Ten years ago the Dallas Cowboys drafted four defensive linemen as they switched to a 3-4 defense under Bill Parcells. Bill Parcells had been hired as head coach in 2003, but he didn’t change the defensive scheme until the Cowboys finished the 2004 season ranked 27th in points allowed.
In 2005, the Cowboys had two first-round picks (thanks to a trade with the Bills the previous year), and with their first two picks, the Cowboys selected OLB DeMarcus Ware and DE Marcus Spears. They additionally picked up DE Chris Canty in the fourth round and added DT Jay Ratliff in the seventh.
Stephen Jones recently said that a pass rusher is "absolutely" a priority in the offseason. And if the Cowboys plan to do more than chip away at the defensive line, perhaps choosing to hammer away at the line, then the 2005 draft offers a stellar blueprint for how that could work. Here are the four players the Cowboys drafted and their career numbers:
|Pick||Player||POS||Games||Games Started||Sacks||Pro Bowls|
|1 (11)||DeMarcus Ware||OLB/DE||157||155||127||8|
|1 (20)||Marcus Spears||DE/DT||124||90||10||- -|
|4 (132)||Chris Canty||DE||139||119||21.5||- -|
|7 (224)||Jay Ratliff||DT||120||100||35||4|
Of course, it's completely unrealistic to expect to replicate or even come close to this type of production with the 2015 draft class - the 2005 draft class is probably the best draft class since the Hershel-Walker-trade-enhanced drafts in the early 1990s, and SportsOnEarth called it the NFL's best draft of the decade - but why not replicate the approach?
Sure, the Cowboys could try to replicate what they did on the offensive line and draft three top talents in four years, but why not accelerate the process?
Earlier this month, we took a look at the pass rushers drafted in the top two rounds of the last five NFL drafts, to figure out what to expect from a rookie pass rusher. The findings were a little sobering, in that only about 20% of those rookie pass rusher became starters in their rookie season. However, that changed by the second season, when almost two thirds of all rookies in the data set were starters.
We saw a similar pattern when we looked at defensive tackles, where we found that the chances of drafting an immediate starter go down significantly if that player is drafted outside of the top 20 draft picks. But this is where the Cowboys preference for rotating defensive linemen may come in handy. The Cowboys D-line, unlike the O-line, frequently rotates players in and out to keep the line fresh over the course of a game. So even if a young DT might not be able to be an every down player immediately, he might still have an impact as a part-time player in a rotation.
Over the past few years, the Cowboys have shown a propensity for filling roster holes in free agency and trying to address talent gaps via the draft. If they can sign one or two defensive linemen as bridge players until their 2015 rookies are ready to take over, they might be in a really good place on the defensive line pretty quickly.
An often overlooked fact when talking about the 2005 draft class is that in addition to those four linemen, the Cowboys also signed free agent Jason Ferguson, who had played nose tackle for Parcells with the Jets, and traded for OLB Scott Fujita, who would end up starting eight games at strongside linebacker as the bookend to DeMarcus Ware at the weakside linebacker spot.
So, two free agents and three or four draft picks for the defensive line. Does that sound like a plan?