Whatever the Cowboys master plan for this pivotal offseason was, losing Randy Gregory to the Denver Broncos threw a wrench in it. The last-second change of heart from Gregory and his agent also opened the door wide open for the Cowboys to do things differently, but so far they’ve sat out as Chandler Jones and Z’Darious Smith signed elsewhere, and Von Miller has gone on to the Buffalo Bills.
The Cowboys never hesitate to hype up the NFL Draft as their preferred method to add talent. Before the Gregory news, their team needs at offensive line, safety, and wide receiver lined up nicely with the strengths of this class. Adding defensive end to this list makes things far more uncertain though.
The last time the Cowboys used a first-round pick at defensive end was 2017, passing on T.J. Watt for Michigan’s Taco Charlton. As disappointing as Charlton’s whole career was in Dallas, his rookie season falls in line with the type of production first-year edge players typically show.
Comparing any defender from the 2017 class to Myles Garrett would be unfair, as he was the clear best overall player and top pick for the Browns. Charlton’s three sacks matched Solomon Thomas’ first season though - drafted two picks after Garrett.
Derek Barnett notched five sacks for the Eagles as a rookie, but has only passed this number once in 2019 with 6.5. Charles Harris finally broke out last season, a 2017 first-rounder with 6.5 sacks in his first four seasons and two as a rookie. Takk McKinley followed a six sack rookie season with seven in 2018 for the Falcons, but has a total of seven in the three years that follow.
Even with Dan Quinn being highly praised around the league for his ability to develop players, the Cowboys would likely be adding another developmental prospect to a team in a supposed “championship window” by going EDGE in round one.
The 2018 draft featured only two defensive ends in the first round, Bradley Chubb and Marcus Davenport. The Broncos were able to pair Chubb with a prime Von Miller, resulting in a 12 sack season that hasn’t proved sustainable for the fifth overall pick. Chubb has battled through injuries, but only recorded one sack in his second season and none last year. The Saints traded up for Davenport, convinced his traits on the edge were a missing piece to winning a Super Bowl with Drew Brees again. It took until Brees was retired for this investment to pay off, with Davenport setting a career high at nine sacks in 2021.
One of the most surprising picks of the 2019 class was Clelin Ferrell going fourth overall to the Raiders. Ferrell went two picks after Nick Bosa, who’s been by far the best defensive end of the five drafted in the first round that year. Ferrell has eight career sacks and was a rotational player this season. L.J. Collier was drafted at the bottom of the round by Seattle, and has zero sacks in two of his three seasons, including his rookie year.
Brian Burns and Montez Sweat have done well to keep up with Bosa in this class, but Burns being the 16th overall pick puts him in a different tier of edge rushers the Cowboys will have to consider picking 24th this year.
The 2020 draft is where this exercise gets really fun. This was another year where some draft analysts were convinced the Cowboys had to take a defensive end with their top pick. K’Lavon Chaisson was the only end taken in the first round, frequently mocked to Dallas all offseason. Chaisson has two career sacks, and the Cowboys first-round pick was their current WR1 - CeeDee Lamb.
This best player available approach has suited the Cowboys well, but unless their plan is to play Micah Parsons on the edge all the time, they’ll be playing a dangerous game entering the draft with their current depth chart at defensive end. Parsons’ 13 sacks as a rookie, playing only part time as a rusher, were three more than the three defensive ends drafted in the first round combined. Payton Turner, Gregory Rousseau, and Odafe Oweh combined for ten.
We discussed this overall idea on the latest episode of Hidden Yardage on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to our network so you don’t miss any of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.
With each passing day, the 2022 season is shaping up as the foundation for a potential rebuild-on-the-fly in Dallas. Waves of young players like Chauncey Golston, Jabril Cox, Simi Fehoko, and more are in line to play a lot of snaps as the roster is currently constructed. While it’s exciting to find out what the Cowboys have in these players, it’s not exactly the plan for a championship contender.
The Cowboys defense was already held up by an unsustainable number of turnovers forced last season, and at this point they’re staring at fielding a unit with a glaring weakness at right end.