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Rob Ryan Wants Playmaking Outside Linebackers

The San Francisco Chronicle's David White reported from the Senior Bowl practices yesterday about the increased demand for 3-4 outside linebackers in the NFL. Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan weighed in on the importance of outside linebackers for his defensive scheme:

"If you're going to play a 3-4 defense and don't have outside backers, you don't have a defense," said 3-4 expert Rob Ryan. "You've got to be able to set the edge and rush a passer. It starts with them. They've got to be playmakers. That's what you get in a 3-4."

Some coaches like the Chargers new defensive coordinator Greg Manuski are already publicly speculating that because demand for these types of players is exceeding supply, teams will start to reach and pick players higher than they normally would. Von Miller's showing at the Senior Bowl practices has him lighting up the boards and is likely to firmly establish him as a top 10 prospect.

Perennial All-Pro DeMarcus Ware is a matchup nightmare on the right side of the Cowboys defense, but is bookend Anthony Spencer the answer on the left? PFF rated Ware (+41.8) and Spencer (11.8) the second- and ninth-best 3-4 OLBs in 2010, but Spencer is still waiting for his breakout as a Pro Bowl caliber OLB - with the requisite sack count.

The Ticket's Bob Sturm would not be shocked if the Cowboys look for an edge rusher high in the draft to try to find the bookend for Ware that Anthony Spencer promised to be, but never quite was so far:

[Spencer] is in his prime and he oozes talent. He is very difficult to run against and he can cover in space. But, when you compare him to OLBs in 3-4's across the league, the #1 priority is always going to be disruptive plays against the passing game. And Spencer has always been a tease. Always working against a right tackle, Spencer must get there more often if he wants a big contract from the Cowboys or anyone else.

Perhaps Spencer will finally have his breakout year under Ryan and become the playmaking outside linebacker the Cowboys are looking for. But if not, and the Cowboys do decide to go after an OLB, which prospect would you pick?

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