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Cowboys defense: One dark-horse candidate at each position who could move up the depth chart

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Which players do you expect to make a rise up the depth chart?

Detroit Lions v Green Bay Packers Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Training camp battles are fun to watch and there will be no shortage of matchups for the Dallas Cowboys that will command our attention during camp. With new football action ahead of us, new thoughts will be formed so this is the last attempt at pinpointing some of the under-the-radar guys before answers are gradually revealed. Recently, we went through the offensive positions and identified one depth guy that I was higher on than the average bear. In this piece, we take a look at the defensive side of the ball.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Instead of Charles Tapper... Kony Ealy

Usually, I’m in favor of the younger unproven Cowboys draft pick over the recently added free agent acquired to bridge the gap, but this is not one of those instances. With roster spots limited, the team needs to have reliable depth edge rusher on the roster and that is exactly what Kony Ealy gives them. But the same cannot be said for Charles Tapper. While his athleticism has made him an appealing candidate at defensive end, he hasn’t been able to stay healthy in each of his first two seasons with the Cowboys.

But what if Tapper has a tremendous showing in camp? Then what? That would certainly throw a wrench into things, but it’s still hard to cut someone else with that unsettling feeling that Tapper won’t make it through the season healthy.

Reasons to love Ealy: Reliability. When the defensive line position group has been through so many ordeals that have rendered players unavailable, you have to value certain players who can be relied on. Ealy is that type of player.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

Instead of Jihad Ward... Datone Jones

Jihad Ward is an intriguing new guy and he did impress in camp early on. If he starts to look like what the Oakland Raiders thought they were getting when they drafted him in the second round in 2016, then he’s definitely going to be a big addition to the Cowboys defensive line. And his job looks very safe in comparison to my pet cat, Datone Jones.

Jones is a player that gets lost in the shuffle. He hasn’t lived up to his draft price when he was taken by the Green Bay Packers in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. With star defensive tackle Mike Daniels manning the inside, Jones got pushed to the edge where he never found his niche. But he possesses all the traits that Rod Marinelli looks for in his defensive tackles. He fires off the snap and gets great push up front, but more than that, he shows great discipline to stay with his assignment to confine the running lanes.

Reasons to love Jones: He only played in four games for the Cowboys last year, but they were very productive snaps. In fact, only David Irving and DeMarcus Lawrence had a better disruption per snap percentage. It makes you want to see where this goes.

LINEBACKER

Instead of Justin March-Lillard... Chris Covington

Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, and rookie Leighton Vander Esch make up the core strength of the Cowboys linebacker group, but when it comes to depth - the rest is pretty even. Damien Wilson appears to be next in line as he’s played three seasons with the team already. And Joe Thomas’ experience and ability in coverage adds to his value to the group. But after those five, then what?

It looks to be a two-man battle between journeyman Justin March-Lillard and rookie Chris Covington. On the surface, March-Lillard has the edge for a couple reasons. First, he’s been impressive so far in what action we’ve seen in camp. He’s certainly off to a good start. Second, the knock on Covington is that he’s still relatively new to the position as 2017 was his only collegiate season where he was a starter. He’s got development guy written all over him and people are ready to assign him to the practice squad.

Reasons to love Covington: Sure, he’s still learning, but last year he had 12 tackles for a loss and started to get a real feel for the position. With only limited snaps as a backup and special teams duty available, it makes more sense to go with the upside youngster.

TRADE WATCH: It’s very possible the Cowboys have a surplus of depth at the linebacker position and try to ship someone off in exchange for a late-round draft pick. With Wilson on the last leg of his rookie contract and not-so-optimistic future in Dallas, he could be a potential trade target for a team in need of linebacker depth.

CORNERBACK

Instead of Marquez White... Duke Thomas

The size of second-year corner Marquez White makes him an appealing choice after the team brought over new defensive backs/passing coordinator Kris Richard to help the defense. But size alone won’t cut it. The proof is in the pudding or in this case - on the field. And when it comes to on field performance, it’s going to be hard to beat out Duke Thomas. If last year was any indication, Thomas has the edge as he was on his way to making the team before injuring his leg and being placed on injured reserve last season. Despite the window of opportunity, White was not ready for the NFL and spent last year on the practice squad.

Reasons to love Thomas: He just has a good sense for the ball and reacts to plays well. Should the Cowboys ever get stretched so thin at CB to where his services were called upon, he’s the better bet to make the play. Thomas is one of those players who shows up on tape and those type of guys usually end up with jobs in September.

SAFETY

Instead of Earl Thomas... Xavier Woods

Okay, first off - Earl Thomas isn’t even on the Cowboys roster so why is he even mentioned? And secondly, what sane person in their right mind wouldn’t want ET over Woods? Fair enough. You made some good points, but this isn’t a straight-up comparison. We all know that if the Cowboys were to pull off a trade for Thomas it would come with a price. Not only draft capital, but some salary cap allocation for years to come. And while it’s still tempting to bring over the All-Pro stud to the Cowboys, the team really likes what they have in Xavier Woods.

Woods is very instinctive and has a history of picking off passes. He drives quickly once the quarterback starts his throwing motion and has excellent ball skills. Woods continues to improve and many are excited to see him in his first year as the team’s starting free safety.

Reasons to love Woods: He’s a playmaker. Woods style is a little more aggressive than some would like, but it’s going to produce some big plays for the defense. You combine his ball-hawker prowess with Richard’s gambling nature and you might see some madness added to the Cowboys secondary. Hopefully, more good that bad.


Which position groups do you agree with? Or maybe you have your own dark-horse player that should be ahead of both of them? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.