Will the Cowboys Draft a Defensive Tackle in the First Round?

It’s the time of year where fans focus on the plethora of NFL mock drafts that are available in anticipating who will be the Cowboys first pick. Several mock drafts have Dallas selecting a defensive tackle in the first round but they don’t all agree which DT that might be.

It’s easy to make a case that their defensive front needs help after a season where the Cowboys allowed record breaking yards and weren’t particularly effective at pressuring opposing QBs. In an earlier blog, I looked at the 2014 draft needs on defense by position and ranked defensive tackle number one.

“I like linebackers. I collect ’em. You can’t have too many good ones.”
-Bill Parcells

While Dallas hasn’t drafted that many DTs, they have drafted plenty of linebackers over the years as I noticed in the past 30 years every draft has included at least one LB except for two drafts (2004 and 2002).

When Dallas has drafted DTs early, it really has paid off for them. The very first draft pick ever for Dallas back in 1961, was a defensive tackle named Bob Lilly. Dallas can only hope to find a DT in the 2014 draft that plays anywhere near the level that the Hall of Famer Lilly played.

The last time Dallas drafted a DT was Sean Lissemore in the 7th round of the 2010 draft. He proved to be a pretty productive defensive lineman for a 7th round pick but he was sent to the Chargers last season after it was decided he wasn’t a good fit in their new 4-3 defense. Last year with the Chargers, Lissemore had 31 tackles (5 for loss) and an interception returned for a TD. Put his name on the rather lengthy list of former Cowboys who went on to have success with other teams. Sure seems with Dallas scrambling around looking for guys to play the defensive line last season, they could have used Lissemore.

DT in First Round:
Back in 1991, Dallas selected DT Russell Maryland not only in the first round, but with the first pick in the entire draft. The Cowboys went on to win the first of three super bowls starting in 1992 and the pro bowler Maryland, played a huge part on those successful teams. Safe to say they had no regrets making that draft pick. In the same draft, they picked DT Leon Lett who now is on the Cowboys coaching staff. It was perhaps the cornerstone of building that defense in the 90’s that was so successful harassing QBs.

The season prior to drafting those two DTs, the Cowboys record was 7-9 in 1990. After drafting them, in 1991 they finished 11-5 and made the playoffs. It helped turn things around.

Carolina Panthers:
After finishing 7-9 in 2012, the Panthers used their first two picks in the 2013 draft on DTs Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short. Last season they finished 12-4 and made the playoffs. I would say those two picks made a difference on their defense since they did not draft a defensive back at all but finished 2nd only to the Seahawks in total defense in the NFL . Funny, how all of a sudden their secondary played better with an improved defensive line.

2014 Draft
Whether Dallas can keep free agent 31 year old Jason Hatcher, last season’s most productive defensive lineman, is not clear. But regardless, it is clear that Dallas needs to get younger and quicker on the defensive line. They don’t have all the pieces in place to make the 4-3 defense work and that needs to be addressed in the 2014 draft.

In my January blog looking at the defensive needs, I mentioned a DT prospect named Aaron Donald who at the time was considered a 2nd round pick but after an impressive Senior Bowl performance, has moved up into the first round. Would Jerry pull the trigger on a DT like Donald with the first pick? More and more mocks are pointing to Donald as an ideal fit for the Cowboys 4-3 defense.

I won’t attempt to predict what Jerry Jones will do on draft day which in the past, has proven to be unpredictable. I honestly don’t think he knows what he is going to do, until he is on the clock. Drafting a DT in the first round may not be considered a “sexy pick” but it just might be what is needed to get Dallas over that 8-8 hump they’re stuck on.