Friday, February 1, 2008

Cowboys Roster Evaluation: Defensive Line

While not quite the position of strength that the Linebacking corps presents, the Cowboy defensive line is strong in several respects. There is considerable depth, as was demonstrated by the lack of fallout suffered from a full year without the starting DT. There is a very good player who can play anywhere on the line, and the unit as a whole is startlingly young. The guys up front don’t pile on the sacks to par with teams like New York, but they occupy blockers very well and are stellar against the run.

Individual evaluations, again listed in terms of perceived value in my eyes.

#1: Jay Ratliff, Defensive Tweener: End/Tackle. Ratliff is a seventh rounder from Purdue who has exceeded the expectations of everyone other than maybe his mother and significant other. Ratliff is 6’4 and 298 pounds, having bulked up a bit for his role as a tackle this season, but has fluctuated below that in the past. His physical tools are solid but lacking in awe-value. Rat does everything well: He can overpower blockers, do his nickname proud by sneaking by, or even restrain himself and wait for the ball carrier to foolishly rush into his merciless clutches. He sets others up very well, and a lot of his best work doesn’t show up prominently in stat reports; I believe he led the team in QB pressures throughout the season. Rat is 26 and just signed a 5 year, 20.5 million dollar extension which should make all involved parties quite happy. Expect him to return to DE next year, for reasons I will go over later in the presentation.

#2: Chris Canty, Defensive End. Canty’s one of those guys who is declared a steal by EVERYONE on draft day. A projected first rounder who slid due to some injury/character issues, Canty lasted until the second to last selection in the fourth round. King Jerry was certain that the Patriots would pick up CC with the very next selection, and traded with Philadelphia to acquire the prior selection. The 25 year old Canty is an imposing presence. #99 stands 6’7, weighs 300 pounds, and flexes his considerable biceps in a signature move after every big play. He’s stout against the run, and overpowers defenders often. He’s certainly panned out better than most second-day selections, and there’s no reason to think that his future in Dallas won’t be a long and prosperous one. He is a restricted FA this year, but the team is expected to hang on to him.

#3: Tank Johnson, Defensive Tackle. Johnson’s taken a great deal of flak throughout his short career over his off-the-field problems, but anyone who’s invested more than a cursory glance into the situation knows that his role in these unfortunate incidents is greatly overblown. Johnson seems to be a decent guy who Kept It Real to too great an extent and has the wrong passion (Automatic weapons) but never set out to hurt a soul-again, the key word being off the field. Johnson isn’t one of those controversial figures whose play is unquestioned, he’s far from a superstar. But the aptly-named Tank is a force against both the pass and run. He can’t be manhandled with ease, and brings the occasional relentless bulrush, to the extent of almost knocking a QB’s head off (as was the case in one game this year, when Johnson actually got penalized for his sack being too highlight-reel worthy). Johnson’s 26 and signed to a shockingly reasonable contract for next year, and should fill a similar role to this past year: Backup Nose Tackle.

4. Jason Ferguson, Defensive Tackle. I’m going to catch some of the misplaced flak from Tank’s shooting range on this. Quarterbacks aren’t threatened by Ferguson, he made exactly ONE tackle this year, and he’s 33 years old. But when healthy (And he has been, historically, throughout 11 NFL seasons) Ferguson is the prototypical Nose Tackle: He plugs gaps, draws two blockers, and will allow nobody to run by little radius. He anchors the run-stopping game much in the same way that the Williams duo does for Minnesota, making everyone else’s job much easier. He should start next year, but allow for fairly measurable backup duty from the Tank.

5. Marcus Spears, Defensive End. I know, here comes the bitterness. Spears is decent in every way, and I may be shunning him because he’s a BP lovechild and a first round pick. And it’s probably unfair that I hate him when I didn’t lash too harshly at Bobby Carpenter, who isn’t even logging snaps. But I simply don’t like Spears; his overly jovial attitude whenever he’s in the vicinity (That’s the key word) of a substantial play, his inability to be the pass rusher we held inflated hopes for, and the retrospective fear based on the fact that he was almost selected instead of D-Ware at #11. But In all actuality, Spears is a very serviceable player. He’s solid against runners and can deliver mean hits and meaner raps.

6. Jason Hatcher, Defensive End. The 2006 3rd round pick has caused dispute amongst the more devoted Cowboys fans; those who actually know his name. He’s a fairly effective pass rusher when in the game, although he hasn’t shown enough to be placed above Spears or Canty on the depth chart. He is what he is; a 25 year old with a decent deal of value to this team, and a lot of potential that may or not materialize if we give it a chance to. I wouldn’t feel comfortable inserting him into a starter’s role, but he’s a very suitable backup.

