It took four years to do it, but DeMarcus Lawrence finally showed the world why the Dallas Cowboys traded up to select him in the early part of the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft. It’s been an up-and-down road for the team’s new All-Pro defensive end. He fractured his foot his rookie season, played in only seven games, and never had a sack. The following year, he was healthy and played in all 16 games. He flashed at times and recorded eight sacks on the season. In 2016, Lawrence not only missed the first four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, but he played with a lingering back injury and was essentially ineffective. He only had one sack. But last year, he finally broke onto the scene as he finished second in the league with 14.5 sacks. It was good enough to earn a $17 million payday for the upcoming 2018 season as the Cowboys slapped the franchise tag on him.
The emergence of Lawrence was such a revelation for this team who has tried all kinds of things in order to land a true edge rusher. Whether it’s questionable free agent signings or dice-roll draft picks, the team has come up empty in their quest for a true star on the edge, but the success of Lawrence finally gives them a reason to celebrate. All eyes will be on Tank as we wait anxiously to see if he can repeat his success and play at a high level in consecutive seasons.
But Lawrence won’t be the only defensive end that will have people’s eyes this year. In fact, there are a handful of guys that have the potential to make fans excited. The rise of Lawrence might only be the beginning.
The Suspended One
When it comes to raw talent, there might not be another defensive end on this roster that has the athletic upside as Randy Gregory. Some people forget that he would have been a top 10 pick had it not been for the drug issues he had at Nebraska. It was enough to cause every team to pass on him, and in most cases - twice, but the Cowboys took a chance when they selected him 60th overall in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Of course, all the reasons to be concerned about Gregory took very little time to manifest into what ended up being a suspension-filled career thus far. But this story is not over just yet and if he’s kicked the drug habit for good, then he suddenly becomes a very interesting player for this defense. How good will he be and how long will it take are two important questions that remain to be answered. If it ends up being good news, Gregory might help elevate this defensive line to a new level.
Red-flags in college and suspensions in the pros are two things that Gregory and Lawrence both share. Lawrence has gotten himself on track and is now seen as one of the leaders of this defense. If Gregory stays on a similar path, then maybe he can be the next Lawrence.
The Injured One
Similar to Gregory, Charles Tapper hasn’t been on the field much during his short NFL career. However, Tapper’s problem isn’t off-field issues, but rather “how to stay on the field” issues. The fourth-round pick from Oklahoma has had trouble staying healthy and it has made many wonder if he’s ever going to be able to help the team.
The good news is - Tapper is healthy now and he’s having a good training camp so there is this newfound sense of hope that maybe, just maybe - this could be the year for him. He’s extremely athletic and possesses the ability to be a force on the edge, but he’s just never stayed healthy enough to prove it. Will 2018 be the year things change for him?
Lawrence has battled injuries of his own which limited him in 2014 and in 2016. Being healthy made a world of difference and we have no idea if the same can be true for Tapper. If he can finally sustain some good luck in the health department, then maybe he can be the next Lawrence.
The Raw One
Ever since the departure of DeMarcus Ware, this team has been on the search for a perennial pass rusher. Going from one DeMarcus to another seemed serendipitous and the team loved Lawrence so much that they decided to trade away a third-rounder to move up to get him. And they followed him up with Gregory a year later who was a discounted draft grab due to his drug issues. But despite those second-round selections, it is Taco Charlton who is the teams highest defensive end draft investment in the Jason Garrett era. For years, the team always went a different direction due to how the talent fell in the draft. They were rewarded for not reaching with talented players on the offensive side, but year after year - it left a void at one of the game’s most vital positions. But in 2017, finally the stars aligned and a defensive end was taken on Day 1.
Of course, that didn’t mean that everyone welcomed the Charlton pick with open arms. And after an uneventful first season, people aren’t rushing out to buy his jersey. But that’s okay, this kid is still growing. He got better every year at Michigan and finally made noise in his last season. The Cowboys are hoping for a similar growth at the pro level because with his size, length, and freakish athletic traits - he could be a pass rushing specimen in the future.
Lawrence didn’t start off blowing everyone away either. It took him 10 regular season games before he recorded his first sack. Through his first 16 games, he had one sack less than Taco has. Pass rushers need time to develop and Tank was no different. If Charlton can show the same level of progression, then maybe he can be the next Lawrence.
The Forgotten One
The selection of Dorance Armstrong makes the fifth-straight draft the Cowboys have taken a defensive end - all of which have occurred in the first four rounds. Armstrong, however, is the lowest draft investment as he was taken with the 116th overall pick. Armstrong only had two sacks his final year at Kansas, he had a terrible combine, and the Jayhawks only won three games during his three seasons with the team. All these things factored into him sliding into Day 3 of the draft, but there are way too many things to like about him. For example - his 10 sacks the season prior, his length, his ability to bend around the edge, and his “right-kind-of-guy” attributes. They can all help max out his potential.
A scheme change hurt his numbers last year, but the Cowboys don’t care about that. Instead, they see a guy who checks off the boxes for what they are looking for in an edge rusher. In fact, his measurables are very similar to Tank’s.
Demarcus Lawrence vs Dorance Armstrong pic.twitter.com/5LAuOU6wS6— ✭ DCBlueStar ✭ (@DCBlueStar) April 29, 2018
If his play can bring out the same level of excitement as he did when the war room jumped in jubilation when he was still on the board, then maybe he can be the next Lawrence.
The great news is the Cowboys have all these guys on the roster and that’s a lot of chances at finding the next pass rushing star in Dallas. It’s just a matter of time.
Which one of these players has the best chance to be the Cowboys next best edge rusher?
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