DT Jay Ratliff moved on to Chicago and DT Jason Hatcher, the Cowboys most productive defensive lineman last season, just signed with the rival Redskins. Before the departure of Hatcher, I considered defensive tackle the Cowboys biggest position of need and now it only becomes more obvious.
Currently it appears Dallas has interest in signing free agent Henry Melton who played for the Bears. But if that deal can get done or not remains to be seen, and even if it does, Dallas could still use more help at DT. They also recently signed NFL journeyman DT Terrell McClain who will likely provide depth at the 1 technique. Drafting a DT early is still a significant possibility.
A look at three defensive tackles available in the draft that Dallas could consider using a first round pick on to help improve their 4-3 defensive front.
DT Aaron Donald:
Strengths: Quickness-One thing new defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli looks for in a three technique defensive tackle is quickness and Donald certainly has that. Donald can split blockers with ease and penetrate the backfield. Against the run he makes tackles for loss and has the speed to pursue runners. He also provides a much needed pass rush up the middle of the defensive line.
Motor– On video he plays with an outstanding motor and pursues relentlessly. Not one to take a play off.
Strength– Donald benched 225 pounds an impressive 35 times at the combine so don’t think his quickness is the only way he can beat blockers. It’s also an indication of his strong work ethic in the weight room.
Weakness: Size- Not a lot of weaknesses in my view, but some would point at his overall size as less than ideal. His tremendous productivity makes his size easy to get past.
Fit for Dallas:
Excellent-An important aspect of the successful Tampa 2 defense for the Buccaneers was having Warren Sapp in the middle of the line disrupting plays. Dallas just didn’t have that last season but Donald could bring that element to this defense and be a real difference maker. An ideal 3 tech. in their defense and a three down player for sure.
Draft: Ranked as the top DT in the draft by CBSsports and could be drafted at 14 by the Bears before Dallas picks. Stock exploded after impressive combine performance.
DT Timmy Jernigan:
Strengths– Quick feet-Not great straight line speed but surprisingly very good quickness moving laterally.
Hands– I really like how Jernigan uses his hands to control the blocker and disengage form the blocker to pursue the ball.
Run defender– Jernigan is an excellent defender against the run. He gets off blockers, slides down the line to collapse the hole and stuff the runner. Appears more like a LB when he pursues the ball.
Weakness-Just an average pass rusher. Not very productive in sacks last season with just 4.5.
Fit for Dallas–
Very Good– I think Jernigan would improve the Cowboys run defense significantly right away. He is probably more of a 1 tech. than 3 tech. but I think he can handle both. Jernigan will be excellent on run plays but on 3rd down may not be a great help against the pass.
Draft: Third ranked DT and expected to go in the first round. Some mocks who think Donald will be off the board, have Dallas picking Jernigan instead.
DT RaShede Hageman:
Strengths– Good size- Hageman’s 6-6, 310 frame makes him an ideal size for a defensive lineman and presents a lot for offensive linemen to deal with.
Arm Strength– Hageman benched 225 pounds for 32 reps at the NFL combine and that strength shows up in his play. Able to bull rush offensive linemen pushing them back into the backfield.
Versatile– Hageman has experience playing both the one and three spot on the defensive line. Can adapt to both positions well.
Weakness: Wouldn’t describe him as relentless as he plays in spurts. Sometimes appears slow to recognize the play.
Fit for Dallas: Good- Hageman brings power and size to a defensive line that needs it with Hatcher gone. He could play either the one or three DT for Dallas and brings good versatility. A player that may have more upside than any DT in the draft.
Draft: Expected to be a late first round pick. A trade down candidate for Dallas possibly. Pick up an additional draft pick and a good player in Hageman too.
Any of these three DTs could help the Cowboys defensive line. Aaron Donald represents the kind of quickness that can really make the Cowboys D-line a problem for offenses to deal with. Appears made for their defense.
Timmy Jernigan offers the best run defender of the three in my view, and could help Dallas a great deal. Jernigan is a very good consolation prize if Donald is off the board at 16.
If Dallas is looking for a DT that can replace the departed Jason Hatcher, RaShede Hageman offers the best choice as he has similar size. Hageman is the kind of player that could under achieve but who also has the size and athletic ability to eventually turn out to be the best pick of the three too.
Related: A look at DEs