The Dallas Cowboys have a really good defensive line. It’s weird to say that because for years, that has been far from the truth. Oh, they would have a DeMarcus Ware here and a Jay Ratliff there, but overall the depth was sprinkled with quite a bit of rub-a-dub scrubs. The middle was manned by players like Nick Hayden and Justin Hamilton, who were admirable at times, but a liability most others. And even the good ones weren’t all that good. George Selvie, Jeremy Mincey, and Benson Mayowa all at one point led the Cowboys' edge rushers in sacks for a given season.
Things are much different now. The team has star power at the top and is so crowded with depth that it’s going to be hard to find playing time for everyone. But that’s a good problem to have and it also makes a fun exercise as today, we’re going to build the Cowboys’ depth chart by projecting the snap percentage for the 2023 defensive line.
On the latest episode of The Star Seminar on the Blogging The Boys podcast network, Rabblerousr and I discussed the defensive line position group and debated which players would earn the most playing time for the upcoming season so make sure to check it out! Also, make sure to subscribe to our network so you do not miss any of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.
The Cowboys typically keep about 10 defensive linemen, so we’re going to limit ourselves to 10 total spots with five edge rushers, two 3-techs, two nose tackles, and one DL flex since the Cowboys have a couple of hybrid players. Before we get started, take a look at who commanded the most playing time last year (left side of the below chart, snap % are rounded for simplicity) and who are the candidates this year (right side).
We’ll kick things off with the main starters along the edge. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise as it consists of its young star and the team’s top defensive leader.
The Cowboys have one of the best players in the league and they know he belongs rushing the quarterback. Parsons played 919 snaps last year and 80% of them were on the edge. Was that too much? Did they wear him down? Possibly. Parsons is a dynamic player and they’ll continue to use him in a multitude of ways. They have the depth to ease off his edge reps a bit to preserve his health down the stretch, but he’s still the hands-down best pass rusher the Cowboys have.
Edge snap prediction: 60%
While Parsons is all the craze, Lawrence has been quietly snatching the souls out of ball carriers for years. He is an ace run-stopper and his play recognition is first-rate. He’ll knock down balls, chase down running backs, and frequently abuse unsuspecting tackles. Tank is the type of player you love to have on your football team.
Snap prediction: 60%
Moving on to the guys atop the list to work themselves into the rotation.
The Cowboys have done a great job finding former first-round edge rushers for a great price. Guys like Robert Quinn and Aldon Smith have done a nice job during the one year they were in Dallas. Fowler was that guy last year. He only played in 30% of the snaps last year which was by far the lowest over his seven years in the league, but he still managed the third-most sacks of his career. It seemed like he served his purpose and was a great bridge player, and most expected him to sign elsewhere this offseason, but the team liked what they saw and brought him back for another season. He’s still a good pass rusher, so don’t expect him to be swept aside. He’ll see the field.
Snap prediction: 40%
The only thing we didn’t like about last year’s second-round pick Sam Williams is that he didn’t play more. 17 players logged more defensive snaps than Williams last season which seems criminal considering how well he played. He did see plenty of action on special teams as he was one of just six players who played at least 50% of the special teams snaps. His concentration of splashiness will pave the way to more playing time on defense as the youngster could be in for a breakout season.
Snap prediction: 40%
Last year, Armstrong logged the third-most edge-rushing snaps behind just Parsons and Lawrence. He played in all 17 games and had a career-high in snaps and sacks. And he was his typical force on special teams blocking a punt for the second-straight season. Most of Armstrong’s goodness came early in the year as he faded as the year went along. This season, he’ll still see action on special teams, but don’t be surprised if his playing time is cut into by the rising star Williams.
Snap prediction: 30%
Golston is a guy who didn’t seem to have a definitive position at Iowa and not much has changed in Dallas as he spends some time on the outside and some time on the inside. His playing time dropped quite a bit from 41% in his rookie season to 23% last year. Part of that was because edge-rushing reps were scarce, but fortunately, his ability to attack from anywhere still gives him value. Dan Quinn loves to employ guys from all over the place and Golston finished strong last season and should get some chances this season.
Snap prediction: 20%
The Cowboys have tried to land a playmaking 3-tech defensive tackle over the years with some third-round selections in Maliek Collins and Neville Gallimore. Odighizuwa is their latest attempt and this one might stick. He’s played exactly 616 defensive snaps in each of the last two seasons, but you could see growth in him this past year. His sacks doubled, his TFLs increased by 33% and he caused his first career forced fumble. He is a long-armed splash play waiting to happen and he is this team’s top pass-rushing defensive tackle.
Snap prediction: 50%
Similar to Golston, Fehoko is a bit of a tweener as he was a defensive end at San Jose State but isn’t likely to find work there in Dallas due to the guys ahead of him. Instead, they could ask this high-motor, run-stopping stud to bulk up and attack from the inside. He struggled with penalties in college and he’ll need to have his mental game tightened up before he sees any significant time, but his relentless energy should win over the coaching staff.
Snap prediction: 30%
The Cowboys invested their top draft resource in the defensive tackle from Michigan to add some power in the middle. The range of outcomes here is high as we could see something from a two-down player who has enough growing pains to limit his reps to a young dominant force who takes the bull by the horns. Considering the Cowboys have a knack for nailing Day 1 picks, we’re betting on the latter. First-round picks don’t sit.
Snap prediction: 40%
The trade for Hankins last year was a thing of brilliance as it addressed a huge need on the defense and came at a low cost. It was easy to notice the impact in the run defense when he was and wasn’t on the field. The veteran is good enough to be the starter here and he very well could start the season in that role, but if things go as planned, he should take a backseat to the rookie as the season progresses.
Snap prediction: 30%
Doesn’t make the cut
The depth of the Cowboys' defensive line means that some will be left out in the cold. It’s odd to think that of Neville Gallimore as he was their best defensive tackle at one point, but several new interior defenders have joined the team since he was drafted. The same applies to Quinton Bohanna who the team thought could be the answer at nose tackle, but where does he fit now with Smith and Hankins on the roster?
And it’s even more challenging to make the team as an edge rusher as it’s hard seeing any of the undrafted guys steal any reps over the more talented, proven guys listed above. That group was so deep last year that they even released Tarell Basham who went on to play five games with the Tennessee Titans last year. Tyrus Wheat and Durrell Johnson could flash enough in camp to earn a practice squad spot, but it could be the end of the line for offensive lineman turned defensive lineman, Issac Alarcon, as the Cowboys tried everything they could to give him a shot.