Finding a true 1-tech defensive tackle that can eat up blocks and stop the run remains a priority for the Cowboys this offseason. Though there are some options in the draft, there are a few quality veterans in free agency. Putting a veteran 1-tech next to Maliek Collins at the three could be very beneficial for the Cowboys defense.
[In this series, come along as we peruse the long list of free agents and focus on players that could be of interest for the Cowboys. Some of these players may, of course, price themselves out of range. However, any time you feel like your team is close like Dallas most definitely does, why not be a little aggressive in the acquisitions department?]
DT Justin Ellis, 6’2, 335 lbs, 27-years old - Oakland Raiders
2017 stats: 14 starts, 48 tackles, 0.5 sacks
Justin Ellis attended Louisiana Tech University where he took over as the full-time starter after a redshirt freshman year. Ellis’ best season was his senior year where he recorded 48 tackles, 5.5 for loss, and 1.5 sacks. Ellis earned honorable mention honors in his conference that year.
He was drafted by the Raiders at pick 107 in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft and he started 14 games his rookie year. As the nose tackle, Ellis tallied 21 tackles and a batted pass. His abilities to make an immediate impact as a run-stuffing defensive tackle earned him a spot on the PWFA All-Rookie team.
In 2015, he played in 12 games, only starting nine as he dealt with an ankle injury that kept him out a few weeks. Despite missing time, he finished with 22 tackles and a batted pass that season. In 2016, he became a rotational player and only started four games though he played in all 16. Ellis was just as productive as a role player where he notched 21 more tackles.
Ellis became the full-time starter again this past season and had the highest production of his career. Ellis recorded 48 tackles and half a sack as he became an asset to the Raiders as a run-stopper.
Ellis is one of those players that knows what he does well and where he can make an impact. If you’re looking for a defensive tackle that gets sacks then he’s not your guy. His game is about holding up at the point of attack and closing off rushing lanes. It’s something that he really excels at and it’s the definition of a selfless player.
Teams need players like Ellis to take on the dirty work and allow the more athletic defenders make the big play. He acts as an eraser as a run defender and he gets good push to close the quarterback’s pocket. Ellis will never have big sack numbers but he certainly helps others get home by freeing them up.
For the Cowboys, they would love to move Maliek Collins back to the under tackle position where he played very well as a rookie. Collins wasn’t nearly as effective when he was asked to primarily play as the nose. Collins is a pass rusher and Ellis would be the perfect complement to that.
Though the Cowboys haven’t valued a run-stuffing 1-tech tackle in the past, they’re aware that they need a capable one. The last two times the Cowboys went after this position in free agency, they were burned badly. Ellis isn’t a top-tier free agent or anything but he’s got value to a team like Dallas. Sure, he lacks the versatility that this front office is obsessed with but maybe it’s better if the Cowboys start coveting players that consistently do their job. Ellis is just the type of low-key signing that could reward the Cowboys in the long run.