It’s taken a while, but the Dallas Cowboys have themselves an imposing group of pass rushers. For years, this has been a unit that has been holding the team back and the front office has tried to upgrade the position with several premium draft resources. Unfortunately, extenuating circumstances have limited the effectiveness of the team’s pass rushing investments. Whether it’s from drug suspensions or injuries, the young talent the Cowboys have acquired over the years haven’t been able to put it all together on the football field.
But that’s all about to change now.
Everything seems to be coming together at once for the Cowboys as they have all their top draft resources available and ready to go. Last season, the team finished in the middle of the pack with 38 sacks, and a big reason for that was the breakout season from DeMarcus Lawrence. The Cowboys placed the franchise tag on Lawrence this year as they try to sort out their long-term plans on the defensive line. Joining Lawrence will be last year’s first-round draft pick, Taco Charlton, who will be looking to build on an unimpressive rookie season. But one of the biggest reasons for excitement is the return of Randy Gregory. He’s back and he’s ready.
So, with all the team’s pass rushing assets this year, which one of them will lead the team in sacks?
Draft: 34th overall (2014)
Career high in sacks: 14.5 (2017)
Why wouldn’t last year’s team leader in sacks be at the top of this list? Lawrence is going to have a good season as long as he can stay healthy. Injuries have held him back in two of his four years in the league and hopefully he can put those things behind him and show the league that he belongs with the games elite pass rushers. Last year, Lawrence was in a contract year and he balled out. Well, this year is no different. Sure, he has a fat wallet from the $17 million in franchise cash, but he’ll be looking to earn a bigger payday in the offseason of 2019.
Nobody in the league had more yards lost from sacks than Lawrence did last season. He was an impact player for this defense and there is no reason to believe that impact won’t still be felt. And who knows, maybe with a strong supporting cast, it might make things a little easier to win his match-ups. Tank is aware that he’ll have help this year on the defensive line, but he has a message for his teammates when it comes to getting to the quarterback:
DeMarcus Lawrence asked about the ceiling for him and Randy Gregory rushing the passer from opposite ends: "He better get there faster. Tell him that."— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) August 24, 2018
Prediction: 12.5 sacks. It won’t be the step forward many are hoping for, but he’ll prove that he’s a valuable asset on the defensive line and sack totals won’t be the only measure of that.
Draft: 28th overall (2017)
Career high in sacks: 3 (2017)
With all the other new pass rushing toys added to the mix, it’s easy to forget about Taco. With Gregory back and the nice camp of rookie Dorance Armstrong, some aren’t giving much thought to the Cowboys first-round draft pick from a year ago. But I would advise against that as Charlton could show some sizable growth during year two.
Taco looked great in camp and during preseason action. Not only was he using those long arms to bat away blockers on the line, but he was playing with a lot of energy and could always be found around the ball. His snaps may be fewer at first as he gradually shows that he belongs on the football field, but look for him to be one of the team’s top pass rushers by the end of the season.
Prediction: 9 sacks. One a sack per snap basis, nobody will be more effective than Charlton this season.
Draft: 60th overall (2015)
Career high in sacks: 1 (2016)
People are tempering their excitement for the return of Randy Gregory, but sometimes that’s hard to do when we get a glimpse of his raw ability. The coaching staff had planned on easing him back into action slowly, but he’s been able to pass every field test thrown his way. Gregory now could see regular time as the teams right defensive end opposite Lawrence.
While I am just as excited about Gregory as the next guy, I’m going to go on the conservative time and account for some hiccups during his return season. He’s missed a lot of football and he there could be some adverse effects from his time away. Maybe he gets nicked up a bit? Maybe his other responsibilities complying with the drug program pulls him away from the team some? I would welcome a full season with open arms, but I’m cautious about it.
Prediction: 7 sacks. He’ll flash at times, but then disappear others. He’ll get better with time, but we have to remember that he’s still very inexperienced in the NFL.
Career high in sacks: 7 (2017)
How bad does he want it? That is really the only question when it comes to David Irving. We all know how talented this kid is when he’s on the football field. Despite playing in just half the games last season, he was an absolute beast and recorded a season-high seven sacks. If you extrapolate that out over a full season, he’s right there with Tank in sack totals and we’d be talking about his breakout season too.
Unfortunately, that’s a big “if” the Cowboys can’t rely on, which is why he only received a second-round tender during the offseason. Irving was suspended the first four games last season and he’ll be suspended the first four games this season. He wasn’t around during camp as he is dealing with personal problems. He’s still a part of the team and the best we know - he’ll be back in action in week 5. What should we expect when he returns?
Prediction: 3 sacks. I’ve lost all faith in Irving. I wouldn’t be surprised if more drama surfaces and he doesn’t play in all of the 12 remaining games. It could be time to move on from this wild-card pass rusher.
Who will lead the Cowboys in sacks in 2018?
This poll is closed