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Draft Series 6 of 9: Defensive Linemen

One of the most important aspects to a 3-4 defence is the line up front.  A big defensive line keeps the offensive linemen from getting to the second level and causing havoc for the smaller linebackers.  The Cowboys might be one of the most underrated defensive lines in the league.  While they don’t put up huge statistics they are good at what they do, and that is allowing the linebackers to make plays.

Defensive End

Marcus Spears (starter) – Last season Spears put up the highest sack total of his career, at 2.5 sacks that isn’t a lot.  But Spears is key on the line.  While he will always be overshadowed by fellow first round pick DeMarcus Ware, Spears is important to stopping the run and allowing the linebackers the room they need to work.  Often it takes two offensive personnel to block Spears and keep him out of the backfield on running plays.  One area Spears does need to work on is his pass rush.  The Cowboys would love to get more pressure out of the 6’4, 309 pounder.  Spears is also very versatile.  He slides inside to the tackle position in the nickel package.  The Cowboys are looking for Spears to continue to improve each season as he has done so far.

Igor Olshansky (starter) – Olshansky enjoyed one of his best seasons as a pro.  He registered 29 solo tackles and assisted 11 more.  He is a beast on running downs.  He always commands a double team.  Olshansky rarely plays on third downs which makes it difficult for him to put up good sack numbers.  He does well at collapsing the pocket when he is in on pass plays.

Jason Hatcher – A lot was expected of Hatcher last year.  It had seemed that Hatcher would develop into a situational pass rusher heading into last season.  He has an explosive first step and can use his speed and power to get by smaller offensive lineman.  He didn’t live up to expectations last season and say his playing time taking by fellow end Stephen Bowen.  Hatcher will have every opportunity to get back on track this spring and summer.

Stephen Bowen – Bowen was a solid player who was good for depth when the Cowboys entered the season.  But Bowen came up big in some situations this season.  A sack on McNabb in the Cowboys first meeting with the Eagles this past season was huge for momentum in that game.  Bowen, in spot duty, recorded 3 sacks last season.  The Cowboys are very excited about what Bowen might do for an encore this season.

Other Notables:

1) Marcus Dixon – Has not played a game for the Cowboys and might not make the roster

Draft Prospects at Defensive End:

1) Derrick Morgan (Georgia Tech) 6’4, 275 lbs. – Morgan does it all.  He is a good pass rusher and stout against the run.  He has the potential to become a very good DE in the NFL.  Morgan will only get better as he develops more strength and size.  He is a great fit for a 4-3 Defence.  (Top 15 Pick)

2) Jason Pierre-Paul (South Florida) 6’6, 265 lbs. – Pierre-Paul could draw comparisons to a undeveloped “Too Tall” Jones.  While Pierre-Paul is a touch shorter, he is great at disrupting the passing lanes with his height.  He has good explosiveness off the ball, and is even a potential linebacker in a 3-4.  It would take a lot of adjusting, but Pierre-Paul does have the ability and could possibly be the first end taken in the draft.

3) Carlos Dunlap (Flordia) 6’6, 290 lbs. – Dunlap is a 3-4 end in the making.  He has great size and weight to allow him to cause problems for the offensive line.  He has good intelligence on the field and recognizes plays very well.  He is very explosive off the line and can disrupt the pocket.  It is possible that Dunlap falls to the Cowboys in the first round.

Other Notables:

1) Brandon Graham (Michigan) 6’2, 270 lbs.
2) Everson Griffen (USC) 6’3, 265 lbs.

Defensive Tackles

Jay Ratliff (Starter) – Other than DeMarcus Ware, there is no Cowboys defender as disruptive as Ratliff.  Ratliff has proven to be a steal.  He was drafted in the seventh round of the 2005 draft and had very little expectations.  But 21.5 sacks, and two Pro Bowls later Ratliff is a star in the league.  Offences need to double Ratliff on virtually every play or he disrupts plays.  In the 3-4 an active nose tackle is one of the most important positions on the team.  Ratliff uses his pure athleticism and speed to make a fool out of centers and guards alike.  Baring injury he will be the Cowboys starter for a long time to come.

Junior Siavii – While Siavii isn’t a star he is a solid backup at the nose tackle position.  Siavii is a former second round pick from Kansas City and the Cowboys swiped him as a free agent.  Siavii only comes in to give Ratliff a break and keep him fresh.  At 6’5, 318 lbs. Junior does well at clogging up the middle.  He does not possess Ratliff’s pass rush ability and puts very little pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Draft Prospects at Defensive Tackle:

1) Ndamukong Suh (Nebraska) 6’4, 305 lbs. – Suh is the top tackle in the draft and will go second or third in the draft.  He is a constant disruption to offences and is hard to contain.  He is certain to be in the backfield on running plays.  He had 23 tackles for a loss this passed season and is so explosive off the snap.  He is strong and mean and makes great decisions.  He hits harder than a dump truck and will look to bring that power and speed to the NFL.

2) Gerald McCoy (Oklahoma) 6’4, 295 lbs. – McCoy’s athletic talent is similar to Ratliff’s. He’s super quick off the snap and does a nice job collapsing the pocket. McCoy actively uses his hands immediately off the snap to shed blockers. He keeps low and aggressively drives his legs. McCoy routinely gets across the face of offensive linemen. He has good hips that he can flip quickly to move laterally down the line. He is also a second or third pick in the first round.

3) Jared Odrick (Penn State) 6’5, 308 lbs. – Odrick has the size and first-step quickness to hold up as a 3-4 end, that may be a more natural position for him than 4-3 tackle. If he stays inside, he’ll have to get bigger and be more of a space eater. He played against double teams a lot and still managed to be fairly effective against the run. He is much better in the tackle box than working outside of it. Odrick also has some explosion off the snap.

Other Notables:

1) Brian Price (UCLA) – 6’1, 275 lbs.
2) Dan Williams (Tennesse) – 6’3, 326 lbs.

As many as four DT’s could go in the first round.

Next Up: Linebackers

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