The next in a series of posts looking at each position group on the Dallas Cowboys roster, and determining just how much of a priority it will be this offseason. (The links to the rest of the series at the bottom)
Position Group - Defensive tackle
The defensive tackle position is sure getting a lot of attention this offseason. In the early mock drafts, a group of DTs have been topping the list of many draft experts for the Cowboys’ first-round pick. The Cowboys have one veteran who is solid at the position, and then a whole lot of question marks. For a position that has so many names on the roster, there sure aren’t many answers.
Maliek Collins, David Irving, Datone Jones, Lewis Neal, Richard Ash, Daniel Ross, Brian Price, Joe Vellano, Stephen Paea
Maliek Collins - Collins had a pretty good year as a rookie playing mostly at the 3-tech spot, raising expectations for his sophomore campaign. While still playing solid, he didn’t really have that great of a season. Some of the blame can be attributed to the fact that he had to play out of position some of the time because of all the injuries the Cowboys had along the way. Collins is best when playing the 3-tech spot and using his quickness to be a disruptive element in the middle. The Cowboys desperately need to give him some help.
David Irving - Now that we’re past Collins, there are questions with every other DT candidate on the roster. Irving is restricted free agent who on the surface seems like someone the Cowboys would desperately want to keep. He can be a beast on the line, at times appearing unblockable. But there are whispers that the Cowboys might want to let Irving walk for a high draft pick because of consistency and character concerns.
On top of that, Irving might be better suited to play outside as his pass rush is ferocious, but teams used his aggressiveness to run right by him at times when he played at the tackle spot. He can take himself out of the play against the run, and the Cowboys run defense suffered for it. Plus, if he’s playing inside he’s likely playing the 3-tech, forcing Collins over to the 1-tech. If the Cowboys are thinking about Irving long-term, it might be outside rather than in the interior.
Datone Jones - Here is another defensive end playing out of position in the middle. Jones represents the Cowboys major problem, they have a glut of 3-tech guys in the middle, but a lack of quality 1-techs. Now, to be fair, these positions can be interchangeable in some formations and situations, but the Cowboys could use a run-stuffing, space-eater in the middle who can penetrate on occasion. Jones doesn’t fit that bill, although he was productive when he played, maybe vying for more time in the defensive line rotation.
Lewis Neal, Richard Ash, Daniel Ross - I lumped these three together because they tend to represent the same ideal, guys who are good to have for depth, but it’s unlikely they will ever become starter material. Neal likely has the higher profile and higher-ceiling of the group, but they aren’t the guys the Cowboys want to build their future around, unless one of them makes a quantum leap in performance in 2018.
Brian Price - Here is a prospect that is lurking in the shadows for the Cowboys 1-tech spot. Price had a nice little run filling in once Stephen Paea decided to retire until he got hurt and went on IR mid-season. He should be ready for offseason activity and the Cowboys could re-sign him as depth and an emergency option at the 1-tech spot.
Stephen Paea - Technically he is still on the roster as Injured/Reserve, but don’t read anything into that.
Joe Vellano - Just a body.
Offseason Priority - High
The Cowboys need to beef up their defensive tackle rotation. Maliek Collins is a sure-thing, but everywhere else is uncertain. If David Irving stays, how they decide to utilize him will play a big role in how this position group shakes out. Irving is too much of a talent not to get a lot of snaps, perhaps they pair him up with Lawrence on the outside and occasionally move him inside depending on the situation. To a lesser extent they could do this with Datone Jones.
But what they really need is someone who can shore up their run defense in the interior. That player also needs to have some quickness and penetrations skills, they can’t just be a 350-pound roadblock. Brian Price seems like a good depth option at the position, but through the draft or free agency, the Cowboys need to add some talent to the 1-tech position. It’s a high priority for the offseason.