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How Johnathan Hankins will do the heavy lifting to help strengthen the Cowboys run defense

Just how will this 340-pound new addition help the Cowboys football team?

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Las Vegas Raiders Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys did it. They made themselves a trade. For a brief moment, the “we like our own guys” front office decided to deviate from their playbook and like someone else’s guy. On Tuesday, the Cowboys sent their 2023 sixth-round pick to the Las Vegas Raiders for the 10-year veteran defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins. The Cowboys will also receive the Raiders' 2024 seventh-round pick as part of the deal.

The Cowboys are looking to strengthen their run defense. During the Jason Garrett era since 2014, the Cowboys have been pretty solid for the most part at stopping the run. It was one of Garrett’s staples. They even finished inside the top 10 a couple of times during that span. But stopping the run has been a struggle for Mike McCarthy’s squad, starting with a laughable run defense during the 2020 season under defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. Things are getting progressively better thanks to Dan Quinn, but as you can see, it’s still a weak spot on this very good Cowboys defense. They are currently ranked 17th in the league allowing 4.4 yards per attempt.

One thing that has been missing on defense is a mammoth run-stopping defensive tackle and that is what they got in Johnathan Hankins. Cowboys fans should be able to remember how disruptive he was back during the Tony Romo days as Hankins was constantly in the backfield as a member of the New York Giants. A second-round pick in 2013, Hankins played out his rookie deal with New York before leaving for big money to join the Indianapolis Colts in 2017. He has spent the last five seasons with the Raiders.

Hankins was an absolute beast back in his younger days. He even had seven sacks in 2014. While his days of dominating the interior defensive line have passed, he brings a much-needed big presence to this Cowboys defense.

There are all types of flavors of defensive tackles in this league. Some are chasers, some are block absorbers, and some are athletic freaks who can get to the quarterback in a hurry. Hankins is none of those things. He’s a flytrap.

What you’ll get from Hankins is a gradual pusher who snatches anything within reach. He’s mostly just going to camp at the line of scrimmage. You’re not pushing him forward, and he’s not bursting through blockers. He’s just a guy that is going to hold his ground and force the action to move away from him.

That is exactly what the Cowboys need because their defensive ends are great edge-setters and don’t allow teams to go east and west on them very much. Their high-motor ends are also very good at chasing down ball carriers. Of course, it helps when one of your edge rushers is also the fastest off-ball linebacker in the league.

Hankins is going to push back in the middle. Those measly quarterback sneaks the Philadelphia Eagles like to do on third-and-inches just got a little bit harder when facing Dallas. Hankins also does a good job attacking the shoulder of his blockers, allowing him to open up paths for free-running defenders. This is great news for players like Leighton Vander Esch and Donovan Wilson who are excellent ball pursuers when they have straight-line shots.

Second-year nose tackle Quinton Bohanna is having a good season, but now the team has a more seasoned nose partner to keep fresh bodies in the game against run-heavy teams. The three teams who run the ball the most (Philadelphia, Chicago, and the New York Giants) are all upcoming opponents of the Cowboys. The Hankins/Bohanna rotation will now give the Cowboys a strong interior presence on every rushing down.

The Cowboys have had four games this year where the defense has surrendered 130 or more rushing yards in a game. Grinding out positive runs is really the only kryptonite for this Cowboys' defense this season, and it’s been their outright downfall in the postseason. They have allowed a total of 442 rushing yards in their last two playoff games. Spoiler alert, they lost those games.

If this defense can win more on early downs and force teams into passing situations, then it will allow them to do what they do best and that is feast on the quarterback. The Cowboys lead the league in sacks this season. So, if the Cowboys start taking away the running game, that is going to make things incredibly difficult for their opponent.

Hankins isn’t a player who will light up the stat books with a bunch of tackles, and he’s certainly not going to add much as a pass rusher. But he is a player who will do the heavy lifting and allow team defense to do its thing. He’s going to add muscle in the middle and he makes this already deep defensive line even deeper.

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