I must first admit that yesterday's piece on the Dallas Cowboys pass rush becoming a liability was a downer. The Cowboys can do a lot to take the pressure off the defense with a strong running game but they must address their lack of pass rushers. Though this draft class is not filled with much pass-rushing talent, there is still talent to have. This is precisely why a potential trade down has become more popular over the last few weeks. Sure, the Cowboys may not pick as high as four in a long time, but this is not necessarily a good year to have the fourth-overall pick.
If Jalen Ramsey is off the board and Myles Jack's knee isn't checking out the right way, then there should be overwhelming hope that somebody is calling for a quarterback or something. The Cowboys have nine picks in this draft, but if they could somehow swing getting more picks in the second round or third round, that would be fantastic. It's this forethought that leads me to wonder if the Cowboys may be looking to 2005 for their blueprint this draft season. In that year, the Cowboys had eight picks, which included two first-rounders and two fourth-rounders. The Cowboys spent six of the eight picks on defense. They selected DeMarcus Ware and Marcus Spears in the first, Kevin Burnett in the second, Chris Canty in the fourth, Justin Beriault in the sixth, and Jay Ratliff in the seventh.
When Dallas made those moves, they were switching from the 4-3 alignment to a Bill Parcells' 3-4 scheme, but they put an emphasis on getting better defensively and they succeeded. They went from 16th in total defense to 10th and though they only had one more sack, they were able to get off the field on third downs better than before. They also won three more games and went to the playoffs. So, though rookie pass rushers don't light up the sack statistics, they obviously can help a team get better. With nine picks, the Cowboys could do some heavy hitting to upgrading that defense.
Regardless of what some of us think about certain prospects, the Cowboys need to address their pass rushing woes with numbers. Why not finally give Rod Marinelli a stable of good pass rushers at his disposal? I mean, that is what he's been talking about since becoming the defensive coordinator, he wants a rotation of good "rushmen".
One of the other things to keep in mind about the Marinelli "rushmen" is that his edge guys are important pieces to his ability to get the quarterback on the ground. Before those pressure folks harp on me for this, yes, pressure is important, but so are sacks, folks. Also, so are takeaways, another thing the Cowboys were dismal at in 2015. Dallas did a nice job helping Tyrone Crawford this offseason by bringing in a play-making one-technique in Cedric Thornton. They still need edge guys. At this point, we're not sure that any veteran left on the market besides Greg Hardy is going to be better than someone they draft. So, if they really need guys that can bend the edge for the tackles to collapse the pocket, who should they be looking at? This is where that trade back could come in handy.
Noah Spence, DE, Eastern Kentucky
Broaddus calls him the best pure pass rusher in the draft and Dane Brugler agrees. There are concerns with his past habits while he was at Ohio State, but he's been the exact opposite of what the Cowboys have seen with Randy Gregory. Spence hasn't failed a test since he was dismissed from the Buckeyes and guess what? He's been dominant in college. Spence can be what the Cowboys really wanted from Randy Gregory last year before he was hurt. In fact, Spence could be a little bit of their DeMarcus Ware-type.
A guy who situationally rushes the passer and is slippery on the edge to get by and finish the play. Like Gregory, Spence uses his hands to do some damage and is stronger than he looks. Spence can also be versatile and cover because he's a quick-twitch athlete with great instincts. Bosa gets more fanfare but if Spence never leaves, I don't think this competition is close. Spence is a more disruptive player has far more burst than Bosa. A trade down is a perfect scenario to take Spence and Broaddus confirmed that he has to be in consideration.
Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson
At Clemson, he showed to be equally skilled as a pass rusher and run stuffer. 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 has the reputation of a finisher. He had great production and his combination skill-set will get him drafted in the first round.
Jonathan Bullard, DE, Florida
He fits more of the mold of a classic left end that can be brought inside on third downs due to his ability to play inside. Bullard uses an immense amount of power at the point of attack and is a good run stuffer. If the Cowboys want him, they would have to go back-to-back which is unlikely, but should be considered. He can seal off the edge due to his ability to anchor and keep containment. Bullard is not a guy that's going to grab double-digit sacks but he just does a lot more than you can often see. He's a blue-collar player that pushes linemen into laps and lets others around him benefit, much like Joey Bosa.
Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State
Calhoun is very underrated and that could be good for the Cowboys because like Spence, he's an edge rusher all the way, He wins with his speed but has underestimated power to make his rush all the more detrimental to the opposing offense. Yet, he still has work to do in utilizing those things together. He's a very smart player with a fluid lower body to take long strides and not waste movement. He creates a lot of momentum with his rush and it has the tendency to crash the pocket. He still has work to do in not popping upright and losing sight of the play. However, if used as a pass rusher as he develops into more, he can be dynamic for them.
Third Round - Fourth Round
Shawn Oakman, DE, Baylor
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 after not really impressing anyone with his workouts.
Matt Judon, DE, Grand Valley State
He absolutely dominated DII Football but teams need to see what he can do against better competition. He's got the burst, speed, build, and bend of an NFL-caliber defensive end. He's got great flexibility and a history of production leading the nation (at any level) with 20 sacks in 2015. He is a well-coordinated athlete with the ability to excel with more development.
Ronald Blair, DE, Appalachian State
Blair is a super productive prospect with some polished pass rushing skill whose stock has continuously risen over the last weeks and months and then tailed off. Blair was outstanding against real competition in Clemson and was practically unblockable. It's all about getting to the quarterback and Blair certainly can.
After these guys and in-between, you find a bunch of guys that have some abilities but may not add the edge prowess that they need. The Cowboys may need to grab and extra defensive tackle just because the class is so great, but the true need is on the edge. If the Cowboys can grab possibly two solid edge performance guys then they should feel better about their situation. Again, none of these guys are likely to be the first rookie pass rusher to have double-digit sacks since 2011, but they need numbers. There is strength in numbers, Rod Marinelli says so.