hageman (6-6, 318) Stephon Tuitt (6-6, 313)
Dominique Easley (6-2, 285)
Will Sutton (6-1, 290) *projected weight
Kelcy Quarles (6-3, 298)
Anthony Johnson (6-2, 295)
DaQuan Jones (6-4, 323)
Ego Ferguson (6-2, 309)
Daniel McCullers (6-7, 348)
Caraun Reid (6-2, 301)
Justin Ellis (6-2, 342)
George Uko (6-3, 275)
Ryan Carrethers (6-1, 330) Shamar Stephen (6-5, 308) Deandre Coleman (6-5, 315)
Calvin Barnett (6-2, 300)
Kerry Hyder (6-2, 280)
Jay Bromley (6-3, 307)
Eathyn Manumaleuna (6-2, 305)
Once we eliminate the guys who are too heavy or too tall, here's our early list of DTs who are most likely to appear on the Cowboys' board:
1. Aaron Donald (6-1, 288)
2. Timmy Jernigan (6-2, 298)
3. Dominique Easley (6-2, 285)
4. Will Sutton (6-1, 290)
5. Kelcy Quarles (6-3, 298)
6. Anthony Johnson (6-2, 295)
7. Ego Ferguson (6-2, 309)
8. Caraun Reid (6-2, 301)
9. George Uko (6-3, 275)
10. Calvin Barnett (6-2, 300)
11. Kerry Hyder (6-2, 280)
12. Jay Bromley (6-3, 307)
13. Eathyn Manumaleuna (6-2, 305)
I doubt all of these guys will receive draftable grades from the team. As a result, we should probably eliminate two or three and perhaps add one or two from lower down CBS's list. After we engage in this shuffling, the team will probably end up with roughly the same number of DTs on their board - ten - as they had last year.
That doesn't mean, however, that we'll see the same round-by-round distribution (all ten 2013 prospects were located in rounds one through four). I'll separate them into rounds later in the draft process, as I construct an "expanded" little board. Until then, feel free to rank them in the comments section, adding any other DTs that didn't make CBS's cut, so long as they meet the above delineated criteria. Fire away!