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Cowboys 2018 draft: Why taking players for the trenches early makes sense

It’s the new NFL arms race, and Dallas needs to keep up.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Denver Broncos
The battle in the trenches may be the important one (they lost this one, by the way).
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 NFL Draft is slowly drawing closer. The Dallas Cowboys are hosting their 30 official visits and conducting the Dallas Days interviews as they prepare to build their draft board. Meanwhile, fans and writers alike are doing countless mock drafts to try and predict who might be selected to wear the Star this year. A couple of ideas that are being argued are:

  • There are a couple of really intriguing defensive tackles in Vita Vea and Da’Ron Payne that could really shore up the line on that side of the ball. But the Cowboys have had a marked aversion to taking DTs high in the draft.
  • Similarly, there are some good offensive guard prospects that could come in and be likely solutions to the problem of upgrading the LG position, but the team already has three first-round picks on the line, and many see that as not a wise distribution of draft capital this year.

But there is a good reason to keep both those options on the table for the Cowboys. There is something of an arms race going on concerning the pass rush. In the NFC East, two of the rivals have made some serious moves to upgrade their ability to get after the quarterback. The defending champion Philadelphia Eagles (wait a moment while I clean my keyboard with bleach after having to type that yet again) have signed DT Haloti Ngata and DE Michael Bennett in free agency (although they are now having to see what happens with the criminal charges against Bennett), plus re-signed OLB Nigel Bradham. And the New York Giants, while losing Jason Pierre-Paul, kept DE Kerry Wynn and picked up OLB Kareem Martin and DT Josh Mauro. And Washington picked up OLB Pernell McPhee as well.

It seems clear that there is a priority being placed on the pass rush. There are two ways the Cowboys can keep up. First, they can also fortify their own rush, which was the motivation behind putting the franchise tag on DeMarcus Lawrence and a second-round tender on David Irving. Second, they can address that guard position to better protect Dak Prescott as well as strengthen the run game which also helps keep the pressure off the QB.

With the continuing emphasis on the passing game in the NFL, that battle in the trenches is just growing in importance. That is why Dallas has to keep those positions in the mix in the first two days of the draft. And based on the names that have emerged for visits so far, they are. Reported to be coming in so far are DTs Vea, Payne, and Taven Bryan and OL James Daniels, plus OTs Kolton Miller, Connor Williams, and Desmond Harrison. (College OTs are often switched to guard, plus the team could move La’el Collins back inside and backfill RT with a rookie). According to the latest reports, G Will Hernandez is not a current invite, but that may not mean he is not being considered.

I’ve been promoting the idea of taking another O lineman for some time now, and have also put forth that the best value in the first two days of the draft for Dallas could well include a combination of an offensive and a defensive lineman.

The trends in the NFC East (not to mention the absolutely frightening pairing of Ndamukong Suh with Aaron Donald for the Los Angeles Rams) point towards using pass rush to counter the latest offensive schemes. That is not something the Cowboys can sit out and hope for the best. Failure to adapt and change just leads to more failure in the NFL.

And change may be something that is being embraced at the Star.

The Cowboys have already taken steps to improve offensively in free agency, adding a couple of wide receivers and three likely depth players on the O line. But they still need to figure out the starters on that line, plus you can never have too much pressure up front on defense. Given the value of positions like linebacker (down significantly in recent years) and the depth of the wide receiver class this year, the arguments in favor of getting those big battlers along the line of scrimmage early just keep getting better.

It is still a long way until names are sent up, but the signposts look clear.