Drawing the Defensive Line for '09

The 2008 season saw a solid Cowboys defensive line anchored by the pro-bowl play of our nose tackle, Jay Ratliff. Jay, not known as a prototypical mammoth, run stuffing tackle, uses an approach not seen a lot in this league, but fits his size and strengths. Often stunting around the center and leaping on the quarterback is a sight we saw this year as our beer tipped over while jumping off our couches and screaming “Hell Yeah!”

His backup, Tank Johnson, had another semi-solid year, but saw not only his play, but his attitude, head south towards December. Tank was quoted as yelling “I’m a free-agent!” in the locker room after the embarrassing loss in Philly last December, effectively ending our playoff hopes and his career as a Dallas Cowboy. Hole #1 in our D-Line for ’09.

At left end, Marcus Spears had another solid year. No gaudy stats. No amazing sacks (he had one this year), but remember what the job of a 3-4 defensive end is and you’ll have to appreciate player like Spears a lot more. He was drafted in ’05 and in ’09, will be playing for a new contract. His backup Jason Hatcher filled in nicely for Spears and also registered a sack this year. I like this position as it is on the D-line and hope it stays this way for a long time.

On the other side, Chris Canty started at right end for his third consecutive year. He posted a career high 5 passes defended. Canty is now an unrestricted free agent and will likely be too rich for our blood to keep around. Hole #2 in our D-Line for ’09. Stephen Bowen continued to improve as Canty’s backup, but shouldnt be counted on as a starter.

One idea that many fans are throwing around is to utilize Ratliff’s strengths and move him to right end. I am not a fan of this move. Moving a pro-bowl player to another position that he could possibly struggle at and creating a HUGE void at arguably the most important position on a 3-4 defensive line is not my idea of a smart move. Though J-Ratt is not your conventional 3-4 nose tackle, he is a VERY effective one. Don’t fix what aint broke!

So with the void at backup nose tackle and starting right end, this puts an immediate priority on the D-line.

My top 10 positions of need in the draft as of today are:

  1. Right Defensive End
  2. Weak Inside Linebacker
  3. Free Safety
  4. Nose Tackle
  5. Corner Back
  6. Quarterback
  7. Center
  8. Guard
  9. Offensive Tackle
  10. Outside Linebacker

I’ll explain my reasoning for this draft order in a future post. Right now, let’s list available free agent tackles. I won’t bother listing ends, since we likely wont be looking for a starter in free agency after letting our own go.

Kenderick Allen      UFA Vikings
Jonathan Babineaux   UFA Falcons
Rocky Bernard        UFA Seahawks
Shaun Cody           UFA Lions
Colin Cole           UFA Packers
Damane Duckett       UFA 49ers
Dwan Edwards         UFA Ravens
Fred Evans           RFA Vikings
Gary Gibson          RFA Panthers
La’Roi Glover        UFA Rams
Kedric Golston       RFA Redskins
Howard Green         UFA Seahawks
Jovan Haye           UFA Buccaneers
Albert Haynesworth   UFA Titans
Grady Jackson        UFA Falcons
Jason Jefferson      UFA Falcons
Tank Johnson         UFA Cowboys
William Joseph       UFA Raiders
Jimmy Kennedy        UFA Jaguars
Antwan Lake          UFA Saints
Brandon McKinney     RFA Ravens
Anthony Montgomery   RFA Redskins
Kenny Peterson       UFA Broncos
James Reed           UFA Saints
Darrell Reid         UFA Colts
Ryan Sims            UFA Buccaneers
Kenny Smith          UFA Patriots
Montavious Stanley   RFA Saints
John Thornton        UFA Bengals
Kevin Vickerson      RFA Titans
Darwin Walker        UFA Panthers
Gabe Watson          RFA Cardinals
Mike Wright          UFA Patriots
Ellis Wyms           UFA Vikings
Jeff Zgonina         UFA Texans


And now a slim list of quality 3-4 Defensive Ends entering the 2009 NFL Draft:
(keep in mind the difference in weight between a 3-4 and a 4-3 end and also our draft positions)

Tyson Jackson, LSU
Height: 6-5. Weight: 292.
Projected 40 Time: 4.85.
Projected Round (2009): 2.
11/16/08: Tyson Jackson has 4.5 sacks this year, but he won’t provide much of a pass rush in the NFL. He’ll be great against the run.
5/7/08: Still the best 4-3 left end or 3-4 end available in this class.
2007: Tyson Jackson has announced that he’ll be returning for his senior season.
Pretty much the same build as Adam Carriker, only with a much faster Projected 40 Time. Will play up front in the 4-3 or 3-4. Notched 8.5 sacks in 2006.

