The Dallas Cowboys front office have been busy all offseason trying to re-tool their defense, adding plenty of young talent. They will open up training camp in a few months as one of the more interesting teams to watch in terms of competition. As a whole, the Cowboys came into the offseason with a checklist that revolved around their defense and they have certainly made strides for improvement in 2017. Make no mistake, there are starting roles up for grabs and that includes the defensive end position.
We’ve already touched on the safeties last week but today we’re going to weigh the pros and cons of the guys looking to earn a spot at defensive end. Understandably, Rod Marinelli finds strength in the rotation, just because a guy doesn’t earn a starting role doesn’t mean he’s not important. Realistically, we’re talking about an eight-man rotation across the line with a couple of backups. Today, let’s just focus on who fits best at defensive end, where they might play and whether they are in competition for a starter’s role or backup.
DeMarcus Lawrence, 6’3, 265 lbs
Case For: Plain and simple, Lawrence is the most accomplished edge rusher on the team. He’s worked out of both ends of the defense. When they drafted him, they did because of his athleticism, speed, and bend that is needed to play that weak side. Lawrence has made flashes in the past and they hope to get him to perform at that level consistently. He’s nasty when the light turns on for him and has had his best games in the playoffs.
Case Against: Lawrence is coming off his second consecutive back surgery in three years with the Cowboys. He also seems to have put on some weight in the offseason and that could affect his effectiveness as an edge rusher. He’s not shown much development from one year to another but it’s probably all due to the injuries he’s sustained.
Summary: Lawrence will likely log minutes as a starter, but he could end up on the left side if some of the younger prospects prove they can handle the right side.
David Irving, 6’7, 273 lbs
Case For: Irving was an absolute terror for the last month or so of the season. The Cowboys have always liked his projections at end but he also added some work as a tackle. He’s got long limbs which allow him to seal off the edge and hold runners for the linebackers to clean up. He’s got the twitchiness and speed off the snap. At times, he almost seemed unstoppable and routinely made tackles look silly. He has incredible measurables and is an absolute load on the left side, Irving also has an amazing wing span and ability to get home when the other end gets tied up.
Case Against: Irving has certainly earned more playing time but Rod has preferred to move him all around. He’s still a guy who is learning to play with consistency and hasn’t spent a lot of time at either spot. Is Irving more of the guy you like to bring off the bench? That’s where he had the most success was giving you great effort for a limited amount of snaps.
Summary: Probably not going to be a starter, instead a player who comes in and fills in across the line. Not a true end or a true tackle, but a hybrid.
Tyrone Crawford, 6’4, 295 lbs
Case For: Crawford has been a great team player and has played all over the defensive line. To his credit, he had 4.5 sacks last season after being moved to the outside due to Maliek Collins taking over the starting three-tech role. Crawford is a smart player and a pretty solid run defender, he’s got a great motor, and he can seal and hold down the left side.
Case Against: The prospects of Crawford are still higher as a defensive tackle with his strength and ability to collapse pockets. At one time, there was a plan for him to star as the famed three-tech but injuries and other factors have played in his movement all over. With that said, he and Maliek Collins could become a fantastic pair at that position now that the Cowboys have more guys they like on the outside. He really needs to get another opportunity to play inside, behind Collins, though his contract may be hard to justify.
Summary: Likely to see significant time backing up Collins and forming a solid three-tech duo.
Taco Charlton, 6’6’, 273 lbs
Case For: Ultimately, Taco’s best position isn’t known yet and anyone who believes it’s set, isn’t seeing the big picture. Taco is a player that has a lot of folks questioning where he’s going to play and the reality is that he’s going to have ample opportunities to show what he’s got. The front office has vehemently stood behind Taco’s athleticism that many folks question. The bottom line is that Taco has improved every single year as a pass rusher, he’s got great length, and everyone has raved about his consistency. He could win on either side of the line and he’s got more upside than anyone on the roster.
Case Against: There really is no case for or against this prospect because we haven’t seen a lick of anything just yet. There are those that will not be able to fathom Charlton as a right end prospect but who is better? There will always be the detractors but Taco has as good a chance as anyone to play all over the defensive line. So what if some think he was a “safe” pick? Taco was just about the most NFL-ready pass rusher they could get at 28th overall.
Summary: Will be given every opportunity to grab a starter’s role, on which side of the line remains to be seen. At the very least will see a significant rotational role.
Benson Mayowa, 6’3, 240 lbs
Case For: Mayowa started slow last season but ended the year as the Cowboys’ top sack artist with six for the year. He’s got a little speed and bend to him with some powerful hand usage to stun the tackle with his punch. He’s a relentless player that has shown, at times, that dip under the tackle’s shoulder and athleticism to finish his man.
Case Against: There are some consistency issues with Mayowa and he’s a boom or bust type of player. Either he’s going to give you maximum effort and make the play or he’s going to get completely washed out. He’s still young and learning how to play the position at the NFL level but has a ton of room for improvement. Mayowa guesses a bit too much and is late off the snap too which are things that need to be cleaned up.
Summary: Will likely be in the mix as a starting right end, but the Cowboys are hoping prospects like Charles Tapper or Taco Charlton can take that role and make Mayowa a backup.
Charles Tapper, 6’2, 270 lbs
Case For: If they’re looking for an athletically-gifted player with speed then their best bet is probably the development of Tapper. He’s got 4.59 speed, good size, and probably the most fitting attributes to the typical right end. Tapper showed at Oklahoma that his best fit was in a similar alignment as the Cowboys. It’s hard to handle guys with his makeup and speed
Case Against: Tapper is going to have to develop fast as he practically spent his entire rookie season with an injured back. He’s since remade his body and lost some weight to gain more muscle. Tapper has speed but what about strength? Can he hold up against tackles and free himself from their grips? Fans are really excited about him and so is the team but we’ve never seen one ounce of what he can do.
Summary: The Cowboys would love to see him use his athleticism to grab significant minutes as a starter, but may be eased in as more of a situational guy.
Damontre Moore, 6’5, 250 lbs
Case For: Moore seems to have found motivation to make sure his career doesn’t end. He turned it on a bit more with the Seahawks last season after being a disappointment since coming into the league. He still has a lot of upside as an edge rusher.
Case Against: Frankly, it’s going to be rather hard for him to earn a roster spot. Can he show enough in the preseason to warrant keeping him? Moore has shown to be anything but consistency in his NFL career.
Summary: Just trying to make the roster, he’ll play defensive end and will need to excel as a situational pass rusher to have a chance.
How do you see the defensive end situation playing out?