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May 05, 2014

Cowboys need defensive linemen, but their top two targets likely off the board early

Defensive line

Overview

There is talent at defensive end, but it is not as deep as teams want at the top. South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney could be the No. 1 overall pick, but defensive ends such as Missouri’s Kony Ealy, Boise State’s Demarcus Lawrence, Auburn’s Dee Ford and North Carolina’s Kareem Martin could be pushed up the board because of the lack of elite talent outside of Clowney. As many as four defensive tackles could go in the first round, led by Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald. The DT position offers good mid-round value, too.

Cowboys’ needs

The Cowboys struggled to get to the quarterback with only 34 sacks, the same number they had in 2012 when they still ran the 3-4 scheme. The franchise has not had fewer than that since 2004. And now, the Cowboys have lost two of their best pass-rushers. Dallas released defensive end DeMarcus Ware, the club’s all-time sacks leader with 117, after a decline in production failed to match his salary. Defensive tackle Jason Hatcher, who led the Cowboys last season with 11 sacks, left for Washington in free agency. Defensive end Anthony Spencer, who played only 34 plays last season before undergoing microfracture knee surgery, did re-sign with the Cowboys on Saturday. George Selvie, a street free agent signed last July when Spencer first injured his knee, returns at left end after recording a surprising seven sacks last season. Tyrone Crawford, who missed last season with a torn left Achilles, will compete for the right end position. Free-agent signee Henry Melton, who had 15.5 sacks in four seasons in Chicago, replaces Hatcher at the three-technique. Nick Hayden, who had 51 tackles and 16 quarterback pressures, returns at the nose. The Cowboys, who signed tackle Terrell McClain and end Jeremy Mincey in free agency for depth purposes, hope to use their first pick on a defensive lineman. They would love Pittsburgh DT Aaron Donald or UCLA OLB/DE Anthony Barr, but they likely will have to trade up to get either of those players. It might be too early to select Missouri DE Kony Ealy or Boise State DE Demarcus Lawrence. But the sure thing is: The Cowboys will come out of this draft with more than one defensive lineman after getting none in last year's draft. 

Top three DE

Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina, 6-5, 266, 4.53, The draft’s top prospect had 24 career sacks and 47 tackles for loss.

Demarcus Lawrence, Boise State, 6-3, 251, 4.80, He had 20 sacks and 34 tackles for loss in two seasons.

Kony Ealy, Missouri, 6-4, 273, 4.92, He had 12.5 sacks in three seasons, including eight last year.

Top three DT

Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh, 6-1, 285, 4.68, He had 181 tackles in four seasons, including 66 for loss, with 29.5 sacks.

Timmy Jernigan, FloridaState, 6-2, 299, 5.06, He had 138 tackles, including 25 for loss, and 8.5 sacks in three seasons.

Louis Nix III, Notre Dame, 6-2, 331, 5.42, He had 122 tackles, 14 for loss, and 2.5 sacks in three seasons.

Sleeper

Ethan Westbrooks, DE, West Texas A&M, 6-4, 267, 4.90, He had 60 tackles, 29.5 for loss, and 19.5 sacks as a junior, winning the Division II National Defensive Player of the Year award. He also dominated at the East-West Shrine Game.

Top Texas ties

Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas, 6-3, 247, 4.63, The son of Jim Jeffcoat, projected as a third-round pick, won the Ted Hendricks Award with 86 tackles, 22 tackles for loss and 13 sacks last season.

Josh Mauro, DE, Stanford, 6-6, 271, 5.21, The L.D. Bell product, projected as a fourth-rounder, had 51 tackles, 12.5 for loss, with four sacks, an interception and two forced fumbles last season.

Kerry Hyder, DT, Texas Tech, 6-3, 290, 5.10, The possible sixth-round pick had 176 tackles in four seasons, with 34 for loss, and 11 sacks.

Tevin Mims, DE, South Florida, 6-4, 260, 4.95, The possible seventh-round pick, a Stony PointHigh School grad who spent his freshman season at the University of Texas, had 75 tackles and 3.5 sacks the past two seasons combined.

-- Charean Williams 

 

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