It seems like every year the Dallas Cowboys go into the draft needing an upgrade at defensive tackle. And every year they leave fans disappointed as the team just hasn’t invested premium draft resources on the position. As a result, the team usually just makes the best of it. For example, here are the team’s starting defensive tackles over the past four seasons:
As you can see, there are no premium draft pick investments here. All of these starters have been selected in the third round or later, with half of them being taken late or having gone undrafted.
Things aren’t likely to change unless the team surprises everyone and uses their top draft resource, the 58th overall pick, on a defensive tackle. While that’s not likely to happen, it doesn’t mean the team won’t address the position later in the draft; maybe as early as the third round? Both of last year’s starters, Maliek Collins and Antwaun Woods, are in the last year of their contract and recently signed free agent Christian Covington is only playing on a one-year deal. The team needs to get some new bodies in camp and it needs to happen soon.
Jerry Tillery, Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish defensive star is one of my favorite players from this year’s draft class. While I have him going in the first round, you never know exactly how the landscape of the draft will play out and Tillery is a name that shows up a lot in the second round of mock drafts. His length and athleticism make him a force in the middle. He gets off the ball fast and does a great job keeping leverage, especially for a guy who stands 6’6”. Tillery does come with a little risk that could help him slide as he’s had some issues with his coaches in the past. He can stand to be more consistent in his play and work on sustaining better effort, but if these things come together - he could end up being a special player.
In reality, he’ll likely be long gone before the team is on the clock, but he’s worth mentioning just in case he slides within striking distance for the Cowboys to make a trade. While I’m not in favor of giving up a third-rounder to move up, I have no qualms about packaging a fourth-rounder if he falls into the 50’s.
Gerald Willis, Miami
The Cowboys love to steal guys who fall down the draft due to some type of red flag. They’ve rolled the dice on players like Randy Gregory and Jaylon Smith, who each had a different type of risk associated with them. But both those guys had characters that the front office bought into where they felt they could maximize their risk. Miami defensive tackle Gerald Willis might be a different story.
Willis had issues at the University of Florida, leading to his transfer. He had to take a leave of absence when he played in Miami so problems persisted. So, why would the Cowboy be interested in a guy like this? Well, he may have turned a corner as he’s stacked a couple good seasons on top of each other and suddenly coaches are singing a different tune. He visited with the Cowboys and how that meeting went will speak volumes in determining his chances to wear the star. Willis has great burst and good lateral agility. And he has a couple powerful pass-rushing moves that has made him look outstanding at times. It’s just a matter of whether coaches can train him to be more consistent and turn this guy into the beast he is capable of becoming.
Trystan Hill, Central Florida
Hill flies off the snap and displays great power to maul through blockers. When he’s able to stay low he sustains good leverage to move a crowd, but he’s wildly inconsistent and often times becomes too upright. When that happens, he can be thrown around. The effort is ultra-high with Hill, but there is so much about his technique that is raw and requires development. His hands are active, but again - not a lot of purpose to his actions. His short area burst will have great appeal to shoot the gap, but it’s going to take some coaching before he can contribute on a regular basis.
We’ve seen him mocked to the Cowboys in the third at times and there’s a lot to love about what he can eventually become, but he’s still a work in progress. Pick 90 seems too early as there should be more seasoned players from other positions available to choose from, but once we hit round four - Hill becomes a smart investment.
Daniel Wise, Kansas
Wise isn’t a great athlete, but he shows up on tape. He has a great first step and is able to play with good pad level. He uses his hands well and offers an assortment of pass rushing moves. Wise is relentless and keeps churning away. He picks up on the movement of his blockers and is able to find creases. He can be overpowered at times, but has found plenty of success shooting the gaps. The combine exposed why he’ll never be a star in this league, but the film shows that he is capable of being a solid rotation piece to the interior defensive line. Wise should fall out of the top 100, but his skills make him an appealing add on Day 3 for a team looking for help at defensive tackle.
Kingsley Keke, Texas A&M
Keke is an impressive athlete and is capable of playing inside and out on the edge, but the Cowboys would turn to him as a pass-rushing interior linemen. He demonstrates an arsenal of pass rushing moves and has a long wingspan to fight blockers. Keke has great bend and does a good job getting around people, but he plays too upright and will get dislodged when caught. He doesn’t have the strength to fend off double teams. His hand technique needs work and he lacks power in his legs so there are limitations to his game, but the athleticism is something a good coaching staff might be able to mold into a strong contributor at the NFL level.