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Cowboys draft 2018: Finding quality defensive tackles for the Cowboys

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Let’s way the pros and cons of the beefy men in the middle of the defense, shall we?

NCAA Football: UCLA at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

So far, we’ve identified quality players at receiver, linebacker, and along the offensive line for the Cowboys in this draft. We’ve gone back to the tape and weighed the pros and cons, mixing our scouting reports with experts like Lance Zierlein of NFL.com and Dane Brugler of NFLDraftScout.com. Now, we make our way to defensive tackle where the Cowboys truly need a 1-tech but also some 3-tech depth wouldn’t be all that bad either.

We know that the Cowboys value defensive tackles this year as they have met with quite a few already. However, we also know that the Cowboys prefer defensive tackles that are quick off the snap and give at least some push as a rusher. With that said, they’re looking for guys that don’t give up the house against the run. Here’s a chart of the candidates of interest, keep in mind their speed and agility testing numbers as those can be important to Rod Marinelli.

Name School Tackles TFL's Sacks Fumbles 40 time 3-Cone 20 YD Shuttle Proj. Round Pos. Ranking Pro Comp.
Vita Vea (6'4, 347 lbs) Washington 100 15 9.5 2 5.10 DNP DNP 1 1 Haloti Ngata
Da'Ron Payne (6'2, 311 lbs) Alabama 102 5 3 1 4.90 7.58 4.48 1 2 Ndamukong Suh
Taven Bryan (6'5, 291 lbs) Florida 27 4.5 1.5 2 4.98 7.12 4.48 1 3 Fletcher Cox
Maurice Hurst (6'1, 292 lbs) Michigan 130 32.5 12.5 2 4.99 7.71 4.59 1-2 4 Maliek Collins
Harrison Phillips (6'3, 307 lbs) Stanford 158 28.5 16 2 5.21 7.28 4.5 2 5 Broderick Bunlkey
Nathan Shepherd (6'4, 314 lbs) Fort Hayes State 168 27 10 2 5.09 7.5 4.53 2 6 Akiem Hicks
Da'Shawn Hand (6'4, 297 lbs) Alabama 64 13.5 8 1 4.83 7.98 4.62 3 7 Paul Spicer
Deadrin Senat (6'0, 314 lbs) South Florida 179 23.5 7 2 5.16 7.77 4.79 3 8 Javon Hargrave
Trenton Thompson (6'3, 288 lbs) Georgia 94 13 5 0 5.06 7.68 4.56 3 9 Adolphus Washington
Derrick Nnadi (6'1, 317 lbs) Florida State 165 17 8 2 5.33 8.15 5.02 3-4 10 Art Donovan
Tim Settle (6'3, 329 lbs) Virginia Tech 53 19.5 4 0 5.37 7.95 5.83 3-4 11 Vince Wilfork
Poona Ford (6'0, 306 lbs) Texas 136 20.5 4 3 5.15 7.76 4.75 6 19 Grady Jarrett
Mason Gentry (6'5, 300 lbs) SMU 107 8 0.5 0 5.14 7.5 DNP FA -- N/A

First Round

Vita Vea, Washington

Positives Negatives
NFL size and thickness, powerful upper body Can lose footing at times
Intimidating presence at point of attack Gets too far out and compromises footwork
Extreme power, pummels guards Needs to improve pad level consistency
Good hip rotations and flexibility Lacks the feel for double teams
Two-gap defender Teams may view him as a two-down player
Great quickness and explosivity Initial get-off is average
Violent player, plays with tenacity

Cowboys fit: Vea is an early favorite of most Cowboys fans as there just aren’t a lot of guys as disruptive as he is, moving at the size that he does. Vea is certainly more of a 1-tech tackle but he does have pass rush ability. However, he needs to improve his consistency and must stay motivated. There are early concerns that Vea is only a two-down player and though the Cowboys are all about rotation, it’ll be hard to convince Marinelli to spend that high of a pick to get him.

Da’Ron Payne, Alabama

Positives Negatives
Built like a wall with great musculature Needs a little more twitch off the ball
Impressive power and strength Can improve change of directions
Elite run stuffer Plays too square at times
Excellent technician Relies on first move to work, needs development
Has to be schemed for, impressive athleticism
Fluid mover that shows improvements each year
One of the most respected leaders of Saban era

Cowboys fit: Payne is one of those guys that blew up in the playoffs this past college season and simply must be schemed for, which says a lot. He’s extremely disruptive and has the technique part down pat plus he’s an elite run stopper and quality leader. The issue with Payne is that we’ve seen so little of what he can be that you have to project a little bit with this type of player. The Cowboys may want someone with more than just five tackles for loss and three sacks, especially at 19, where you have to take Payne.

