The Cowboys have been slowly rebuilding their defensive line in a similar manner to the way they approached their offensive line. No, they aren't spending first-round picks on each player but they have consistently picked among the elite pass rushers in each of the last two drafts. DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory were both considered among the best pass rushers in their respective classes. With that said, the Cowboys still have more work to do as they have impending free agents and production questions surrounding their pass rush. Randy Gregory's growth was slowed by an ankle injury he suffered in the opener. At this point, the Cowboys are still trying to figure out what they have in him while furthering the development of Lawrence.
The only true elite rusher that the Cowboys currently have is Greg Hardy, but he's set to become a free agent in March when the new league year begins. Journeyman veteran Jeremy Mincey is also set to hit free agency which has the Cowboys' cupboard seemingly bare for the moment. Rookie pass rushers don't typically set the world on fire, but the draft still remains the best option for building a core roster. Though many folks will express their affection for Joey Bosa, let it be known that he's not the only guy out there.
DeForest Buckner, 6'7, 290 lbs, (CBS 8th Prospect)
Buckner was outstanding in a Ducks' defense that struggled for the majority of the season. He played all 13 games and racked up 10.5 sacks with 83 tackles and 17 tackles for loss. He's got tremendous length and versatility to play on the edge or in the middle. Buckner has very heavy and powerful hands that he's learned how to use to his advantage against blockers. He's very violent at the point of attack and can stun offensive linemen with his power and quickness. He has an elite first step with fluid hips and excellent footwork. One thing that catches your eye is Buckner's ability to take on double teams and more often than not, he wins. He's such a physical athletic specimen that it becomes difficult for blockers to counter his mix of agility and ability to play a lot smaller than his frame would suggest.
Shaq Lawson, 6'3, 270 lbs, (CBS 12th Prospect)
Lawson doesn't have near the length that Buckner has but somehow his compact frame works perfectly to his advantage. At Clemson, he showed to be equally skilled as a pass rusher and run blocker. He's got a fantastic motor and good quickness that allows him to live in the backfield. In fact, against Ronnie Stanley (first-round talent from Notre Dame), Lawson was extremely disruptive. In that game, he recorded seven tackles, 3.5 for loss, and routinely beat Stanley with his quickness and power. He does a great job at setting the edge uses his flexibility to get by the would-be blocker in pass defense. Lawson is a quick-twitch athlete and has the reputation of a finisher. He had great production and his combination skill-set will get him drafted highly this spring.
Noah Spence, 6'3, 254 lbs, (CBS 29th Prospect)
If Spence passes all his personality tests with various coaching staffs, there is no reason he shouldn't be a first-round pick. Like Gregory, Spence had some drug issues that got him thrown out of Ohio State and transferred to Eastern Kentucky. However, Spence is the best pass rusher in this year's draft and I'm not sure that it's close. For the Buckeyes in 2013, Spence recorded 52 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, eight sacks with two forced fumbles. At Eastern Kentucky, he absolutely demolished weaker competition with 63 tackles, 22.5 for loss, and 11.5 sacks. Spence has all the attributes and abilities to be a dominant force in the NFL. He's also coming off a solid Senior Bowl performance where he wowed coaches with his ability to attack. His motor is outstanding, he's got long limbs and is a well-built, balanced machine. He's comfortable in any position he's asked to play. As mentioned earlier, he's the best pure pass rusher, but his interviews will dictate his future.
Carl Nassib, 6'7, 273 lbs, (CBS 60th Prospect)
The Cowboys have taken DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory in consecutive second rounds and Nassib could be another instrumental part of their rotation for years to come. Nassib was coached by Marinelli at the Senior Bowl, so he got to see first-hand how high his motor is. Nassib has been described as a gym-rat who is chiseled for the position. He's long and tall at 6'7, 270 pounds and has a very impressive wingspan to grab the ball carrier and bring him down. Nassib has a very fast first step that coordinators are really going to like and he's a versatile athlete when it comes to scheme fit. Nassib set new records in his time at Penn State but still has quite the bit of developing to do. Either way, he's a try-hard player that gives relentless effort.
Shawn Oakman, 6'8, 269 lbs, (CBS 98th Prospect)
Oakman is certainly an interesting prospect because he is what Brugler would call "not the sum of all his parts" just yet. He's got a ton of potential but will need development much like Cowboys fifth-round pick Ryan Russell. He's definitely got that 'freakish' build and is a very balanced athlete. He's got power and strength to dominate opponents with his tree-branch arms. Oakman is certainly mammoth-like and he has developed in his time at Baylor, yet he still needs more time to become elite at the next level. Scouts are going to rightfully fall in love with his physical nature and size. A team willing to take a chance on him may find the fruits of their labor quickly, but Oakman certainly needs some work before he's ready to be a three-down player.
Anthony Zettel 6'4, 273 lbs, (CBS 183rd Overall)
It's hard to really get a concrete grade on Zettel just yet, but something tells me he may start shooting up the draft boards. Often overshadowed by Austin Johnson and Carl Nassib, Zettel was a big player for the Nittany Lions. Zettel will be an interesting prospect for Marinelli due to his elite first-step quickness and snap anticipation. Zettel is just a very disruptive player and has a lot to give you on gamedays. Nobody in the Big 10 finished with more tackles for a loss than Joey Bosa (21.5), but Zettel was 2nd with 17. Zettel also racked up 8 sacks and 42 tackles and 8 passes defended. Zettel has some polishing to do at the next level, but this could be a fun little project for Hot Rod. Last week, as I was watching film on Nassib and Johnson, I came away more impressed by Zettel. He was constantly making plays for his defense. It won't surprise at all to see his stock rise after more people get a hold of his tape and put the focus on him.