One of the most underrated moves of the entire period of free agency was the Cowboys' acquisition of Cedric Thornton. Not only was that an underrated move, it was an under-the-radar move as well. To say that it upgrades the defensive line is grossly understated. The Cowboys knew that they needed to get better and more athletic at the 1-tech position. Nick Hayden has been okay, but in order to really get everything out of Tyrone Crawford, it's best to give him a partner that can free him up to make plays.
Thornton is a playmaking 1-technique who, if needed, is versatile enough to rush from both tackle spots. Sure, he won't light up the stat sheets, but I can see a lot more tackles for loss in the Cowboys future. Dallas also would still like to see what they possibly have in Terrell McClain and Chris Whaley, who have each ended the last two years on IR.
Still, the Cowboys are not out of the woods just yet. This is a defensive tackle class that is probably the best we've seen in some time. It's definitely the deepest position in 2016. The Cowboys could come away with another one and three technique should they choose to. The question is, when is the best time to go after a tackle?
Trade Down In The 1st For Sheldon Rankins
Rankins is the best 3-tech tackle in this year's class and could be a target for the Cowboys, should they trade back. He plays with explosion off the snap, something that Rod Marinelli was very impressed with during the Senior Bowl practices. He flat-out dominated the opposition in one-on-one drills and was just unblockable. He also was equally impressive for the way he moved with his size. He's agile and displays really good balance and technique.
In fact, Marinelli lined him up at defensive end and it didn't change a thing. You can't teach the explosion that he has and it reminds you of Aaron Donald. When Donald came out of college, he quickly rose to the top of the charts and is one of the best tackles in the game. If Dallas trades down in the first, Rankins could very well stare them in the face. That just may be too good to pass up.
Hope Vernon Butler or Andrew Billings Fall To 34
Butler- He's got versatility to him and could very well help the Cowboys create a dominant defensive line rotation. Much like Rankins, Butler has some explosion in his game that you don't always see out of a man his size. Butler was also at the Senior Bowl, where he had a solid performance. He plays with tremendous power and is known for pushing linemen into quarterback's laps.
The Cowboys have to be impressed with his balance and ability to have success at the point of attack. He's not as developed a pass rusher as Rankins, but the upside isn't far off. He's shown himself to be very disruptive and explosive with 23.5 tackles for a loss as a starter.
Billings- He's the quintessential 1-tech that most teams deploy in the 4-3 alignment. However, that's not all he can do. He has a tremendous amount of strength that he puts on display with regularity. If the Cowboys are looking to get more production in the middle, look no further as Billings finished the year with 15 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, and 40 total tackles. He's a resident of the backfield and can be overpowering for linemen to take on.
Finding creative ways to get pass rusher free to make plays is Billings' method of operation. The one thing that will have the Cowboys' licking their chops is his motor which doesn't have an off-switch. Billings is clearly one of the best tackles in the class which could very well see a run in the first round.
Other notables: Robert Nkemdiche, Kenny Clark, Chris Jones, or Austin Johnson
Select A Tackle In The Mid Rounds
Javon Hargrave- He's lost a little steam from the beginning of the offseason. As a small-school prospect, there will certainly be somewhat of a learning curve. He's an avid disruptor of the pocket and wins quite regularly. There are concerns about his footwork and level of competition, but he did stand out in the Shrine game. He's perfectly suited to the 4-3 defense and his ability to convert his quickness to power will show up in the NFL. Marinelli is no stranger to getting the best out of players, Hargrave is worth the consideration.
Adolphus Washington- Another guy who hasn't been talked about much is Washington. It has more to do with him being a bit undeveloped more than anything else. He has all the traits. He is a long and limber defender for his size and shows his athleticism. He knows how to disrupt the pocket from either tackle position. He's got a good burst off the ball but needs to work on converting that with power through the point of attack. It may take a little more time but he could contribute right away in the Cowboys' rotation.
Hassan Ridgeway- Though I live in Austin I'm not a Longhorns' fan. If there is anyone from that school I would want on the Cowboys, it's Ridgeway. Even more so than my excitement for Jackson Jeffcoat a few years back, Ridgeway offers more for this team. He's a fit in the 1-tech like Billings and is an overachiever quite frankly. Like many tackles in this draft, he's got versatility. You can often catch him using his knowledge and tree-limb arms to reach through blockers to take down the runner. He can be known to make a home in the backfield and is extremely good at collapsing the pocket. All of this and more is why he makes a lot of sense for Dallas in the fourth round.
Others notables: Maliek Collins, D.J. Reader, or Matt Ioannidis