Friday, February 15, 2013

Draft Nuggets #7

Draft Nuggets 2013: Entry #7

By Jeff Bowers of

Twitter: @sportsnarrative



Addressing the Cowboys Needs:

For the first 41 years of its existence, the Dallas Cowboys ran a 4-3 defensive scheme. From the time Tom Landry installed his Flex defense, through the “Doomsday Defense” of the 70’s led by Randy White, Harvey Martin and many others, and into the 80’s with players like Ed “Too Tall” Jones and Bill Bates, the Cowboys had many years of success in the 4-3. Then when Jimmy and Jerry took over, they built a 4-3 scheme based on speed and depth that was the envy of the National Football League. But as Jimmy left and the team began to slowly sink into mediocrity, Jerry sought another way. In 2003 Jerry hired Bill Parcells to resurrect the franchise, and he changed Dallas into a 3-4 team on defense. Through Parcells, Wade Phillips and then Rob Ryan, the Cowboys had some success, but never became a dominate force. And so, with the hiring of Monte Kiffin this offseason, the Dallas Cowboys will return back to a 4-3 defense. But that transition is not instant and calls for a different personnel set than the 3-4 requires. And that transition starts up front with the defensive line.


The Need at Defensive Tackle:

In the previous 3-4 system, defensive linemen were mostly there for run-stuffing and taking on blockers. However, in the Tampa 2 scheme ran by Monte Kiffin, a pass rush created from the 4 down linemen is vital (see the post from 1/23 for more). Therefore the talent level at defensive tackle needs to be addressed. Here’s a brief look at the top candidates currently to fill the 2 tackle spots for next season:

Jay Ratliff
6’4” 303lbs
Injuries, age, a big salary cap number and a DWI arrest put big questions marks next to Ratliff’s future with the Cowboys
Josh Brent
6’2” 320lbs
Facing possible jail time and league suspension, Brent will almost certainly not be available in 2013
Jason Hatcher
6’6” 305lbs
Hatcher really emerged last season as a 3-4 DE, but his transition to a 3 technique in the 4-3 is a question and maybe he plays DE opposite Ware
Marcus Spears
6’4” 315lbs
Spears has never been more than a solid run stopper, but has only played in a 3-4 in the NFL. A rotational 1 technique at best
Sean Lissimore
6’3” 303lbs
Lissimore was great as a jack-of-all-trades back-up last season, but seems a strange fit in the new scheme
Tyrone Crawford
6’4” 285lbs
Last year’s 3rd round pick saw some time last year but had a few flashes. Seems very undersized to play inside and might be better suited at DE
Brian Price
6’1 303lbs
At just 23, Price has already worn out his welcome with his two previous teams due to a high knucklehead factor. Signed off the street. Nice fit if he’s interested in playing. IF!


With more question than answers in that group, look for the Cowboys to seek a Warren Sapp-type player with size and speed to help facilitate the move to the 4-3 for next year.


Free Agency:

The problem with shopping in the free agent market for defensive tackles is the price of poker is pretty high. And with the needs the Cowboys have for a true impact player at the position, it might even be out of their budget under the salary cap limitations they will face next year. But here are a few of the top prospects currently available when free agency starts on March 12th:


1.       Henry Melton, Chicago Bears, Age 27 – Melton is one of the better pass-rushing tackles in the NFL and has familiarity with new defensive line coach Rod Marinelli who coached him last year. Of all the free agents available, Melton seems to be a perfect fit, but will also demand a big contract.

2.       Randy Starks, Miami Dolphins, Age 29 – Starks has been an impressive combination of size and speed for that Dolphins defense for several years. Seemed to struggle a bit at the end of last season with some personal issues, but should get a nice sum of money for next year.

3.       Desmond Bryant, Oakland Raiders, Age 27 – Bryant had a nice breakout year last season and was one of the few bright spots on a pretty dismal Raiders defense. Showed some nice pass rush moves and could be a nice bargain.