Taven Bryan, Florida

Positives Negatives
Super loose lower body, gifted athlete Is a little narrow in the hip area
Plays with agility of a speed rusher, can make self skinny Below average power needs improvement
Upfield burst is second to none Can find himself on the ground occasionally
Absolute relentless disruption with lateral quickness Body type looks out of place for interior
Battery never dies, makes tackles all over the field Needs more mass
Great bend around the edge and explosive Production obviously hindered by lack of instincts
Extremely tough and motivated worker Must learn to keep head up and vision forward

Cowboys fit: Yes, Bryan is absolutely explosive and you get the feel that this guy is going places in the NFL. Being mentioned in the same company as Fletcher Cox is high praise for this kid. He’s got top-notch athleticism and attacks the gaps with aggression. Bryan also rushes the passer with a purpose and a relentless motor. We mention Payne as a projection but Bryan is an even bigger one with very little production and a clear lack of instincts. He’s going to be a raw talent and maybe that’s something Marinelli doesn’t mind. Still, can you convince head coach Jason Garrett that he can afford to wait on a guy?

Second Round

Maurice Hurst, Michigan

Positives Negatives
Disruptive from the snap with great quickness A little smaller than desired
Keeps his body low as he destroys the backfield Has to close the gap on stronger blockers
Too quick for blockers to trap Relies on forward lean needs improved upper body strength
Great motor and movement as a pass rusher Slow to shed his blocks
Has hands like a boxer Needs improvement in pass rush technique
Quick to punch then disengage Heart condition has him off some boards
Makes plays where he has no business being

Cowboys fit: Hurst is a 3-tech prospect with elite production and a solid pass rush resume. He’s consistently disruptive at the point of attack and bought a residence in the backfield seeing as he’s there most of the time. Hurst has that amazing punch with obvious work on his hand placement being key to his success. If we’re honest, Hurst could be the top-rated defensive tackle but there is always a snag.

Hurst’s status dropped after a heart condition was found, though he’s been cleared, some teams have him completely off their boards, which is concerning. If not for that, it’s likely that Hurst could have been the pick at 19, if he was there. At this point, if they feel good about him, he’s a trade up option in the second because you can forget him lasting until 50, some team will bite.

Harrison Phillips, Stanford

Positives Negatives
Very nice and thick frame Built like an offensive lineman
Makes plays despite only decent athleticism More active than athletic
Production was unquestioned Needs to improve planning on his rushes
Former state wrestling champion, great power Must improve change of direction on sinks and shift
Quality edge setter Needs hand technique refinement
Super active, disruptive, and determined
Wins so much with just the basic moves

Cowboys fit: Nobody helped themselves more in this draft process than Harrison Phillips did. He showed out at the Senior Bowl, leading the sack department there, and he tested well, too. Coaches love hearing that their defensive tackle prospect was a former wrestling champion, it takes extreme discipline to accomplish such a task. Phillips anchors and stays active despite only limited athleticism. If he’s the target in the second round, he’s going to play at the one because his pass rush skills need a plan of action. Phillips needs some minor refinements but has the wherewithal to do so.

Nathan Shepherd, Fort Hays State

Positives Negatives
Very self aware athlete, looks the part Very raw and dominated lesser competition
Diagnoses and improves on weaknesses, no habits Could need two years to get to NFL level
Good lateral quickness and flexible hips Needs to develop awareness of blocking patterns
Athletic ability + traits = moldable/ coachable player Trys to fight everything with force lacking technique
Good pursuit athleticism Needs to play with more edge
Strong and powerful hands Can get tied up and glued to his blocks at times
Solid rushing ability from all over the line

Cowboys fit: Shepherd is another one of those guys you want coming off the bus first for your team. He’s built very well with distinguishable musculature and has absolutely devastating power in his hands. Shepherd was very productive and dominant showing great flexibility and lateral quickness to rush from anywhere on the field. He was a grown man in a room full of boys but now we need to see him up against other grown men. Though he’s very teachable, he has a lot of technique things that must improve and again, how long will it take to do that?

Third - Fourth Round

Da’Shawn Hand, Alabama

Positives Negatives
Pro-ready build and frame for the position Production wasn't all that impressive, slow to get noticed
Has scheme flexible traits to play inside and out Needs to dominate at times when he just coasts
Long arms allow him to extend and keep blockers off Struggles to extend when blockers get a hold of him
Good change of direction and quickness Slow to shed his blocks
Great short area burst Sidelined three seasons with MCL injury
Core strength outstanding
Impressive lateral quickness and range

Cowboys fit: Well, Hand is going to be considered by many teams as an edge rusher or end in a 3-4 scheme, he has that versatility and is the fastest guy on this list. He possesses great length, burst, change of direction, lateral quickness, and that core strength is stunning. Unlike some guys in this exercise, Hand is about as pro-ready as they get but his production level was questionable because he spent three seasons sidelined at various times with MCL injuries.

