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Helman: It Seems The Focus Needs To Shift From DT To DE

Posted Apr 3, 2014

IRVING, Texas – The NFL’s draft experts can apparently hear your pleas loud and clear, Cowboys fans.

Even with the addition of three defensive linemen – one of them a Pro Bowler – in free agency, the focus remains squarely on the defensive line when examining the Cowboys’ draft needs. But is it perhaps hyper-focused on the defensive tackle spot?

I ask the question in light of Mel Kiper’s three-round mock draft, which he published to ESPN.com on Thursday. Rather than stopping at the first round, which is the practice of most mocks, Kiper went in-depth and made the first three picks for all 32 clubs in the NFL.

Kiper’s decisions for the Cowboys are bound to be crowd-pleasers, as he went all-in on Dallas’ needs in the trenches. With the No. 16 overall pick, he selected the longtime favorite in defensive tackle Aaron Donald. The No. 47 pick, midway through the second round, addressed the interior of the other line by grabbing UCLA guard Xavier Su’a-Filo. He finished up by taking another bowling ball defensive tackle, Will Sutton, 78th overall.

It all sounds really good. The two defensive tackles provide depth and give the Cowboys plenty of bodies to rotate, and Su’a-Filo could at best become a rookie starter or at least bolster what is currently a thin guard position.

My question is: has the focus on the need for defensive tackles become too much if we’re talking about drafting two with the team’s first three picks?

There’s no doubt it’s a weak spot. Jason Hatcher left a big hole when he left for Washington in March, and for a time there were only two genuine defensive tackles on the roster.

It’s not as if the Cowboys have ignored this, though. Although he is coming off an ACL injury, the acquisition of Henry Melton brings Pro Bowl pedigree back to the position in lieu of Hatcher. The Cowboys also added Terrell McClain to work with Nick Hayden. Ben Bass should join the mix after missing the 2013 season, and two of the team’s defensive ends – Tyrone Crawford and Jeremy Mincey – could conceivably spend time at defensive tackle.

If you add one early draft pick to that equation, you’re looking at six or seven guys who can help improve the interior of the defensive line.

That’s not great – certainly not when you compare it to some of the better defensive lines in this league. But take a look at the defensive end position and tell me the Cowboys can afford to ignore it.

With DeMarcus Ware departing, Mincey is the most accomplished end on the roster. George Selvie enjoyed the best season in 2013. Crawford has potential but has not proven it. Anthony Spencer remains unsigned, and his availability for the start of training camp is doubtful.

So basically, I think the narrative has changed. I’m not saying defensive tackle is a strength – not yet, at least. But it appears as though defensive end has become the more dire need.

By all means draft Donald if he’s still there in the first round, or grab Sutton later on if Donald is unavailable. But I don’t know that the Cowboys can avoid addressing their edge rushers throughout the first half of this draft.

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