4.       Jason Jones, Seattle Seahawks, Age 27 – Until a knee injury ended his season late in year, Jones was a dude in that Seahawks tough defense. A very nice fit but will be a high priority for his current team.

5.       Sammie Lee Hill, Detroit Lions, Age 26 – An interesting kid who is trapped behind Suh, Fairley and Corey Williams but has showed flashes of skill in pressuring the QB. Could be a steal in free agency

6.       Roy Miller, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Age 26 – Very stout against the run, but has shown almost no pass rush. More of a guy, but then Dallas could use that too.

7.       Chris Canty, New York Giants, Age 30 – Former Cowboys draft pick that never really lived up to the contract NY gave him. Could return but isn’t a long term solution.

8.       Glenn Dorsey, Kansas City Chiefs, Age 28 – Has been a huge bust in the KC 3-4 defense since being the #5 overall pick, but maybe that potential could be recaptured in a 4-3 defense. But that’s a big maybe.



The free agent market has quite a few options currently, but just how many of these guys actually reach the open market is a big question. Between that and the Cowboys need for some serious salary cap juggling with Romo, Spencer and others being priorities could limit the aggressiveness at which Dallas attacks the DT market. But when it comes to free agents versus the draft, I do trust the GM a little bit more in the open market.


The Draft:

If not for other needs (namely the O-Line), the Cowboys would be in great shape with their biggest need being a defensive tackle, because this year’s draft class is loaded with talent at the top at DT. As many as 8 defensive tackles could be picked in the first and early second rounds this April. Here’s a look at a few of the top prospects at defensive tackle:


1.       Star Lotulelei, Utah, 6’4” 325lbs – A rare combination of size, speed and skill, Lotulelei has the potential to be the #1 overall pick in the draft and will definitely not get out of the top 3.

2.       Sheldon Richardson, Mizzou, 6’3” 295lbs – Richardson has in incredibly relentless motor and the pass rushing skills that has the Cowboys, and many other teams, very high on him. May need to add a little weight to take the double teams he will undoubtedly face in the NFL.

3.       Shariff Floyd, Florida, 6’3” 303lbs – Playing at both tackle and end for the Gators, Floyd has been a beast since he walked on campus. A disruptive force that is a bit underrated in the draft process so far, but could rise into the top of round one.

4.       Johnathan Hankins, Ohio St, 6’4” 325lbs – Anchoring the undefeated Buckeyes defense on and off the field, Hankins seems like a natural nose tackle in the pros. Cowboys could use that size up front.

5.       Jonathan Jenkins, Georgia, 6’3” 359lbs – Jenkins is a mountain of a man, and seems destined to be a NT in a 3-4 scheme. Not much of pass rusher, but a force against the run.

6.       Jesse Williams, Alabama, 6’3” 320lbs – Another run stuffer with little pass rushing skills, Williams is another nose tackle prospect.

7.       Kawann Short, Purdue, 6’3” 308lbs – Short has been the biggest riser among the DT prospects this offseason after a very accomplished college career. Could easily be a first round pick and is a good fit for the Cowboys need, but mid-first round seems a bit high for him.

8.       Sylvester Williams, UNC, 6’3” 320lbs – Williams possesses a ton of natural talent, but his effort does not always match his skill. That lack of motivation could cause him to slip a little in the draft.



With the 18th pick, the Cowboys could have a number of options to address the defensive tackle position if they so choose. A number of mock drafts have Dallas selecting Richardson in the 1st round and that would be solid value. Floyd and Short are also solid choices to fill that 3 technique tackle that rushes the passer, while Hankins, Jenkins and Jesse Williams would be more of the run-stuffing 1 technique type.


Norm’s Take:

If Dallas re-signs Spencer at defensive end, that forces Hatcher and Crawford to be inside players. With Brent likely gone and Ratliff remaining a player that could be cut, Dallas has a real need in here for a top player. Lots of “serviceable” guys but Dallas needs a force inside. Richardson or Floyd might be hard to pass up at #18, but then so would a very good O-Line type.

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