Defensive tackle is not a position the Dallas Cowboys spend a lot of money on. They tend to look for bargain free agent signings or use a Day 2 draft pick to fill the ranks. Many Cowboys fans are worried about the quality of the position, especially after teams ran the ball well against Dallas in 2021. But the reality is that the position is pretty well stocked for 2022.
Neville Gallimore and Osa Odighizuwa are locked in as the regular starters who will get the majority of snaps at defensive tackle for the Cowboys. This will likely not change throughout the season barring any injury to either player. Many NFL teams carry up to nine defensive lineman on their rosters. Of those nine, five more than likely will be filled by defensive ends. Which leaves only four slots, maybe five slots, available for the defensive line’s interior. At the moment, there are four players going for the final two or three slots at defensive tackle. Let’s profile the four expected contenders for the final three slots.
Of this group of four, Hill came into the NFL with the highest expectations. As a second-round pick and first pick for Dallas in 2019, this comes as no surprise at all. The partnership of Hill and Dallas has been a bumpy one thus far. Only starting five games and playing in only 18 total in three years doesn’t leave much of a sample size. An ACL tear and a suspension are to blame for that. Regarding the ACL tear, Hill was off to a solid start in 2020 when a freak injury happened in week five against the New York Giants. During a play, he got pressure on Giants quarterback Daniel Jones. As Jones was falling over, Hill tried to keep Jones from hitting the ground and by doing so he tore his ACL, which ended his 2020 campaign after just five games.
After the injury occurred, among those disappointed in losing Hill for the year was head coach Mike McCarthy.
“That was a tough injury – particularly how it happened, just trying to pull off that quarterback,” said Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy.
“He’s a young man that has so much in front of him, and he’ll respond from this,” McCarthy said. “But it’s hard to see any of your players go down like that. It is a season-ending injury, but we don’t quite have his surgery scheduled yet.”
Over a year later, Hill was activated to the roster on November 13, 2021. Shortly after his return from injury, he was suspended one game by the NFL for throwing a punch after the Thanksgiving showdown versus the Raiders. After his suspension, Hill ended up getting COVID, and was once again forced to miss time. 2021 for Hill was essentially a lost year. Coming into the final year of his rookie deal, it’s put up or shut up time for Hill. He has the tools, he just needs to put it together. Hill has a second-round pedigree, and that along with his potential keeps his chances alive entering the 2022 season.
Watkins is the elder statesman of this group of four, and has started in over half of the games he has played in. 14 of those games came last year in his first season with the Cowboys. Prior to Dallas, he was a fourth-round pick of the Houston Texans where he made 14 starts in four seasons. He was an under-the-radar signing coming into 2021 as a 3-4 base defensive end. Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn found a better way to utilize him by moving Watkins inside to defensive tackle. His numbers weren’t flashy by any means, but he was rock solid and very dependable. He also had arguably one of the top plays for the Cowboys last season.
The first thing that jumps out regarding Bohanna is his size. “Big Bo”, as he is known, stands at 6’4” and weighs 360 pounds. There aren’t too many of those sized players in today’s game. That alone, as well as playing in the SEC for Kentucky, makes it very easy to see why Dallas drafted him in the sixth round in the 2021 Draft.
In his rookie year with the Cowboys, Bohanna tallied one start and appeared in 14 games. He finished the season with ten combined tackles and one quarterback hurry. Being as big as he is, he instantly creates a mismatch against opposing offensive lineman. He is a pure nose tackle who is a good anchor against the run. However, he will not pose much of a threat against the pass. Just like Hill, his sample size is small, but the potential is there.
The fourth and final player jockeying to make the roster at defensive tackle in 2022 is John Ridgeway from Arkansas. He was drafted in the fifth round of this years draft. Being that Dallas used a fifth-round pick this year to enhance the defensive tackle position should tell you exactly how they feel about the position. This past season for the Razorbacks, he tallied 39 total tackles, four of them for losses, as well as two sacks. His stats do not jump off the page, but he has a mean streak about his game and tends to be in the play more times than not. He’s not the most athletic guy around, but he makes up for it with good technique, good strength, and a high motor as seen in these highlights.
It’s a very interesting group behind Gallimore and Odighizuwa. At this stage, Dallas is looking for depth on the interior of the defensive line. With the four players mentioned above jockeying for two, maybe three slots. There will be at least one, if not two players, who will not make the team in 2022. Each of the four players brings something different to the team.
Hill has the highest ceiling of the group, but hasn’t lived up to the hype just yet. Watkins is a pro’s pro who is decent all around, but what you see is what you get, especially for a player who has played in the league as long as he has. Bohanna has the size NFL teams look for, but he is very raw, and couldn’t beat out Watkins for meaningful reps which is concerning. Ridgeway is the new guy who Dallas drafted for a reason, and that reason is a mean streak for days.
After being bullied in the playoffs by the San Francisco 49ers, Dallas needed to address that issue and they did so by drafting Ridgeway. Overall, Ridgeway is the safest bet among the group to make the team due to his toughness and for the simple fact Dallas drafted him while having the other three currently on the roster. Trysten Hill gets the second slot simply based on a higher ceiling and just turning 24 years old. Carlos Watkins is on the cut line depending on how deep Dallas goes at this position. Watkins is a solid player, nothing flashy about his game, and he’s already hit his ceiling as an NFL player. The Hill and Watkins decision was close but being that the battle is for a backup position, the conventional thinking suggests to go with the higher ceiling player. Quinton Bohanna has the size Dallas wants, but compared to the other three, he’s very raw as an NFL prospect. Hopefully Dallas can stash him on the practice squad and see how he develops.