The Cowboys are going to need to address the interior of this defensive line this offseason. Tyrone Crawford and Trysten Hill are the only players under contract for next year with any experience playing defensive tackle. With a pretty deep free agency class at the position, they may try to sign some immediate starters, but there are plenty of draft options as well.
Justin Madubuike is one very intriguing option.
Name: Justin Madubuike
School: Texas A&M
Weight: 293 lbs
2019 stat line: 12 games, 45 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 11.5 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble, 1 interception, 2 passes defensed
Combine results: 4.83 40-yard dash, 31 bench press reps, 7.37 3-cone drill
Born in McKinney, Texas and playing at Texas A&M, Madubuike is a hometown hero who just had a very encouraging combine performance. His 40-time ranked in the 96th percentile among defensive tackles since 1999, and his 3-cone time was the fastest of any defensive tackle the last two years, as Dallas Morning News’ John Owning pointed out.
This backs up what the tape shows about Madubuike. He shoots off the line of scrimmage like a bullet from a gun. His explosiveness off the snap is very impressive and it’s won him a lot of matchups in college. With 33 ½” arms and the strength that helped him put up 31 bench press reps (third most in his position group), Madubuike is a lot to handle at the point of attack.
Occasionally he doesn’t properly utilize his length or power, and he’ll have to get better at being more consistent there, but Madubuike is capable of fully extending his arms and initiating contact with thunderous power. He does a good job of converting his explosive first step into a strong punch, and when he gets his hands on the offensive lineman he usually gains solid control over them for the remainder of the rep.
Madubuike also flashes good lateral agility when he plays and his 3-cone performance (which was best among defensive tackles) reinforces that. Madubuike is capable of redirecting himself and tracking across the line of scrimmage, which makes him very capable when asked to stunt. Madubuike didn’t flash a deep toolbox of pass rush moves, but it could be due in part to how effective he was with the few he uses.
Because of his speed and power, Madubuike utilizes a pretty effective bull rush against linemen, especially smaller guards or centers. He’s also taken advantage of good hand placement to rip and dip against blockers, but other moves like spin, chop, and swim just aren’t a feature of his attack.
One of the things that makes Madubuike so appealing is that Texas A&M ran a variety of different fronts, so he’s got tape showing him in a bunch of different roles. It’s clear that he does best when attacking a single gap and penetrating upfield, and he’d be tailor-made for Rod Marinelli’s scheme as a prototypical 3 technique.
But Marinelli is gone and new defensive line coach Jim Tomsula is expected to incorporate more two-gap principles into the defense. Unfortunately, that’s Madubuike’s biggest weakness. On reps where he’s tasked with playing two gaps at a time, Madubuike is highly inconsistent; he doesn’t appear to have the anchor and core to effectively win these reps. He’s not completely inept, though, and might be able to hold up in limited two-gap responsibilities, but Madubuike is an upfield penetrator; asking him to two-gap too much is not playing to his strengths.
In a lot of ways, Madubuike reminds me of a prospect from last year, Renell Wren from Arizona State. Wren, like Madubuike, was a high-motor penetrator who was employed in a variety of ways in college; he had incredible athleticism that made him an ideal 3-technique tackle, but a lack of pass rush moves dropped him a bit.
I think Madubuike has higher draft stock than Wren, though, and the Cowboys could probably get him in the second round. He’d also be a great fit due to his growing up outside of Dallas, and new safeties coach Maurice Linguist was at Texas A&M the last two seasons, so there should be some familiarity. Madubuike would offer some great interior pass rush and could turn into a solid contributor right away, but his two-gap ability may prevent him from being an every down player.