DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory will be on the shelf for the first four games of the 2016 season. For a team that has been impoverished at getting to the quarterback, the loss of these two players is discouraging. The Cowboys will need to scrap together some quality replacements for these games, but fans aren’t too optimistic about their options. The team didn’t go out and acquire any big name replacement, but is that a bad thing? Who knew that George Selvie was going to get seven sacks in 2013 or that Jeremy Mincey would get six sacks in 2014? Answer – no one. Unless you are a crazy kid that has access to a time-traveling DeLorean and a sports almanac, you were completely caught off guard by the performances of these under the radar pass rushers. Each year, over the last three seasons, the Cowboys have brought in a new edge rusher who has stepped up and had at least six sacks. Greg Hardy completes this trio with six sacks last season over the course of 12 games. Now, his production wasn’t surprising as Hardy’s a talented defensive end, but the fact remains – year after year, the Cowboys are always finding ways to get help from new contributors.
Expect this season to be no different.
Rod Marinelli has done a good job finding players who can step up for this defensive line. With his two top edge rushers suspended, it will become very important to continue to work his magic. The Cowboys have a couple hopeful new acquisitions as they signed free agent Benson Mayowa from Oakland and drafted Charles Tapper from Oklahoma. The team also has a handful of returning players who will get a chance to earn playing time at defensive end. While it seems rather arbitrary to try to determine which one of these players will emerge, it’s a fun topic to mull over. We all have our own ideas as to which one of these players can rise to the occasion and be an impact player for the defense. A few of my peers and I have ranked these players
Three of the five FPW have Mayowa as their #1 guy. If there is a player who has the most upside, it’s Mayowa. At a mere 240 pounds, he doesn’t have a lot of bulk, but has shown good toughness pushing back tackles. His strength is his quickness, especially that all-important first step. He exhibits quick surges into the backfield, yet has good balance to redirect if needed. His lateral quickness and ability to handle his assignments are important traits that the team looks for and as Bryan Broaddus says, the scouts have a good read on him.
"I really do believe that the pro scouts got this player right from what I was able to see from the OTA practices and on his tape from the Raiders. He showed me the ability to capture the edge and I believe he has the ability to finish. I know the numbers don't say that now but at the end of the season I think they will. I also like the fact that he started his career with the Seahawks. Those scouts know a thing or two about edge rushers and they saw something in him that gives me some hope that he can develop."
This time last year, if you asked me who David Irving was, I wouldn’t have a clue. Like Mayowa, he’s another undrafted free agent who didn’t make the team. Last season, the Cowboys plucked Irving from Kansas City’s practice squad made him active for 12 games. He only played just over 200 snaps, but it was enough to grab our attention. There’s a lot to like about him –literally. Standing at 6’7", Irving’s a big boy and that doesn’t include his wingspan. He has a lot to work on when it comes to his technique, but is very athletic for his size. Irving won’t be the most consistent candidate, but he is the type of player that could make splash plays. We all saw him block a field goal against Seattle last year, but look for him to use his length to get those arms up to knock down passes.
When the Cowboys took Russell in the fifth-round in last year’s draft, it raised some eyebrows. With Hardy and Gregory seen as strong options at defensive end, many people didn’t see where Russell would fit on the team. But the fact that the Cowboys used this resource on him should speak to what they saw in him at Purdue. Many people felt he was misused at Purdue and a change of scheme could unleash a more effective pass rusher. Ryan Ratty has him ranked as his top DE, but he may hold a special place in his heart from when he was able to interview him last year. Here is what the two Ryan’s had to say:
Ratty: What are your strengths?
Russell: I’m very athletic with a long frame. My explosiveness and flexibility helps me bend the corner better then most guys my size. I also got some speed for my size so I can run down ball carriers and it helps get after the quarterback. I’m also very intelligent and can pick up schemes and plays very quickly.
If you’re looking for a savvy veteran to come in and lead the way, Crawford could be your guy. He’s played in 41 games over his four-year career. Like Russell, he’s a former-fifth-round pick. Like Mayowa, he’s a former Raider. Like Irving, he is athletic for his size and played for Dallas last season. And like Emma Watson, he was in the same class as Harry Potter. Okay, that last one isn’t pertinent to football, but it’s still interesting.
This is not Jack Crawford.
But this is.
A lot of us didn't really know what to make of Crawford or what his role will be. He's played on the edge, but then was moved inside last year. Will the Cowboys move him back on the outside? Maybe, but don’t count your owls before they are delivered.
The Cowboys fourth-round pick gets ranked last of this group, but a lot of that has to do with how little impact rookie pass rushers make. It may sound like a broken record, but Tapper is another big guy with great athleticism. And as OCC reported, he out-SPARQ’ed any other defensive end in the draft. While it may take him a while to get his pass-rushing craft down, he’s a good run stopper and could find some work on early downs.
How do you have this group ranked?