Top 5 Defensive Ends Dallas Cowboys Should Consider in 2014 NFL Draft

Jonathan BalesAnalyst IMarch 27, 2014

Top 5 Defensive Ends Dallas Cowboys Should Consider in 2014 NFL Draft

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    The Dallas Cowboys are going to draft a defensive end in the 2014 NFL draft. That’s hardly a bold prediction, so the question is how early they’ll select one.

    Conventional wisdom says the Cowboys, currently sitting with perhaps the worst defensive end group in all of the NFL—one that sports George Selvie as the top rusher and maybe Tyrone Crawford as the No. 2—need to draft a defensive end in the first round.

    The problem is a lack of talent. After South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney, not much is available in the mid-first where Dallas currently possesses a pick. A first-round trade-down is a likely scenario, in which case there are some prospects who offer better value.

    In the following slides, I’ve identified the five defensive ends who offer the most value to Dallas, listing their age, production, arm length, broad jump and projected round. Age is an important and oft-overlooked prospect trait; all other things equal, we want to see prospects dominate in college at a young age.

    A history of past production is of course vital for defensive ends—a reason Missouri’s Kony Ealy could be overdrafted. Arm length might be the most underappreciated trait for pass-rushers; NFL teams value it, but not nearly as much as they should. And finally, the broad jump is a highly underrated measure of explosiveness.

Scott Crichton, Oregon State

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    Age: 22

    2013 Production: 7.5 sacks, 19 tackles for loss

    Arm Length: 32.75 inches

    Broad Jump: 9’0”

    Projected Round: Late first/early second

    Oregon State’s Scott Crichton is a prototypical 4-3 defensive end whom the Cowboys could target in a trade-down scenario.

    Let’s start with the negatives. His arms aren’t that long; they’re not too short to produce in the NFL, but you’d like to see arms over 33.5 inches or so. Further, his 9’0” broad jump is concerning; his lack of elite measurables don’t match his college production.

    That production is Crichton’s biggest positive and the reason he’s listed here. If he had just one standout year in 2013, we could write it off as variance from an average athlete, but he was continually dominant during his college career. He had at least six sacks and 14 tackles for loss in all three seasons at Oregon State.

    There are concerns with his athleticism, for sure, but those are at least somewhat alleviated by his career numbers of 22.5 sacks and 51 tackles for loss in three years.

Trent Murphy, Stanford

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    Age: 23

    2013 Production: 15 sacks, 23.5 tackles for loss

    Arm Length: 33.88 inches

    Broad Jump: 9’10”

    Projected Round: Second

    Stanford defensive end Trent Murphy is projected to be selected near Crichton, so let’s compare the two prospects. Murphy was more productive in 2013, killing it in the Pac-12 with 15 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss. The high tackles-for-loss total suggests his sacks weren’t a fluke.

    Murphy also has ideal length with nearly 34-inch arms, as well as good explosiveness; his broad jump was nearly a foot longer than Crichton’s, which is important.

    So if you’re looking solely at final-year production and measurables, Murphy comes out on top. But he’s also a year older than Crichton, playing 2013 as a redshirt senior. That’s important, because Murphy is at an age where he should have been in the NFL already.

    Thus, we should be analyzing Murphy’s 2012 season. In that year, he still had 10 sacks and 18 tackles for loss. The only thing that Crichton has on Murphy is age, but Murphy is clearly the superior prospect. He’ll offer better value to Dallas this year.

Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas

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    Age: 22

    2013 Production: 13 sacks, 19 tackles for loss

    Arm Length: 33.88 inches

    Broad Jump: 10’3”

    Projected Round: Third

    Jeffcoat would be the most undervalued defensive end in this draft. He’ll head into his rookie season at age 22, coming off a 2013 season when he tallied numbers comparable to Murphy's—13 sacks and 19 tackles for loss.

    Jeffcoat is basically a younger, more explosive version of Murphy. He has the same 33.88-inch arms but jumped five inches longer in the broad. He’s lighter than Murphy, which is why he’s going to drop in the draft, but he’ll almost certainly offer superior value as a pass-rusher.

Demarcus Lawrence, Boise State

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    Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press

    Age: 22

    2013 Production: 10.5 sacks, 20.5 tackles for loss

    Arm Length: 33.75 inches

    Broad Jump: 9’5”

    Projected Round: Second/third

    A long-armed pass-rusher with good college production, Demarcus Lawrence is going to get downgraded because he played at Boise State against inferior competition. It’s a legitimate concern, meaning his measurables are all that much more important.

    He recorded a 9’5” in the broad jump, which is underwhelming. However, his 34.5-inch vertical suggests he still has some explosiveness to his game. The key here will be the price tag; if he sneaks into the second round, he might not be worth consideration. In the third or later, though, he’s a high-upside pick who will offer value.

Chris Smith, Arkansas

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    Age: 22

    2013 Production: 8.5 sacks, 11.5 tackles for loss

    Arm Length: 34.13 inches

    Broad Jump: 10’1”

    Projected Round: Third/fourth

    When Arkansas defensive end Chris Smith checked in at the NFL Scouting Combine at just 6’1”, his draft stock took a hit. Shrewd teams know that short pass-rushers with long arms—think Elvis Dumervil and Justin Houston—almost always offer the best value because they drop for a trait that doesn’t matter all that much (height) but offer something extremely important (arm length).

    At just 6’1”, he actually has the longest arms of any defensive end listed here. That’s pretty remarkable and suggests he’s going to offer value in the middle rounds. His 10’1” broad jump adds to that idea.

    The main concern with Smith is that he tallied only 8.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss in 2013. The sack total is fine, but the fact that it’s accompanied by an underwhelming number of tackles for loss suggests it might have been inflated. However, he had 9.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss in 2012 at a younger age, so that eases some concerns.

    If the Cowboys don’t land a defensive end in the early rounds, a Jeffcoat/Smith duo in the middle rounds could give them two high-upside pass-rushers. When paired together, they would minimize a lot of the risk associated with passing on the position early.

     

    Note: Measurables and combine results courtesy of NFL.com.