Skip to main content

A Major Trend In The Cowboys' Recent Drafts


FRISCO, Texas – Trace the Cowboys' war room weekends back to 2011, Jason Garrett's first offseason as full-time head coach, and you'll find the formation of the franchise's current identity: the offensive line.

It was originally meant for Tony Romo -- a subtle rebuild up front from aging players to four first-round picks/talents in five seasons who restored offensive balance. Then Dak Prescott inherited Romo's clean pocket in 2016, easing his rookie transition from third-string quarterback to out-of-nowhere fill-in (and then full-time) starter.

Now, cultivated through the last six drafts, the defensive line is also getting significant attention.

The result is the most D-Line depth this team has seen since Rod Marinelli became defensive coordinator in 2014.

"If you think back six or seven years, we've done a nice job fitting guys in and signing a couple guys in free agency that we really like," Marinelli said. "The competition is here, and you have to have that."

The headliner of this 2019 rookie class, defensive tackle/second-round pick Trysten Hill, has an incongruous blend of power and quickness for his 308-pound frame.

He's also the fifth defensive lineman in six years that Dallas has drafted in the first two days (i.e. first three rounds): DeMarcus Lawrence (second round, 2014); Randy Gregory (second round, 2015); Maliek Collins (third round, 2016); Taco Charlton (first round, 2017) and now Hill.

No other roster position has gotten this much TLC. Here's the breakdown:

Quarterback: 0
Running Back: 1 -- Ezekiel Elliott (first round, 2016)
Wide Receiver: 1 -- Michael Gallup (third round, 2018)
Tight End: 0
Offensive Line: 4 -- Zack Martin (first round, 2014); Chaz Green (third round, 2015); Connor Williams (second round, 2018); Connor McGovern (third round, 2019)
Linebacker: 2 -- Jaylon Smith (second round, 2016); Leighton Vander Esch (first round, 2018)
Cornerback: 3 -- Byron Jones (first round, 2015); Chidobe Awuzie (second round, 2017); Jourdan Lewis (third round, 2017)

When Marinelli took over defensive coordinator duties in 2014, the Cowboys were putting Band-Aids on significant D-Line departures. After parting ways with Pro Bowler Jason Hatcher and all-time franchise sack leader DeMarcus Ware, they signed journeyman veteran Jeremy Mincey to team with fellow starters Nick Hayden and George Selvie. All were solid but not long-term solutions.

The talent level has improved significantly since. It all starts with Lawrence, who has filled Ware's role of 'war daddy' pass rusher. The March trade for Robert Quinn adds a proven edge rusher opposite Lawrence and insurance for suspended end Randy Gregory. The team also has belief in 2018 fourth-round pick Dorance Armstrong.

At tackle, Antwaun Woods was among the shrewdest signings in the league last year. This year's free agent additions, Christian Covington and Kerry Hyder, will compete for rotation snaps.

And with the 58th pick, the Cowboys didn't think they'd find a dynamic interior rusher like Hill later in the draft. Virginia's Juan Thornhill was a consideration -- he went to the Chiefs a few picks later -- but the higher priority was beefing up the front four.

"I think that disrupting the passer helps makes safeties play better," Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said. "It makes it easier for them to do their thing, easier to cover, easier for the quarterback to not be as accurate, easier for the quarterback to have to throw quicker, easier for the quarterback to have to disrupt the plans of the offense.

"When you can get rush and disruption, which is what we think his game is, is where it starts."

The Cowboys' recent picks in the early rounds are proof of that philosophy.