Works in progress: A closer look at Cowboys’ most intriguing developmental projects on defense - John Owning, Dallas Morning News
The Cowboys are hoping some of these project players will bloom in 2021.
As a late-round pick, it’s obvious Bohanna needs development, or he would have been selected much sooner. At 6-foot-4 and 327 pounds, he’s already a wide-bodied nose tackle who can clog interior run lanes and occupy doubles. In addition, he possesses notable quickness and movement fluidity that enabled him to make a play or two himself while at Kentucky. However, in the NFL, Bohanna is going to need to become much more consistent reading blocks, playing with the proper pad level snap-to-snap and using his hands to control blockers in the trenches if he’s to become the answer for Dallas’ nose tackle woes in recent years. Bohanna was brought in to help fortify Dallas’ interior run defense, but that’s going to be difficult without notable improvement in those areas.
In addition, Bohanna’s pass-rush ability needs development as well. While the Cowboys are never going to rely on a 320-plus pound nose tackle to be an impact pass rusher, it would help Bohanna see the field much more often if he can at least get to a point where he can consistently push the pocket, so that quarterbacks can’t step up, making them easy prey for Dallas’ venomous edge rushers.
On a normal team, Bohanna would likely sit for most of his rookie year to give him time to develop and get accustomed to the NFL. Since Bohanna is the only “true” nose tackle on the roster, however, he’s likely to be thrust into action earlier.
A look at the Cowboys offense and how it will be different than last season.
Better, worse or the same: It’s the same with a chance to be better, depending on the return to health of Tyron Smith, Collins and Martin.
Smith played in two games because of neck surgery last season. The left tackle has not played a full season since 2015, but the Cowboys’ hope is the surgery will fix what had been a recurring problem. Collins did not play at all in 2020 because of hip surgery. Martin missed six games last season because of a concussion and a calf injury.
If they are right, then the Cowboys should be right. If not, then the hope is the players who gained experience a year ago — McGovern, Steele and Knight — are not as green and can play better.
Biadasz, a center, performed decently in his four starts before a hamstring injury halted his development. He needs to show he can handle a 16-game season and make the necessary checks at the line. Having Smith, Martin and Collins should help him with that.
Taking a look around the rest of the division to see how they stack up with the Cowboys.
New York Giants. The Giants might be poised to take a leap forward with former New England Patriots protégé Joe Judge in his second season as coach and Daniel Jones surrounded by intriguing-when-healthy offensive weapons. Saqoun Barkley’s return, coupled with the signing of WR Kenny Golladay and the draft bringing Kadarius Toney in the first-round, could make the Giants a more dangerous team. The Giants also have a good defense, ranked 12th in the NFL last season. The unit got better with the addition of Adoree’ Jackson to team up with James Bradberry at CB to make one of the better duos in the league. The selection of DE Azeez Ojulari in the draft should boost their defense as well.
Could the Giants be crippled, ironically, by former Jason Garrett? The former Cowboys coach isn’t known for his creativity and the offensive line remains a suspect group. As it usually does, the Giants’ success will come down to Jones at QB. If he makes significant leap, New York will be a tough team to dismiss.
The third-year defensive tackle has some work to do to solidify his spot on the defense.
2020 started off somewhat promising for Trysten Hill. After basically redshirting his rookie season, Hill got a fresh start under new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. Hill, for his part, was showing some of the skills that made him the Cowboys second round pick in 2019. Hill showed burst and penetration off of the line of scrimmage. He showed a really strong effort as well, chasing plays from behind and stringing ball carriers toward the sideline.
It was encouraging to see him making plays in the backfield and providing pressure as a pass rusher even if it wasn’t great play consistently. The Cowboys were getting something out of him. Then the injury bug hit and Hill was lost for the season. Like Dak Prescott, Hill was injured in the week five game against the New York Giants. Through those five games, Hill had nine total pressures and seven “stops” per Pro Football Focus.
For perspective, Hill’s nine pressures were tied for 26th in the NFL. Not great, but tied with the Giants Leonard Williams, San Francisco’s Javon Kinlaw, and Tampa Bay’s Ndamukong Suh.
Taking a look back at the 2018 draft class and seeing how they grade out.
I'm a firm believer that you can't grade a draft until three years after the fact. So how would you grade the Cowboys 2018 class? — TANNER CARLSON / SAN ANTONIO, TX
Rob: Overall it's been pretty strong. Six of nine draft picks have earned regular roles on offense/defense and/or special teams: Leighton Vander Esch, Connor Williams, Michael Gallup, Dorance Armstrong, Dalton Schultz and Cedrick Wilson. Vander Esch, Williams and Gallup have been starters every year when healthy and Schultz proved he can be a quality starter last year. Obviously it's uncertain who will stay beyond 2021, and Vander Esch is probably the biggest question mark because he's the first-round pick without a fifth-year option. But I wouldn't rule out a new deal at some point.
David: I'd put it in the B+ range. That draft class provided three multi-year starters in Leighton Vander Esch, Connor Williams and Michael Gallup, while Dalton Schultz emerged as a capable starter in his third season. Throw in two decent contributors in Dorance Armstrong and Cedrick Wilson, and that's a rock-solid draft class. I just can't give them an A because of the uncertainty surrounding Vander Esch. He played at an All-Pro level as a rookie, but he hasn't been able to build on that fast start. When you don't pick up the fifth-year option on a top-20 pick, you have to admit it's a bit of a disappointment.
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