The decision to fire Rob Ryan and hire Monte Kiffin was a unique twist for the Dallas Cowboys. By hiring Kiffin, the Cowboys appear to be ready for a change from the 3-4 to the 4-3 defense. This obviously changes the way I was going to prepare my draft coverage, so basically it's time to start over. It's very early in the draft process, so while we have to change gears, there is plenty of time to prepare for the new changes the Cowboys are making.
By moving away from the 3-4, the Cowboys' scouts will have a much easier job to find and acquire defensive talent. While the 3-4 scheme can be highly successful, it is a difficult system to draft for. In order for that defense to work, you need to find a certain type of player for important positions. Don't get me wrong, the Tampa-2 system we are moving to will require athletic players who basically rely on their athleticism and speed, but the 4-3 system is more universal. The talent pool has just opened up for the Cowboys' war room in a big way.
I started off my 2013 NFL Draft coverage with the 3-4 outside linebacker rankings. The rankings and scouting reports were written prior to the Kiffin hire. With a change to the 4-3, the need of a 3-4 outside linebacker has basically become obsolete. The Cowboys still must decide if Anthony Spencer is going to be worth the large investment that it would cost to keep him in Dallas, and we're hearing that the Cowboys have begun preliminary contract discussions with Spencer.
Spencer played in a 4-3 defense while at Purdue, but that was a very long time ago. DeMarcus Ware also played a similar 4-3 defensive end role in college while at Troy. Both of these players are talented enough to thrive in any scheme, but the Cowboys must make a decision on Spencer. If they decide to let him walk, then the need for a 4-3 defensive end probably rises to the top of the draft board. Until we know the fate of Spencer, I would say that defensive tackle is a bigger need for the Cowboys.
What The Cowboys Should Be Looking For
If Jay Ratliff can come back healthy in 2013 and actually give the Cowboys some production, then he would be a perfect fit for the 4-3 scheme. We still don't know what will happen with Josh Brent, but it may be unwise for the Cowboys to expect for him to be on the field in 2013. With that in mind, the Cowboys now have a need for a defensive tackle who can line up at the 1-technique. Our own rabblerousr offered his take on the Cowboys' personnel.
In the under front, one defensive tackle - the 1-technique - is shaded directly over the center as a de facto nose tackle; the other, usually more athletic, tackle plays a 3-technique, lining up in the B gap in a more traditional DE position (I could see either Jay Ratliff or Jason Hatcher succeeding in this position). Then, the team’s best pass rusher, the weakside end (hello, DeMarcus Ware), is free to rush from the extreme edge of the offensive line.
Although the Cowboys certainly have a collection of quick, undersized defensive linemen (300 lb. DTs; 260 lb. DEs), this is the position group with the most square pegs for round holes. Who in the current roster might be the best fit at the 1-tech? Who would play the strong side end?
That's a very good explanation of the problem brewing for the Cowboys on the defensive line. In 2012, the Cowboys lacked a disruptive presence on the defensive line who could pressure the quarterback, but this has been an ongoing problem for the Cowboys. This year's draft class could offer a solution to that problem because of the defensive line talent available this April.
Whether the Cowboys draft a defensive tackle or defensive end, it doesn't matter. They need more pressure players on their defensive line.
Let's start with the rankings for my top 4-3 defensive tackles of the 2013 draft class.
|2013 NFL Draft 4-3 Defensive Tackle Rankings|
|2||Jonathan Hankins*||Ohio State||6-3||320|
|5||Sylvester Williams||North Carolina||6-3||320|
The only player on my list who won't be in play for the Cowboys is Star Lotulelei. He's by far the best defensive tackle in the class and he has the talent to become a great player who can contribute right away. Star won't be wearing the blue and silver in Dallas, but that doesn't mean the Cowboys cannot land a good defensive tackle. We could see at least four of these names, possibly more, go in the first round next April.
Jonathan Hankins could go before the Cowboys go on the clock, but there is a chance he falls to our range. This week we will start pumping out the scouting reports on the defensive tackles after Lotulelei, and that begins with the massive defensive tackle from the Ohio State University.