For a good portion of the 2022 season, the Cowboys defense as a whole was among the best in the league. There was one area however that was a weak spot along this unit, and that was the rush defense. The franchise noticed there was a need along the interior of the defensive line that needed to be addressed, which is why they acquired 340-pound defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins via trade from the Las Vegas Raiders.
Looking at the season in its entirety, Dallas ranked 22nd in opponent rushing yards per game. During the final three games for the Cowboys, the opponent rushing yards per game totals decreased to a level that would put the team inside the Top-10 in this department. There was one player along the interior that would lead in snap percentage and that was Osa Odighizuwa. Besides him, it was by a committee approach as Neville Gallimore played on 37% of the snaps followed by Carlos Watkins at 36%, and Johnathan Hankins at 35%. The last two names, Watkins and Hankins are among the Cowboys players that were only under contract through the 2022 season. With the season now over, two players along the interior of the defensive line that played a solid role as a part of the committee approach are now free agents.
Past records will show that the Cowboys don’t exactly open the Brinks truck in free agency, instead settling for more cost-effective approaches while attempting to fill needs. If this approach by the front office continues, then bringing back both Hankins and Watkins aren’t out of the realm of possibility. If the team decides to go in another direction, then looking at this year’s draft class of interior defensive lineman will show some quality players that wouldn’t cost a lot from a draft capital perspective.
Here are three names to keep an eye on while the Cowboys are on the clock for the 2023 NFL Draft:
Gervon Dexter Sr., Florida
Prior to joining the college ranks, Gervon Dexter Sr., was a highly-touted high school player in the state of Florida. He was ranked the top player in the state for the class of 2020, was also the third ranked defensive tackle in the nation, and was the 12th overall recruit for his class as well. Going off of that, it is easy to guess what his rating was a five-star. He had the pick of the litter in terms of scholarship offers which featured schools like Alabama and Georgia. He would decide that staying in state was the right move for him as he committed to the University of Florida. With expectations sky high, it was easy to predict that he would see the field early and often. This was certainly the case as he appeared in all 12 games as a true freshman. He would follow up the next two seasons by playing in all 26 games for the Gators. By the time his career in Gainesville was complete, he would tally 125 tackles, five sacks, and two interceptions.
The physical traits he possesses are good strength, balance, and heavy hands. The ability to cover two gaps is there for him because of his athleticism. Speaking of athleticism, he has a quick first step along with plenty of agility for a big guy. From a physicality perspective, he is as ready as you would want from an interior defensive lineman.
What can be problematic with his game is that he isn’t always consistent with his pad level. There are times that he plays too high which results in the opposing offensive lineman getting better leverage on him that also impacts the quickness in how he is able to disengage a block. Another issue for Dexter is the tendency to occasionally slide around the line of scrimmage instead of attacking the quarterback and applying pressure.
The physical gifts he possesses make him an intriguing prospect that you don’t necessarily have to spend a ton of draft capital on. The issues with his game are more technical, and if he can be coached out of these issues, along with pairing that up with his natural talent makes for a good ball player.
Jaquelin Roy, LSU
Jaquelin Roy was a highly-touted prospect in the 2020 recruiting class from the state of Louisiana. Nationally he was a four-star prospect and was ranked as the 41st best player in the class, sixth best defensive tackle, and the second best player in his home state. Programs like Alabama and Georgia were trying to seal the deal and bring him to their school. He stayed in his home state by committing to the LSU Tigers. As a true freshman, he would appear in nine games for the Tigers. The next two seasons, Roy would appear in all 26 games and would play meaningful snaps along the way. By the time his days in Baton Rogue would conclude, he would have 97 total tackles along with four sacks.
His physical build checks the boxes that teams are looking for in rookies that can come in right away and play meaningful snaps. Roy possesses a thick frame that helps him in the leverage game against opposing offensive lineman. With a thick frame, he also is a very strong player that at times requires him to be double teamed by the opponent. Not only does he have the build and strength, but also has good instincts where he gets off the snap well which helps him be a destructive force whether it is in the pass or run game.
Possessing many of the tools needed to have a chance to be professional football player are great, but there are still some areas that will need some work. Although he possesses tremendous strength with a good frame, he at times has difficulty in shedding blocks. Also, his instincts can get him in trouble where he becomes a tad too aggressive with any type of fake or misdirection which can take him out of a play. Roy has enough natural athleticism to play pro ball, but his spin move just seems a little too slow. A lot of teams will also use cut blocks on him and that has been effective. Roy’s less than stellar arm length makes it more difficult for him to reach for the ball carrier.
There is much to like about Roy, particularly because of his natural tools. The majority of his weaknesses at this moment just stem from needing to be coached up more and to help him work through some of this technical flaws. This just means that with a little refinement in his game, he has shot to hang in the league a for bit.
Keondre Coburn, Texas
A member of the 2018 recruiting class, Keondre Coburn was a high-level prospect that was also a four-star recruit that was ranked 123rd nationally. He was the 11th best defensive tackle in the class, and the 13th best player in his home state. His offer sheet featured a lot of the usual suspects like Alabama and LSU, but he decided to stay in his home state by committing to Texas. Coburn would appear in games for five straight seasons for the Longhorns and over the course of his college career play in 51 of them. In those 51 games played, Coburn would tally 95 tackles, and 6.5 sacks.
Coburn’s lack of height for the position seems to play in his favor when it comes to the leverage part of the game along the line of scrimmage. Although he may be a little shorter as an interior defensive lineman, he possesses a thick build that cannot be matched by many. Combining his build with the leverage game causes him to be double teamed in order to be contained. Even with his unique build, he shows plenty of ability as an interior pass rusher. He is also pretty athletic for his size which combined with his block-shedding ability helps him get to the ball carrier for the tackle. Speaking of tackling, good luck breaking free when Coburn gets a hold of you as he rarely loses a runner when tackling.
As a football player, Coburn checks all the boxes but what does him in at times is his lack of length. The lack of length causes him to not have as much range as other players at the position. Coburn also has to work a little harder to gain the advantage along the line of scrimmage. The length discrepancy means even the slightest hesitation can make the job of the offensive lineman easier in regards to engaging and taking him out of the play. The length once again plays a role in sometimes in halting his pass rush as well.
Although Coburn has some minor limitations because of his length, this can deficit can be closed as a result of being coached up. He has a great attitude, and work ethic which can make the coaching up aspect of his game a bit quicker which means he’ll be more than likely to get on the field sooner. Having a thick, strong, and compact build can work in his favor if he can become a bit more of a technician. If the technical parts of his game can improve, then pairing his unique build could giving opposing coaches nightmares when trying to stop him for disrupting the game.