Cowboys have to take aggressive approach with defensive line

The Dallas Cowboys have seven picks in this week’s draft and more needs than selections. This week we will take a position-by-position look at the roster to determine in which spots their needs are more necessary to fill than others.


What they have: Tyrone Crawford, DeMarcus Lawrence, David Irving, Benson Mayowa, Charles Tapper, Damontre Moore, Lenny Jones, Richard Ash.

What they need: In 2014, the Cowboys gave up their second- and third-round picks to take Lawrence at the top of the second round. At the time, they felt like Lawrence was the last remaining true right defensive end. A foot injury slowed him as a rookie, and he did not have a regular-season sack. He led the Cowboys with eight sacks in 2015, but a suspension and back injury limited him to one sack last season.

Lawrence is entering a contract year and needs to show he is more the 2015 player than the one from last year. The Cowboys will gladly take it after their second-round gamble in 2015, Randy Gregory, has yet to pay off. He is suspended for the entire season but could return to the team if they make the playoffs provided he follows all of the stipulations of his suspension.

Mayowa led the Cowboys in sacks last year with six. Crawford, who was signed to an extension because of his defensive tackle skills in 2015, is coming off a second shoulder surgery in as many offseasons. Tapper did not play as a rookie because of a back injury. Irving had 4.5 sacks and was the team's best pass-rusher late in the 2016 season.

Are any of them lead dogs, so to speak, when it comes to pass-rushers? Not really. At No. 28, the Cowboys will have a chance to add to the pass rush. They have rebuilt their offensive line through first-round picks. They need to start to do the same for the defensive line.

Best fit: Derek Barnett, Tennessee. He broke Reggie White’s school record for sacks, finishing with 33 in his career. He was able to produce big-time numbers in the best conference in college football against top competition. He does not possess all of the quick-twitch athleticism you would want from a right defensive end, but he gets the job done with powerful hands, solid leverage and smarts.

Late-round possibilities: Trey Hendrickson, Florida Atlantic, Daeshon Hall, Texas A&M. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli yells at his pass-rushers about their “get off” constantly. He wants them fast off the ball. Hendrickson has that, and he was productive in his final three years. He needs some polish but he has NFL skill. The Cowboys worked out Hall prior to the draft. He was overshadowed by Myles Garrett, but he has the skills Marinelli likes in pass rushers. He is fast. He has long arms. He can close off the edge. He’s not as consistent as he needs to be, but he could be a find in the middle rounds.

Feeling a draft: The Cowboys like their defensive line more than others, but they need to add a bonafide pass rusher. They don’t have a player who commands attention coming out of the huddle. They have solid players, and Irving still has room to grow, but they could take more than one pass-rusher in the draft.