A big talking point during the Cowboys’ 2022 offseason revolved around the EDGE spot opposite DeMarcus Lawrence. After losing out on Randy Gregory in free agency, Dallas brought in veteran Dante Fowler to accompany the re-signed Dorance Armstrong. Then, they drafted Sam Williams in the second round.
But those aren’t the only options the Cowboys will have this year. Chauncey Golston is entering his second season in the NFL and coming off a rookie year in which he showcased his versatility in Dan Quinn’s scheme. The former Iowa Hawkeye weighs in at around 275 pounds, making him one of the bigger EDGEs on the team, but also showed the ability to consistently play inside at tackle on pass rushing downs.
Golston certainly didn’t have the kind of year that fellow rookie Micah Parsons had, nor even Osa Odighizuwa, but Golston proved he could be a solid rotational piece up and down the defensive line. With that area needing some improvement across the board in 2022, it’s fair to wonder how much we can expect from Golston in 2022.
What He’s Done
Evaluating Golston’s rookie year requires some context. As a late-third-round pick, Golston wasn’t coming in with the same kind of pedigree as other edge defenders do. On top of that, Golston suffered an injury early on in training camp that prevented him from participating until the start of the regular season. Once the real games began, Golston was suiting up and playing but still wasn’t completely recovered.
Yet, Golston’s name kept getting called early on, whether it was injuries to Lawrence or Gregory missing a game with COVID-19. And for a rookie who missed virtually all of training camp and the preseason, Golston sure didn’t look it.
On the whole year, Golston played on 414 (roughly 36%) defensive snaps. He finished with one sack, 10 pressures, two quarterback hits, 32 total tackles, and a fumble recovery. Golston also showed off his special teams value, playing on nearly 28% of all special teams snaps, tied with Azur Kamara for most special teams snaps of any Cowboys defensive lineman.
That wasn’t the only way Golston showed his versatility though. Of those 414 defensive snaps, Golston spent 126 of them (30%) inside at tackle, while he routinely shifted between left and right defensive end. Whereas Lawrence has almost exclusively played at left defensive end, while other players have kept more or less a singular defined role as well, Golston was doing it all. And he did it all while being a rookie and having missed so much formative time in the offseason and preseason.
As the season went on, and the likes of Lawrence, Gregory, and Parsons became more central figures in the Cowboys’ defensive front, Golston’s play time naturally went down. It didn’t have much to do with his actual play, but more so because the guys ahead of him on the depth chart were difference-makers who were finally healthy and up to speed. It may have meant a diminished role for Golston as his rookie year wound down, but it didn’t erase his solid contributions.
What He Can Do
Ever since last year’s rookie minicamps, Golston has been a player that Quinn has raved about. His inside-out versatility is especially valuable in Quinn’s scheme, and with so many new faces along the defensive line this year there will be plenty of opportunity for Golston to get involved.
The name of the game for Golston is embracing even more of a hybrid role, for which he’s reportedly added nearly 20 pounds. A bigger frame will allow him more leverage in holding up on the inside against bigger offensive linemen, while his length and quick twitch will make him a mismatch as a pass rusher.
Another aspect of Golston’s increased size is the improvements it can lend to him in run support. As good as the Dallas defense was last year, their run defense was an Achilles heel that reared its head in the postseason. Golston only played eight defensive snaps against San Francisco, so while he’s not responsible for their struggles in that game, he also wasn’t thought of as a solution either.
If Golston is bigger (and presumably stronger) while still being just as quick, he can become a reliable run defender on the edge as well. While Fowler and Williams will likely get some opportunities to rush the passer in Gregory’s void, neither are necessarily known for their run defense. That creates another area where Golston - who had a knack for setting the edge against the run in college - can shine.
Golston should also be firmly in the mix to get snaps as a pass rusher too. While Fowler has plenty of history with Quinn and Williams is the flashy new toy, neither of them has secured the job full-time just yet. Golston flashed plenty of pass-rushing ability in college, being especially adept with his hands, and even carried it over in some of his limited pass rushing reps last year. With more opportunities, and more experience, he could take a big step forward as a pass rusher this year.
All in all, though, Golston’s game comes down to his versatility. He can play inside and outside, which makes him a valuable chess piece in a scheme that, last year, thrived on chess pieces doing their thing. He has added weight to better commit to that role, and as he enters his second year under Quinn’s watch, Golston should be primed for a much more prominent role than he had as a rookie.