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Did the Dallas Cowboys improve at defensive end in 2018?

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Taking a good look at every position on the roster and asking the question: Did the Cowboys improve?

NFL: Dallas Cowboys-Minicamp Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

[In this series, we’ll take a look at the additions and subtractions at every position on the Dallas Cowboys roster. We’ll compare where the Cowboys were to where they currently sit and ask the ultimate question. Did the Cowboys improve or not? In other words, do you feel better about the state of the roster going into the 2018 season?]

Last season:

DeMarcus Lawrence - 16 games played, 35 tackles, 14.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, two recoveries, one pass deflection, Pro Bowl selection

Tyrone Crawford - 16 games played, 18 tackles, four sacks, two pass deflections, one forced fumble, one recovery

Taco Charlton - drafted 28th overall, 16 games played, 15 tackles, three sacks, one forced fumble, one pass deflection

Benson Mayowa - 14 games played, 13 tackles, one sack, signed with Cardinals in free agency

Charles Tapper - Two games played, two tackles, one sack, placed on IR in October

Damontre Moore - signed as free agent, three games played, three tackles, released in October

Randy Gregory - suspended indefinitely for violations of substance abuse policy

This season:

DeMarcus Lawrence

Tyrone Crawford

Taco Charlton

Charles Tapper

Randy Gregory - working towards reinstatement with NFL

Kony Ealy - signed one-year, $1.25 million deal in free agency, 2017 stats (Jets): 15 games, four starts, 11 tackles, one sack, one interception

Dorance Armstrong - drafted 116th overall (4th round), College stats: three seasons at Kansas, 142 tackles, 34.5 TFL’s, 15.5 sacks, eight pass deflections, six forced fumbles, three recoveries

Austin Larkin - UDFA Purdue, College stats: two seasons, 42 tackles, 4.5 TFL’s, 2.5 sacks, one forced fumble

James Hearns - UDFA Louisville, College stats: four seasons, 101 tackles, 28 TFL’s, 17.5 sacks, nine forced fumbles, two recoveries, five pass deflections

Almost every player on the defensive line plays both inside and out but we’ll stick with these names as the ends. The Cowboys placed the franchise tag on Tank Lawrence and if he’s able to be anything close to last year, they seem to have found a dominant rusher from the left end spot. Lawrence has been a low-key vocal leader on a young defense this season. Everyone always knew the talent would prevail as long as Lawrence could stay on the field. His outstanding 2017 season was proof that he can be the guy that keeps offensive coordinators up at night.

Tyrone Crawford gets a bad rap for being overpaid as a defensive tackle then moved outside due to dwindling numbers. Still, Crawford plays through all sorts of injuries and has been one of the better run defenders on the roster. He’s not the ideal speed rushing right end that Rod Marinelli would typically have but that’s of no fault to Crawford, who has just done everything they have asked of him.

Taco Charlton struggled in his rookie season as most rookie pass rushers do. However, Charlton started to come on much stronger from week eight on, notching three sacks and 11 of his 15 tackles. He’s going to get more playing time this season but he also fits more of a left end guy that kicks inside on pass rushing downs. Charles Tapper is the ultimate unknown as he has that speed that few can match off the edge. Unfortunately, that speed is seldom seen as he can’t stay out of the training room with various injuries derailing his progress.

We know that Randy Gregory is working towards reinstatement after meeting with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Gregory is a wildcard in the defensive end room because he’s the epitome of what Marinelli wants as a speed-rushing right end but he’s got a long road ahead if reinstated. Kony Ealy adds a veteran presence that has shown decent flashes in his past, most notably in a Super Bowl performance where he notched three sacks, four tackles, and picked off Peyton Manning. Ealy is someone the Cowboys really liked coming out of college and could finally be in the right room to succeed.

The Cowboys almost traded back into the third round to select Dorance Armstrong but when his name was called in the fourth, it sent many draftniks back to their books. Armstrong played at Kansas, which is the picked on little brother in the BIG 12. There aren’t many folks outside of the city of Lawrence lining up to watch them play football. Armstrong was a standout performer on a bad team. His best season was 2016 when he started all 12 games at defensive end and was allowed to get after the passer. Armstrong recorded 56 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, three forced fumbles, and two recoveries. Dorance is the only player to ever get a sack on fellow Cowboy Connor Williams. He also has the makeup of a typical right defensive end.

Larkin and Hearns will see an uphill battle to make the roster especially if someone like Gregory enters the fray. Larkin spent a season at Notre Dame before transferring so he could play at Purdue. Hearns has the better résumé, having played at Louisville, and playing quite well too. If either of these guys have a little something, Marinelli will certainly find it.

Conclusion: I’ll argue the point that this position is looking better than it has in recent years. Once you find a double-digit sack artist, you can build around that with guys that have different skill sets to win their one-on-ones. Charlton should only get better in his second year and if you add Gregory, look out! What really impresses are the moves the Cowboys made to get a 4-3 end in Ealy back in the right scheme. Also, drafting a guy like Armstrong wasn’t necessary but it was smart on their part to keep adding to the arsenal. The Cowboys added talent and created a good problem for themselves called competition. Suddenly, this position looks very formidable.

Poll

Did the Cowboys improve at defensive end in 2018?

This poll is closed

  • 91%
    Yes
    (1524 votes)
  • 2%
    No
    (45 votes)
  • 5%
    Indifferent
    (88 votes)
1657 votes total Vote Now