Robert Ayers, Tennessee
Height: 6-3. Weight: 273.
Projected 40 Time: 4.73.
Projected Round (2009): 4.
1/9/09: Robert Ayers had a monstrous senior campaign and was consequently named to the All-SEc First Team. Ayers collected just three sacks, but had 15.5 TFL.

Derek Walker, Illinois
Height: 6-4. Weight: 272.
Projected 40 Time: 4.74.
Projected Round (2009): 4-5.
11/16/08: Derek Walker has six sacks this season – impressive, considering he’ll be a left end in the NFL.
2007: Derek Walker has a habit of getting to the quarterback, but he also missed some action in 2006 with an ankle injury.

Pannel Egboh, Stanford
Height: 6-6. Weight: 280.
Projected 40 Time: 4.82.
Projected Round (2009): 5.
1/9/09: Pannel Egboh had 4.5 TFL and 1.5 sacks in 12 games as a senior. A sprained knee in the middle of the season limited his production.
5/7/08: A potential left end or a 3-4 lineman at the next level, Pannel Egboh had six sacks in 2007. More impressively, he has 24 consecutive starts as of this writing.

Mitch King, Iowa
Height: 6-1. Weight: 275.
Projected 40 Time: 4.72.
Projected Round (2009): 5.
1/9/09: Mitch King’s 15.5 TFL were pretty impressive. He had 54 tackles and two sacks on the year.
11/16/08: Should be a solid 3-4 reserve in the NFL for a number of years.
5/7/08: Mitch King had 4.5 sacks in 2007, and is looking like a solid, mid-round defensive end in the 2009 Draft.

Player info copied from walterfootball.com/

As you can see, there aren’t a lot of candidates for a starting position in the NFL. Not right away, anyway. Tyson Jackson, to me, makes the most sense.

I’ve got a few other positions I want to talk about before putting all of this info together for an off-season gameplan.

Next up: Cornerback

Comments
  1. Adrian

    Right now a Quarterback should be are 1st top draft pick priority!!!

  2. Joe D.

    Great post Nate! Thanks for taking the time to research and present such a strong argument for our most dire needs. As for Tank Johnson… The hell with him, I never really liked him anyway. Good riddance.
    As for moving Ratliff, I disagree and I’ll tell you why in the blog you just inspired me to write.
    Nice job!

  3. 1. Free Safety/Strong Safety (starter)
    Someone opposite of Ken Hamlin.
    2. Inside Linebacker (starter)
    Bradie James had a break out year, and I’m shocked he wasn’t selected to the pro-bowl. We need someone to line up opposite of him, and bring the intensity and leadership that one Ray Lewis brings.
    3. Nose Tackle (starter)
    Jay Ratliff was very productive, but that’s just because Chris Canty and Marcus Spears were used more to clog up the middle, and Jay Ratliff was used more of a pass rusher. Let’s move Jay Ratliff to Defensive End and get a true Nose Tackle…
    4. Defensive End (starter)
    Chris Canty is asking for too much, and Jason Hatcher and Stephen Bowen hasn’t showed much.
    5. Corner (backup)
    Can never have too many corners in this pass happy NFL today.
    6. Offensive Tackle (backup)
    Flozell Adams is getting older and losing a step, the cause of some of those “a lot” of false starts…
    7. Offensive Guard (backup)
    Kyle Kosier in his absence showed how much we need him, I think Montrae Holland will give him a run for his money though this off season. Either way we can improve this position one way or another.
    8. Outside Linebacker (backup)
    Greg Ellis isn’t getting any younger, and he’s a huge drama queen. While I think Anthony Spencer will be far better than Greg Ellis ever was, we still need to find a back up.
    9. Quarterback (backup)
    We need to find a veteran quarterback that is not drawing social security.
    10.Receiver (backup)
    Terrell Owens regardless of what his critics say, he’s still in his prime! Constantly drawing double coverage, freeing up Jason Witten. Trust me, Jason Witten is awesome, but he wouldn’t be half as good as a production stand point if it wasn’t for Terrell Owens drawing double coverage. The only one who can catch Terrell Owens is father time, and he’s creeping on him fast!

  4. Barb

    I thought I was on NFL.COM for a minute.
    Really great, informative blog Nate.
    You were a wise decision ;)