Draft Nuggets 2013: Entry #10
By Jeff Bowers of www.thesportsnarrative.com
Addressing the Cowboys Needs:
Just a few hours before the deadline Monday, the Cowboys elected to use their franchise tag again this year on Anthony Spencer. That means the Cowboys get to retain the rights to Anthony Spencer at a whopping 10.6 million dollar salary, all of which counts against the cap next year. Spencer will be asked to move to defensive end in the new 4-3 scheme, a position he has not played since college. And while very productive last year against the run and the pass, some stat geeks believe that his numbers were a bit hollow and may not translate going forward. So let’s take a look at the Cowboys need at defensive end and whether or not Spencer is the answer.
The Need at Defensive End:
With the Cowboys switching to Monte Kiffin’s Tampa-2 defense, the need to get pass rush from the defensive line is an imperative. DeMarcus Ware is instantly plugged in at one of the DE spots, though at his listed 254lbs he may need to add a little weight to endure the more physical nature of playing end. For example, on the 2003 Bucs Superbowl team, the defensive ends weighed 265 and 268lbs, and that was 10 years ago. But the other end spot was a question mark going into the offseason as Spencer was a free agent. By using the franchise tag, the Cowboys believe that the 250lbs Spencer can fill the other end spot. There has been speculation that Dallas may try to trade Spencer still, but that seems highly unlikely. The Cowboys options now are to work out a long term deal with Spencer or let him play the year at his very high salary cap number and be free. So in addition to the weight question, Spencer faces a number of other question marks. With his franchise tag salary, Spencer has currently the 2nd highest base salary of any linebacker and ranks 7th among defensive ends behind fellow franchise tag recipient Michael Johnson. That’s a bit high when you consider Scouts Inc has him with a grade of 78 from last year, which is 40th among linebackers and 29th among defensive ends in the NFL. And though he had a career high 11 sacks last year, Football Outsiders gave him credit for only 11 other QB pressures and 4 hits, which is way down from his average of 40.7 QB “Incidents” for his career. So though Spencer will be given the opportunity to start at DE, his success there is yet to be determined at a high price tag.
To further complicate the defensive end position, the depth behind Ware and Spencer is suspect at best. Last year’s starting ends, Hatcher and Spears, will likely be moved inside to defensive tackle (if Spears is even retained). Last year’s 3rd round pick Tyrone Crawford could play end at 285lbs, but Jerry has intimated he may also be converted to defensive tackle. The 4th round pick from last year, Kyle Wilbur, seems destined to compete at SLB and not on the D line. This week the Cowboys worked out the under-achieving and knuckle-headed Jarvis Moss from the Raiders, but that is more of a shot in the dark. So, defensive end will be a need this offseason, whether in the draft or free agency.
This year’s free agent class at defensive end has some nice names at the top sure to get some nice contracts and then gets very thin after that. Here are some of the top candidates available:
1. Michael Johnson, Cincinnati Bengals, Age 26 – As expected, the Bengals slapped Johnson with the franchise tag and should work out a long term deal with the emergent player.
2. Michael Bennett, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Age 27 – One of the more underrated players in the NFL, Bennett is sure to get a big contract as easily the best pass rusher on the open market. Tampa may try to lock him up before March 13th.
3. Cliff Avril, Detroit Lions, Age 27 – Avril was determined to hit the market after rejecting a 3yr-$30 million contract last year. Though he struggles against the run, Avril’s ability to rush the passer is solid and deserving.
4. Dwight Freeney, Indianapolis Colts, Age 33 – After struggling to make the transition to the 3-4, Freeney was released by the Colts. With his age, merely a stop gap 1 to 2 year fix at best.
5. William Hayes, St Louis Rams, Age 28 – Stuck behind two good ends with the Rams, Hayes has acquitted himself well when given the chance. Better against the run than rushing the passer, Hayes is a good value pick up.
6. Osi Umeniyora, New York Giants, Age 31 – Signing anyone over the age of 30 is always dicey, and Umeniyora’s decline the past few years seem to reinforce that idea. Probably only a situational pass rusher now.