Deadrin Senat, South Florida

Positives Negatives
Initial commitment to FSU Lack of length could hinder him some
Squatty frame packed with muscle Needs to stay out of traffic
Sturdiness/ balance, real hard to move this man Struggles with the wash blocks
Keeps his hips under himself consistently Need to see more disruption at the snap
Fast-twitch hands with startling punch Not a terribly effective pass rusher
Doesn't waste motion, good two-gap ability
Motor is outstanding, keeps coming with multiple levels

Cowboys fit: Production is not an issue with one of my favorite 1-tech prospects in this class. Senat doesn’t have the length that teams desire but he’s built out his body for the NFL and has defined musculature. What he does better than any other prospect is consistently keep his hips under him and pad level correct. It allows him to keep his balance which makes him almost immovable for guards in the run game.

He’s got multiple gears in his motor with quick-twitch ability. We hear that the Cowboys like him quite a bit but he doesn’t offer up much as a pass rusher. Still, as I’ve said about him multiple times, there’s nothing wrong with getting a guy like Senat to do the heavy-lifting against the run.

Trenton Thompson, Georgia

Positives Negatives
Keeps himself low out of his stance Played hurt for most of his collegiate career
Uses good leverage at attack point Played in only 35% of the snaps
Good 3-tech with lower body power and torque Steep injury history
Keeps a wide and sturdy base Gets trapped behind blocks on lateral runs
Big, athletic, rangy, and disruptive Struggles to keep pads squared up
Held his own against top guards and tackles Flashes but doesn't consistently impose his will on people
Great hustle, excellent toughness, relentless motor

Cowboys fit: He’s the quintessential 3-tech prospect with good agility, the desired motor, and great hustle to his game. Thompson was impressive when he went up against top Notre Dame linemen prospects such as Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey, winning his fair share of the battles. He’s rangy, athletic, and disruptive but he’s got an extensive injury history that needs evaluation. The good news is that he was known to play through lots of stuff but the bad news is that he only played a limited number of the snaps. It’s admirable to play hurt for the majority of your career but it limited his effectiveness.

Derrick Nnadi, Florida State

Positives Negatives
Robust build, big backside Slightly undersized for NFL though he has mass
Keeps low center of gravity at all times Can get outmuscled against wide lineman
Outstanding play strength, weight room kid Must win early to stay ahead
Great snap quickness, attacks the two-gaps Room to improve quickness and diagnosing skills
Great vision, eyes peeled for ball carrier Can lose ground against double teams at times
Lateral agility is solid, plays with good leverage Pass rush loses momentum if guards give him the stiff punch
Very productive, hard to find bad tape

Cowboys fit: Nnadi is one of those guys that makes it hard to find his flaws because he’s super strong, athletic, had outstanding production, and has above average lateral quickness. Though he’s built like a brick house, he is still somewhat undersized by NFL standards. It shows when he takes on wider linemen that can bully him a little bit. There is a lot of room to grow with this prospect but Dallas may want their 1-tech to do a better job at handling double teams, Nnadi will have to improve those balance issues.

Tim Settle, Virginia Tech

Positives Negatives
Challenged to improve conditioning and didn’t disappoint Wears a little too much jiggle in the midsection
Thick and broad, rare agility for his size Needs to stay motivated in conditioning
Built low to the ground and plays with infectious energy Frenetic play style takes him off balance
Explodes off the ball and can be destructive to opponent Over extends with little experience (23 games)
Power in his upper body, plays with great pursuit Inconsistent hand usage and needs improvement on technique
Early winner, good pad level, penetrates the two gap
Legitimate pocket destroyer

Cowboys fit: Here’s another favorite that we’ve mocked to the Cowboys once or twice. Settle was the catalyst for an impressive Hokie defense with his innate ability to crush pockets on quarterbacks. Settle’s energy level during games ignited the defense to keep attacking, he’s described as an infectious personality. For guy with his thick frame, he stays low showing rare agility and explosion. Though he made noticeable improvements to his conditioning, there is still concerns that he holds excess weight and could revert back. The Cowboys have one of the most serious conditioning programs in the league, he’ll have to keep motivated.

Late Round

Poona Ford, Texas

Positives Negatives
Good thickness and low center of gravity Much shorter than teams really prefer
Nice bend and flexible hips Needs hand placement improvement
Squatty frame with impressive arm length Struggles to pry himself off blocks at times
Decent lateral quickness can challenge reach blocks Loses track of the football getting caught behind
Sustained effort to make plays outside his area Pays too much attention to blocker instead of play development
Good upper body power and movement He must win with his power or he'll simply lose a lot
Extremely disruptive and productive player

Cowboys fit: Another pet cat around these parts who has some versatility to play both tackle spots. Ford was extremely productive at a major program despite him not having the desired body length. It’s because he’s got length in one key area, his arms. Ford has decent traits such as good lateral quickness, agility, flexibility, and great power. He still has a lot of room to grow but would be a solid late-round addition to the Cowboys defense.