If, as I have assumed for my series of articles on players that the Dallas Cowboys might draft with the 16th pick of the draft if Aaron Donald is gone, the team really needs defensive linemen more than anything, does the kind of lineman really matter? It comes down to scheme and how players fit and the characteristics you see in them, with maybe a dash of how much faith you have in your coaching staff thrown in.
One of the discussions that has been ongoing for some time is whether Dallas would draft a defensive tackle that was seen as being primarily a 1 technique. In other words, would they go with a player whose best position is to line up on the center's shoulder, where he is primarily going to eat up space by occupying the center and the right guard. This is important in the 4-3 scheme Dallas runs, since it means that the other three rushmen will face single coverage or will draw tight end/running back double teams, which in turn takes away targets. But is that enough?
The starter for the Cowboys at the 1 technique was Nick Hayden, and he was rated by the guys that do that kind of stuff as one of the worst defensive tackles in the league. While the Dallas coaching staff expressed a measure of satisfaction with how he played, there does seem to be room for significant improvement.
Now add in the comments made by Jerry and Stephen Jones earlier this year to the effect that they would not use a first round pick on a 1 tech. This makes you wonder if there is a 1 tech that would change their minds.
That takes us to our possible first round alternative to Donald for today: Timmy Jernigan DT Florida State
CBS Sports Draft Prospects overall ranking: 18
Position ranking: 2
How he's there for Dallas: He is almost perfectly positioned, if CBS is close with their numbers. If no one reaches, and especially if some of the more coveted positions, like wide receiver and offensive tackle, get a little extra attention from the rest of the league, then he will be available.
Why the Cowboys should grab him: He is just a beast, a very strong player who uses that strength as opposed to quickness to beat his opponent. When he gets a little angry with the world, he can just dominate players. He stood up not only to double teams in college but at times fought off a triple team without giving ground. While you need a good pass rush, he will also help make sure the other team doesn't beat you on the ground. And he did show some good pursuit ability, racking up 4.5 sacks even though he was primarily a run stopper. Several reviews of his play mentioned his speed, which says that he may just not have been focusing on getting a jump at the snap.
Although all the talk has been about playing the 1, he should have some flexibility to play the 3 as well, based on what I have read. That could give the Cowboys more ways to mix things up, moving several players around and creating some confusion for the offense they face. And I am not sure about his lack of quicks. He was given a role at FSU, and he filled it. But with the power he has, I wonder if he could split the center and guard if he was told to go get the quarterback right now. No read and react, just hit that gap and defeat the blockers. Marinelli is supposed to be good a maximizing his players' abilities. Let's see what he can do with a real stud.
Why the Cowboys need to look elsewhere: Scheme fit, pure and simple. Marinelli does not want a strong but somewhat slow space filler. At 299, he is a little heavier than Marinelli wants, which again comes back to speed. And something that keeps coming up is his slow jump at the snap. He simply does not fit the mold of what Dallas is doing coming out of college, and there is no guarantee that he would adapt well. Putting him into that position would likely set him up for some degree of failure or at least falling short of expectations, and that would be strictly on the team for failing to property evaluate the player.
Of the players I have looked at so far, I think Jernigan is the hardest one for me to call. He seems so close to what the team needs, but I am not sure that he quite gets there. The team had him in for a visit, so I have to think they are interested in him. Still, I really don't know. Short of doing a Mission Impossible style descent through the ceiling of Valley Ranch to look at the draft board, I won't know. What do you think about him, and how the team sees his skill set?