Position Series: Draft Should Present Options To Add Help At Defensive End

(Editor's Note: April is here, which means the first wave of free agency has passed and the NFL Draft is just around the corner. DallasCowboys.com's 11-part series analyzes every position on the Cowboys' roster at this point in the offseason: free-agent additions and subtractions, draft possibilities, returning players and question marks. The series continues with defensive end.)

Roster Holdovers:The Cowboys' defensive losses in free agency are well-documented, but it's worth noting that four of the five players who started games at defensive end last year are under contract for 2017: Tyrone Crawford, DeMarcus Lawrence, Benson Mayowa and David Irving.

Crawford moved out from defensive tackle early last season to provide more depth at end. With Terrell McClain now in Washington, it's possible he moves back inside. He'll be coming off shoulder surgery for the second straight offseason.

A four-game league suspension and a lingering back injury prevented Lawrence from building on his eight-sack season from 2015. He appeared in only nine games (three starts) in 2016 with one sack and subsequently underwent back surgery for the second straight offseason.

Mayowa, a restricted free agent signing last spring, actually was kept inactive for three games in the middle of last season but finished strong with a team-high six sacks.

The team is also optimistic Charles Tapper can contribute next season after sitting out his entire rookie season. One of two fourth-round picks last year – Dak Prescott was the other – Tapper might have competed for a starting job last year until a back injury surfaced early in training camp and landed him on injured reserve.

"We had some discussions toward the end of the year about what his availability might be," head coach Jason Garrett said at the NFL Scouting Combine. "We just decided he missed way too much football to get him back in there.

"But we are optimistic about him. Hopefully he will be ready to go at the start of the offseason program."

One player the Cowboys must again play without: Randy Gregory, who is suspended without pay for at least one year for violating the NFL Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse. 

Free Agency Overview:Jack Crawford, a steady rotation player with 10 starts last season, signed a free-agent contract with the Atlanta Falcons in March. Also departing is Ryan Davis, who signed with the Buffalo Bills after playing only 155 defensive snaps for Dallas last season.

The Cowboys signed Damontre Moore, a former third-round pick of the New York Giants, to compete for a spot in Rod Marinelli's rotation. Moore has been on five teams since 2013 but has natural pass-rushing skills.

Draft Outlook:Texas A&M's Myles Garrett gets most of the attention as the possible No. 1 overall pick, but this year's draft-eligible group of edge rushers is the deepest in years. The Cowboys could have plenty of options to find an impact player at No. 28 overall and through the early rounds.

Among the prospects likely to be selected by teams in the first two days: UCLA's Takkarist McKinley, Missouri's Charles Harris, Wisconsin's T.J. Watt, Michigan's Taco Charlton, Tennessee's Derek Barnett, Houston's Tyus Bowser and Kansas State's Jordan Willis.

The Cowboys ranked 13th in sacks last season with 36, their highest total since 2011. But they're always looking for more pressure on the passer – and the draft should present an opportunity to improve.

Time To Shine:Irving played his share of defensive tackle last season, too, but the Cowboys' Week 15 win over Tampa Bay showed his potential as an edge rusher. In the fourth quarter along he posted two sacks, five hurries and a pass breakup that led to an interception.

Irving finished the 2016 season with career-bests in sacks (four) and quarterback pressures (26), up from 14 in 2015.  Can he get even better in 2017? The Cowboys hope so.

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