7. John Abraham, Atlanta Falcons, Age 35 – Though he still put up 10 sacks last year for the Falcons, Abraham’s best days are behind him.
Though I really like Bennett and Avril, the money already allocated to Spencer probably precludes the Cowboys pursuing any of the top defensive ends. Perhaps a veteran on a one year deal like Freeney or Osi could add to depth, but little more. But vets like these will never be “dirt-cheap”which is what the Cowboys need right now.
The draft this year is very rich with pass rushing prospects. But with so many other needs and the starters seemingly in place, it seems unlikely that the Cowboys will use a high pick at defensive end. Here’s a look at the top prospects at defensive end and then a few sleeper picks in the later rounds:
1. Ezekiel Ansah, BYU, 6’5” 274lbs – Ansah is an amazing athlete with not much production in college. This year’s version of Jason Pierre-Paul, Ansah is sure to be a top 10 pick on his upside alone.
2. Bjorn Werner, Florida St, 6’3” 266lbs – Werner has great strength and quickness for his size and that translates into versatility. Whether a DE or an OLB in the 3-4, Werner should be a solid contributor for years to come. A top 15 pick for sure
3. Damontre Moore, Texas A&M, 6’4” 250lbs – Once thought of as a top 5 pick, Moore had a very disappointing Combine, running a very slow 40 (4.95) and the fewest number of reps on the bench press of any defensive lineman (12). Moore needs a really good pro day to redeem himself but right now he is in the 20-30 range in the 1st round . . . and continuing to fall.
4. Alex Okafor, Texas, 6’4” 261lns – Okafor had a great senior season, finishes his career with 4.5 sacks against Oregon St in the bowl game. At the Senior bowl, top 15 LT prospect Lane Johnson of OU sad Okafor was the best pass rusher he had ever faced. A classic 4-3 DE, Okafor should hear his name in the second half of round 1.
5. Margus Hunt, SMU, 6’8” 277lbs – Hunt is a very interesting prospect. From Estonia, Hunt was a track and field guy with only two years of experience of football in his whole life. But in that time he has shined, even blocking field goals and extra points with amazingly regularity. Hunt’s stock has really risen with a solid Combine and he is a late 1st to early 2ndround projection.
6. Datone Jones, UCLA, 6’4” 280lbs – Jones looks like an Adonis and really impressed scouts at the Combine. The only question seems to be what position is best for him. As an end/tackle tweener, Jones has versatility and should be a second round choice.
7. Sam Montgomery,LSU, 6’3” 262 – Playing opposite of teammate Mingo, Montgomery put together a very solid season. However, questions about a major knee injury in 2010 and, more importantly, taking plays off that he admitted to in media interviews raise some big red flags around this guy.
8. Tank Carradine, Florida St, 6’4” 276lbs – When starter Brandon Jenkins went down for the Seminoles this year, Carradine stepped in and took advantage. Totaling 11 sacks and regularly beating one-on-one matchups, Carradine has also impressed through the draft process and put himself solidly into round 2 consideration
1. Devin Taylor, South Carolina, 6’7” 266lbs – Overshadowed by next year’s #1 pick Jadeveon Clowney, Taylor has nice physical tools and could develop into a quality starter. 3rd-4throunder
2. Stansly Maponga, TXU, 6’2”256lbs – Though he might have come out a year early, Maponga showed nice strength putting up 30 reps at the Combine. A developmental pick, Maponga may be a decent value pick in the 5th or 6th round.
With a deep crop of defensive ends in this year’s draft, the Cowboys should consider adding some depth at the position in round 4 or 5. A player with some size, such as Carradine or Taylor could be nice to anchor that run defense and still get to the quarterback. But with so many other pressing needs at the top of the board, it seems unlikely the Cowboys will draft one of the top pass rushers early in this draft.
Argentina is AWESOME . . . but let’s get back to the Cowboys. Jason Hatcher could also slide to defensive end thus making this position much less of a priority as long as they retain Spencer. The much greater need is on the inside of the defensive line, where the Tampa-2 requires at least one very large talented player. If the Cowboys draft along the defensive line early this April, it should be at tackle and not end.