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Six way-too-early predictions for the Dallas Cowboys defense in 2018

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Let’s have a little fun before everything starts to count for real.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Dallas Cowboys Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys are expecting their young defense to take another step this season and they have made some investments this offseason to ensure some improvement. It’s a defense that has been quite a few years in the making but we’re starting to see some solid returns. Well, we made six predictions for the offense so we might as well give the defense some love too.

Cowboys defense will produce 50 total sacks

The Cowboys have seen incremental improvements in sacks over the past few seasons but there’s going to be a huge jump in 2018. The Cowboys defensive line is about as deep as it’s been in a while and has the ability to get even deeper if the NFL decides to reinstate Randy Gregory. We’re going to see the Cowboys get a little creative on defense under Kris Richard and they have the athletes to make this a reality. For the sake of this prediction, we’ll keep Gregory out of it but here’s how the sacks will stack up:

Position Player Sacks
DL DeMarcus Lawrence 13
David Irving 8
Maliek Collins 6
Taco Charlton 6
Tyrone Crawford 4
Kony Ealy 1
Dorance Armstrong 1
Brian Price 1
Jihad Ward 1
LB Jaylon Smith 5
Sean Lee 1
DB Chidobe Awuzie 1
Jourdan Lewis 1
Kavon Frazier 1
Total 50

Kris Richard will lead Cowboys secondary to Top-10 finish in three categories

Last season the Cowboys gave up 214 passing yards per game on average which ranked them 11th in the league. Richard’s hiring was dubbed the biggest acquisition of the offseason by defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. It didn’t take long before he started putting his stamp on the defense by moving Byron Jones to cornerback and being an influential voice on drafting linebacker Leighton Vander Esch. Though some UDFA talents were added, the Cowboys didn’t draft any defensive backs after using four picks on the position in 2017. Richard has been pretty confident in his young group and the Cowboys are equally confident that he’s the guy that will vault this defense to new heights.

Prediction: Secondary will rank Top-5 in completions percentage at 57.6%, Top-8 in passing yards at 211.2 yards per game, Top-10 in passing touchdowns allowed with 21.

Byron Jones will lead the defense in interceptions

Jeff Heath’s reign as the defending interceptions leader will be broken this season. Jones moving to corner will be one that pays off. His athleticism and ability to keep close with receivers is going to be hard for offenses to combat. This will be the year where the Cowboys finally realize that his spot has been cornerback all along. Will he be a shutdown cornerback? Probably not right off the bat as he’ll be getting used to playing the position under Richard. However, he’s going to have his career-best season in takeaways as his stickiness in man coverage and length will allow him to play the aggressive style Richard wants.

Prediction: Jones will have five interceptions, two more than the previous leader and Byron will return one for six points.

Charles Tapper will not make the cut

Tapper was a pet cat for many at one point but he hasn’t been able to reach his potential due to injuries. Tapper was able to play in one game last season and actually sacked Eli Manning before he left the game injured. He would eventually be placed on IR ending his season in October. Tapper has a lot of traits including impressive agility and speed but making the final roster is going to be too tall a task for him. He will first have to beat out Kony Ealy which is going to be difficult to do. Even though Dallas will likely keep 10 guys, they will end up keeping a defensive tackle over another end.

Taco Charlton will take over at right defensive end halfway through the season

While Charlton has plenty of residual haters out there, he’s going to quiet a few of them in his second year. He’s been working very hard this offseason to improve his technique as well as his grasp of the defense. He’s a very willing learner and has taken well to his offseason work with a pass rush specialist. Even guys like DeMarcus Lawrence believe he’s on his way to a big year. Though Tyrone Crawford will begin the year as the starting right end, he won’t keep that spot. Charlton struggled to start his rookie campaign but played much better toward the end racking up 14 tackles, three sacks, and a forced fumble in the second half of the season. Though the Cowboys use a rotation, by the end of the season, expect Charlton to get the starting reps with Crawford subbing in after.

Prediction: Charlton will start the final eight games at right end, totaling 30 combined tackles, seven for loss, and doubling his sack total to six for the year.

One of the two starting safeties isn’t on the roster yet

The Cowboys really like Xavier Woods and Jeff Heath but admitted that they feel like they still needed to do something at safety. Though they don’t seem to be in any hurry to make a move right now, it doesn’t mean that they won’t. Safety was the one position that Stephen Jones mentioned after the draft as a spot that they felt they needed to address but didn’t. The free agent market at safety has been at a standstill but it still has options out there that are interesting.

The Cowboys have said they weren’t too interested in guys like Tre Boston or Kenny Vaccaro about a month ago but things can change. Eric Reid is another safety still on the market but the Cowboys haven’t expressed interest in him either. Of course, everyone will monitor the Earl Thomas holdout with the Seahawks. One way or another, the Cowboys are going to bring in another safety and it’s going to be someone they feel comfortable could start. One of the two, either Woods or Heath will start a one safety spot but not both.