clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Drafting Like It's 2005: Do Cowboys Already Have A Blueprint For Fixing The 2016 Defensive Line?

New, comments

If the Cowboys want to fix their defensive line quickly, looking at the 2005 offseason may provide a workable blueprint for 2016.

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

In 2005 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 later added DE Chris Canty in the fourth round and selected DT Jay Ratliff in the seventh.

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 168 165 134.5 9
1 (20) Marcus Spears DE/DT 124 90 10 - -
4 (132) Chris Canty DE 148 128 22.5 - -
7 (224) Jay Ratliff DT 122 102 35 4
Total 562 485 202 13

If the Cowboys plan fix the defensive line, the 2005 draft offers a stellar blueprint for how that could work. Of course, it's completely unrealistic to expect to replicate or even come close to this type of production with the 2016 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.
  • You can't simply draft a DeMarcus Ware-quality player when you feel like it, regardless of where you're picking in the draft.
  • You don't often have two first-round draft picks to spend.
  • Best to avoid defensive tackles with mental issues altogether.

But why not at least try to replicate the 2005 approach?

With the fourth overall pick, the Cowboys are in position to select the best pass rusher in this draft class. The 34th overall pick is about as close as it gets to a first-round pick, so the Cowboys could conceivably get two defensive linemen with first-round grades, especially if they use the 34th pick on a defensive tackle, a position that looks to be fairly deep in this draft.

In this scenario, the 2016 version of the Ware/Spears picks could be combo of DE Joey Bosa and DTs like Sheldon Rankins, Vernon Butler, or Austin Johnson.

And where the Cowboys used a fourth-round pick to select Chris Canty in 2005, they now have two fourth-round picks this year, one being their original pick, the other a compensatory pick they'll get this year. And in the fourth round, there'll be lots of possibilities to pick either an edge rusher or an interior defensive lineman. CBSSports for example lists small-school standouts Javon Hargrave and Ronald Blair as potential fourth-round targets, but even if that assessment is off, the Cowboys will have a broad selection of defensive linemen to choose from in the fourth.

And the same thing is true in the sixth round, where the Cowboys have one original pick, and can expect three compensatory picks. Perhaps one of them lands them a Jay Ratliff-type player, maybe even without all the issues that came with the original version.

If the Cowboys were to replicate their 2005 approach, they'd spend four of their nine draft picks on defensive linemen, which doesn't feel like a massive overinvestment at the position. But the Cowboys may be further along the D-line rebuilding curve than they were in 2005. Randy Gregory may not currently have the highest standing among the football public, but he's an undeniable talent. Ryan Russell played just 33 snaps last year and could come on strong in his second season, David Irving and Jack Crawford have already shown that they have NFL-level potential.

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 and 2016 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 the four linemen drafted, 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 left OLB as the bookend to DeMarcus Ware at the right OLB spot.

So, two free agents and three or four draft picks for the defensive line. Does that sound like a plan?