7. Stephen Bowen’s a fairly raw 23 year old who was picked up by the team last year after not being drafted. He’s likely going to be a backup in the foreseeable future, as he hasn’t shown enough snaps, or enough during his meager quantity of aforementioned plays, to justify much more. His one career sack was against Jon Kitna, I like the name of his college (Hofstra) and he has a semi-stache, which I approve of. Much like Justin Rogers, however, I can’t tell you much about him as a player.

Possible draftees: Ah, the most nebulous part of this whole process. I just love taking shots in the dark on players who will probably never impact the Cowboys directly. Again, let me preface this by saying that these are not in any way personal suggestions for draft day; I’m just listing guys who project around where the Cowboys will be picking as things stand now. In fact, I’d be very surprised if they picked a defensive lineman. I won’t concentrate on the three truly premium Defensive linemen in this draft, as they will likely all be gone by pick #6 or 7. Cursory mentions: Glenn Dorsey is likely a Kevin Williams, Chris Long a Jared Allen, Sedrick Ellis an enigma who offers everything but height, and will likely turn out the best of the bunch

But that doesn’t rule out some very good players who should be available late in the first round. In no certain order (Other than Longhorns guys first, because UT rox!), as I’m not going to rank these guys, here are a few.

DT Frank Okam is very comparable to another phenomenal Texas DT: Shaun Rogers. He can be dominating on some plays, but disinterested and sloppy on many others. If he ever realized that this game is a good way to get fawning and fortune, he’d become wildly successful in the NFL. However, I’m afraid to say I’m skeptical about taking him with a first-round pick after seeing what lazy payers are like.

DE Derrick Harvey is a physical specimen in the mold of our very own Demarcus ‘The Dominator’ Ware. He’s big, fast, has an exceptional first step and loads of potential. There have been questions about Harvey’s ability to stay at DE as a 260 pounder, as well as his abilities against the run. The chances are, Harvey won’t be there at 22. But if he is I’d jump on that as if it were Jessica Alba.

DE Calais Campbell is possibly the most vertically intimidating football player I have ever seen. He’s 6’8 and looks it, weighs a lithe (It feels very strange to type that with this number) 280, and takes advantage of his athletic gifts. To what extent, however, it remains to be seen. Campbell is gifted much along the same lines of a Julius Peppers. Much like Peppers, however, he can go through extended maddening periods of time in which he simply disappears. Campbell’s stock was as high as the Top 10 at one point, but he has slid precipitously and may even be a second round pick by now, albeit an early one.

DE Phillip Merling is more of a combo DE than the previous two specimens; he can get to the quarterback, but is not the prototypical pass rusher. He is more stout against the run than either of them, and the Clemson End has shown versatility in more ways than that one-he used to play tight end. Merling is likely a top 20 selection.

DT Kentwan Balmer was a very highly recruited high school star who is 6’5 and 300 pounds, yet runs a sub-5 40 yard dash. Balmer’s a complete player who is a productive tackler, yet can penetrate the line of scrimmage and create pressure. NC’s star is shooting up draft boards faster than any tackle, and may vault himself into the top 20. As it stands, he’s a late first round pick.

Prospective free agent pickups: Ah, the veteran addition. Scott Pioli has perfected the craft of picking up journeymen defensive players to surround his core with, and many aspire to that tactic. If Jerry decides to take his shot, expect a few things. Firstly, there will be no Albert Haynesworth signing. I don’t care how good he is; he played for a contract this year, and I don’t believe that the cleat to the face of Andre Gurode will be forgotten so quickly. Take note to forget any daydreams about Jared Allen; he will come at a very steep rate, and this team has other needs. I do love a dominant 25 year old pass rushing End from Dallas, though…

I really don’t see JJ signing any impact DLmen this year; he doesn’t need starters to a great extent, the backups are more than sufficient, and there’s not much cash to spare. But here is one name to keep in mind, just so I can cite this as a stroke of genius in a weird sequence of events.

Ebenezer Ekuban. I know, we went down that road before. But he’s been better since departing and will come cheap. He becomes this team’s best pass-rushing Defensive End and offers veteran leadership. Jerry’s shown he’s not one to pass on a good player because of mere bad blood in the past. The chances are slim, but I could see this transpiring.

No comments: