The mark of a truly great defense is established up front, and every remarkable defense can attest to one common attribute — each was able to get to the quarterback. It’s an adage that’s percolated about football since the game’s invention: to win the battle in the trenches is to take advantage of the overall contest. More often than not, those who control the bout at the line of scrimmage are those who end up on top when the scoreboard’s clock reaches zero. And for Dallas, they’ve been searching for dominant line play for quite some time now.
2020 was absolutely abysmal from a containment standpoint, and the squad’s passing wounds were made even saltier by their porous performance in the running game. The one consistent constant: Demarcus Lawrence, who’s regarded by many as a top-10 (top five by some) pass rusher in the NFL. Lawrence has been causing QBs nightmares for quite a while now, but for the majority of his havoc-wreaking tenure, he’s been a solo soldier in his efforts.
Dallas has tried to provide their alpha tank with additional weaponry to help his cause. Robert Quinn collected 11.5 sacks in his singular year with Dallas before inking a massive five-year, $70-million contract with Chicago in 2020. Aldon Smith was excellent in his return to the league in his initial outings (which included a three-sack day against Russell Wilson) before a severe slowdown in production ended his Cowboys stint.
Then of course, there’s Randy Gregory, who, renowned for his rare physical attributes and skill, has not been able to stay on the field to show off those talents. Gregory is primed to make a monumental comeback in ‘21, but there’s another unheralded force on Dallas’ defensive line brigade who may provide an invaluable contribution to their defense next season.
Meet Bradlee Anae, the man who saw just six snaps under Mike Nolan’s helm last year, and yet still holds the potential to amply improve the overall group.
Slight false step to start but this is a beautiful rush by Bradlee Anae. Stab, chop, corner & flatten for the sack. Love the subtle dip of the inside shoulder after the chop to prevent 73 from recovering his hands. Also keeps inside toe pointed at the QB throughout the rush. pic.twitter.com/ni0PpV5auO— John Owning (@JohnOwning) February 24, 2020
Anae slid to the fifth round of last year’s draft, but it wasn’t due to a lack of production in college. He was ranked lower than some of his peers in testing metrics, and his arms measured out at a lowly 32 1/8-inches. But his in-game endeavors were wondrous: he dominated the Pac-12, cementing himself as the highest-rated pass-rusher (20% win-rate in 2019) in the conference, and recording the most pressures by far in his last two years.
Most QB pressures since 2019 (Pac-12):— PFF College (@PFF_College) December 18, 2020
1. Bradlee Anae - 61
2. Kayvon Thibodeaux - 51
2. Osa Odighizuwa - 51
4. Cameron Goode - 50 pic.twitter.com/agFzgE9WzX
He was a standout at the Senior Bowl as well, holding his own with the likes of Penei Sewell and Rashawn Slater. Anae performed notably in individual drills during his combine workout, and in training camp last season as well.
And in his six NFL snaps with Dallas, he registered a QB pressure and a knockdown. That’s pretty good.
Anae has the hand-fighting skills and technique of a polished vet, and although Mike Nolan shied away from using him, new faces in the coaching ranks could result in new opportunities apportioned to defensive players.
He’s played well at every level he’s been at up to this point. Of course, the NFL is an entirely different ballgame, and no practice quite compares to playing time itself. We’ll see if Anae is apportioned with more in 2021.