clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Five Players Who Will Make Or Break The Dallas Cowboys Season Part IV

A rundown of the five players whose play will lead the Dallas Cowboys to the promised land, or dash their playoff hopes.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Every scheme has one position that it absolutely needs quality play at to function properly. The West Coast offense has to have a WR that can rack up yards after the catch. Bill Parcell's version of the 3-4 required a stud OLB pass rusher, and Tony Dungy's 4-3 out in Indy required small quick DE's. In Rod Marinelli's 4-3 under, the most critical position is the 3-technique DT, which will be manned by the number two player on our countdown.

#2 Henry Melton

Melton has had an interesting path to the NFL. He spent his first two years at the University of Texas as a running back where he scored 16 touchdowns and averaged 4.7 yards a carry. In 2007 he was switched to defensive tackle. He became a full-time starter his senior year, racking up 29 tackles, 10 for loss, and four sacks. This production, along with a strong Pro Day (4.64 forty, and 23 reps on the bench), made him a fourth-round draft pick by the Bears in 2009.

After a typically slow rookie year, Melton broke out in 2011, amassing seven sacks, tied for first in the league among defensive tackles. He followed that up in 2012 with eight more sacks and his first Pro Bowl appearance.  Then three games into 2013 he injured his ACL, ending his season.

The Good

As shown by his Pro Day numbers, Melton is an explosive athlete, which fits perfectly with Rod Marinelli's defensive philosophy. Indeed, Melton had his most successful seasons under Marinelli, who was the Bear's defensive line coach in 2011, and defensive coordinator in 2012. Melton is also a player on the rise. Here are his career numbers according to PFF:

Year 2010 2011 2012
Overall Grade -10.2 7.1 10.9
Pass Rush -2.5 10.8 14.6
Run Defense -7.7 -3.7 -4.8

Every year he has been in the league (absent his injury-shortened 2013), Melton has gotten better. And it's not just PFF grades that reflect this. He has improved in every statistical category, sacks, tackles, QB hits...and he did this while his actual number of snaps decreased from 2011 to 2012. This is probably a trend that will continue. Like another Dallas player, J.J. Wilcox, Melton switched from offense to defense late in his college career. As his technique continues to refine under Marinelli, Melton should continue to improve.

The Bad

I mentioned up above that Melton increased his stats while decreasing his snaps. While that's a good thing, the reason his snaps decreased in 2012 is not. Melton missed one game in 2011 with a shin injury, and another two in 2012 with a chest injury. And then there is the little matter of missing most of 2013 with a torn ACL. Injuries are a pretty sore subject with the Cowboys, especially on defense, so Melton's history is concerning. What makes it worse is the nature of his 2013 injury. Marinelli requires his 3-techs to be quick off the ball. Will Melton still have the extraordinary quickness that made him a Pro Bowler in 2012, or will his injuries rob him of it?

The Verdict

All reports so far have been encouraging. Melton has shown some rust in camp, which is to be expected, but seems to have retained his explosiveness. I strongly believe Melton is going to be a star for the Boys, and will be a big reason this defense turns around in 2013.

Ah but wait!  What about Jason Hatcher? As good as Melton is, his 2011 and 2012 grades combined aren't as good as what Hatcher posted in 2013, when PFF graded him out at a whopping +20.9. So how can our defense be better with Melton, when there is little chance that Melton ever has as good a season as Hatcher did last year?

The simple answer is, consistency (and the same reasoning goes for replacing DeMarcus Ware as well). Yes Hatcher posted a monster year last year. But let's look at the splits:

Jason Hatcher's PFF grades by week, 2013
Weeks 1-8 Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5 Week 6 Week 7 Week 8 TOTAL
Grades +4.4 +3.2 +1.7 +0.2 -2.4 +5.2 +5.7 +0.8 18.8
Weeks 9-17 Week 9 Week 10 Week 12 Week 13 Week 14 Week 15 Week 16 Week 17 TOTAL
Grades +0.4 Bye -0.5 +3.8 -0.5 -2.1 +0.3 +0.7 2.3

For as good as his season was, Hatcher basically disappeared in the second half of the season (which strangely enough coincided with his week 10 injury). The fact is, Hatcher wore down as the season went on, as older players tend to do. That will not be an issue with Melton. If he is fully returned from his ACL injury, Melton will provide consistently high play from the 3-technique position, which will be a huge boost to the Dallas defense. Henry Melton is going to make our season.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Blogging The Boys Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your Dallas Cowboys news from Blogging The Boys