Here are the year-end totals of snap counts for the Dallas Cowboys 2017 defense.
DeMarcus Lawrence had a breakout year with 14.5 sacks, making All-Pro. He played all 16 games and led the team with 67% of the snaps.
Maliek Collins, who led the team in snaps last year, was just behind him. But Collins’ sacks dropped off from five to 2.5, and he got all of them in the first three weeks. It was a disappointing season for Collins.
Tyrone Crawford was third in snaps, and had four sacks versus 4.5 last year. Given his contract, 2018 may be his last year as a Cowboy.
David Irving was the second most productive lineman, and gave Lawrence a run for his money when he played. But he played only the eight games in the middle of the year, missing the first four on a suspension, and the last four with a concussion. He got seven sacks and was very disruptive. The Cowboys need him to play a full year in 2018.
Taco Charlton had an okay rookie year with three sacks in 362 snaps. After an offseason of strength work, he should show significant improvement in year two.
Benson Mayowa was a disappointment with only one sack, after he led the team with six in 2016. His contract makes him a prime target to be cut this offseason.
With Stephen Paea retiring, and Brian Price and David Irving getting hurt, the Cowboys had to rely on Richard Ash, Lewis Neal, Datone Jones, and Daniel Ross to patch up the middle of the line. None of them were on the opening day 53-man roster.
Overall, it was a year of progress for the line, with Lawrence and Irving establishing themselves as forces.
Next year could be even better, though a lot has to fall right. Randy Gregory needs to come back and give the Cowboys an edge rusher with speed. David Irving needs to play 16 games. And the Cowboys need to retain Lawrence.
The story this year was Sean Lee’s injuries, and how badly the Cowboys defense played in his absence. He led the linebackers with 59% of the snaps, but that’s far below what he did in 2016. Anthony Hitchens also missed four games and finished third in snaps with 52%. Between them was Jaylon Smith, who played all 16 games, but was often a liability. Not only was he often physically overpowered, but he also made mental mistakes, especially in run defense. He got better as the season went on, but the Cowboys might wonder what kind of player he’ll be next season.
The Cowboys need to retain Hitchens this offseaon.
This was the year of massive turnover in the Cowboys secondary. Out went Brandon Carr, Barry Church, Mo Claiborne, and J.J. Wilcox, and in came Jeff Heath, Jourdan Lewis, Xavier Woods, and Chidobe Awuzie.
The problem was that Awuzie, who was a dynamic player when he finally played, missed almost the entire year with hamstring problems. He got meaningful snaps in only six games.
Jourdan Lewis also got a late start due to lingering hamstring issues, but did manage to play 71% of the snaps. Anthony Brown led the cornerbacks with 81% of the snaps, but was often the weakest link in the secondary.
Xavier Woods got 53% of the snaps, which was a higher number than J.J. Wilcox. But the Cowboy missed Barry Church’s steady tackling. Jeff Heath looked underwhelming most of the year, but got 84% of the snaps. Kavon Frazier finally got a chance late in the year, and provided some much needed hitting, but he might still be a liability in pass coverage.
Next year, the young cornerbacks should take over, and with Scandrick and Brown, it could be an improved squad. Where the Cowboys need more help is at safety.
Here are the snaps.
I eliminated anyone with fewer than 100 snaps. Kyle Wilber is a free agent and may not be back. James Hanna may not still be worth his contract, and Ben Benwikere isn’t likely to return. But everyone else should be back.
The biggest issue on special teams this year was the fall-off by Dan Bailey. He missed several games with a groin pull, then started missing field goals after returning. Hopefully an offseason will allow him to heal and return to his normal automatic form.