How 7th-Round Pick Ben Gardner Fits on the Dallas Cowboys Defense

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How 7th-Round Pick Ben Gardner Fits on the Dallas Cowboys Defense
Mike Groll/Associated Press

In the seventh round of the 2014 NFL draft, the Dallas Cowboys selected Stanford's Ben Gardner.

He was chosen to become one of the "rushmen" and add depth to the defensive line. Even though he wasn't selected until the seventh round, Gardner has the opportunity to make a much bigger impact than what seventh-round picks usually give.  

 

Stats 

Ben Gardner's College Statistics
Year Tackles Tackles for Loss Sacks
2010 3 2 1
2011 35 10 4.5
2012 49 14.5 7.5
2013 19 7.5 4.5

Sports-Reference.com

Gardner was a very good player at Stanford, as evidenced by his production ratio ((sacks + tackles for loss) / number of games played) of 1.55. A production ration of above 1.5 is an indication that a player has a high level of ability.

 

Measurements 

Ben Gardner's Measurements
Height Weight Arm Length Hand Size
6'4" 262 lbs 30.75" 9.625"

NFL.com

Ben Gardner has the prototypical size to be a strong-side defensive end in the Cowboys' 4-3 scheme. However, Gardner has very small arms that could be a huge hindrance for his success in the NFL. 

Bleacher Reports' own Jonathan Bales calculated the correlation between certain attributes and career success for defensive ends. What he found was arm length has been the best indicator of future success for defensive linemen, which is not a good omen for Gardner.

 

Pro-Day Results

Ben Gardner's Pro Day Results
40-Yard Dash 20-Yard Split 10-Yard Split Broad Jump Vertical Jump 20-Yard Shuttle 3-Cone Drill
5.03 seconds 2.83 seconds 1.69 seconds 10'2" 39.5" 4.24 seconds 6.98 seconds

CBS Sports

While Gardner didn't show exceptional speed or quickness during the drill portion of his pro day, he did show that he has elite explosiveness. Gardner's broad jump and vertical jump would have put him in the top five at his position in both categories at the NFL Scouting Combine.

 

Film

Games Reviewed: Oregon State (2013), Arizona State (2013), Washington (2013)

Where Ben Gardner Lined Up in the Three Reviewed Games (127 Snaps)
0-Technique 1-Technique 2-Technique 3-Technique 4-Technique 5-Technique 6-Technique 7-Technique
1 Play 28 Plays 6 Plays 44 Plays 9 Plays 19 Plays 18 Plays 2 Plays

John Owning

The first thing you notice when watching Gardner's game film is his versatility. Gardner lined up all over the defensive line in the three reviewed games. He showed the ability to play inside and outside. 

Gardner excels with his hand placement and arm extension. Usually, he is able to shoot his hands inside to get optimal leverage while keeping the offensive linemen off his body. 

Credit: Draft Breakdown (3:03-3:08)

In this clip (3:03-3:08), Gardner fires off the ball and engages with the guard. He gets his hands inside so he can get good leverage. Gardner extends his left arm to keep the guard off him. He then slides down into the A-gap and helps makes the tackle for loss. 

Gardner utilizes this versus the run and the pass. While Gardner does not have a wide array of pass-rush moves, he makes plays with his effort and solid fundamentals. Gardner's body is rarely in poor position, and his hand placement is exceptional. 

Gardner's excellent understanding of the fundamentals allows him to get push against both guards and tackles. He rarely gives ground and lives on the opponents' side of the line of scrimmage. This is a big reason why Gardner is superb against the run. He does an incredible job of clogging and even penetrating his gap to makes plays in the backfield. 

Gardner did a much better job rushing the passer from the interior defensive line rather than from the edge. This is most likely due to the fact that Gardner's short arms don't play as big of a role against shorter-armed guards. 

Gardner has a habit of coming off the line with a stutter-step move that causes his pad level to get too high. This leads to him not getting push, which ends up getting him blocked. 

This clip illustrates that fact (1:08-1:15):

Credit: Draft Breakdown (1:08-1:15)

Gardner also struggles when he rushes against tackles with long arms. Because of his short arms, Gardner has trouble disengaging off these tackles. This may cause Gardner to move inside during his tenure with the Cowboys. 

However, Gardner's outstanding use of his hands and knowledge of leverage point to him making a bigger impact than many other rookies. If Gardner can develop and refine his pass-rush techniques, then he could develop into an exceptional strong-side defensive end or 3-technique defensive tackle.

 

Fit on Cowboys' Defense

Initially, it seems like Rod Marinelli will utilize Gardner at the strong-side defensive end position. Gardner is currently good enough against the run to make a noteworthy impact in his rookie year there. 

Gardner could see time at the 3-technique defensive tackle spot in passing situations. He showed the ability to rush the passer very well during his college career. 

Overall, Gardner should be an impressive and impactful rotational player initially with the hope that he will develop into the starter at strong-side defensive end in two or three years.

 

Combine results courtesy of CBS Sports.

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