Defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford is as big of a mystery as you’ll find in Dallas. He wasn’t a highly touted prospect coming out of college, and he certainly isn’t coming off of a season that flashed brilliance. Instead, Crawford is coming off of a season-ending injury and has only appeared in 16 games over the past two seasons—none of which he started.
Yet, despite the unknown, Crawford may be the key to the revival of the Dallas defense.
How many sacks will Crawford have in 2014?
A 2012 third-round draft pick out of Boise State, Crawford has a great motor and a strong pass-rushing repertoire. A player of his skill and athleticism will be welcomed on a defense that ranked 32nd in the league in total yardage allowed.
Despite all of his measurable talent, Crawford’s biggest impact on this team is his versatility.
At 6’4” and 283 pounds, Crawford can be effective in multiple positions along the defensive line. He’s strong enough to set the edge against the run, he’s explosive enough to rush the passer as a 3-tech, and he’s fast enough to rush against stronger offensive tackles.
Simply put, Crawford is a jack-of-all-trades.
"I could see him playing inside and some outside," Marinelli said. "I like to probably start him inside at the under, and he’s always got to know the left position also…."
Marinelli has a track record of maximizing the potential of defensive linemen—as evidenced by the 10.5-sack breakout of George Selvie and the development of Henry Melton. It goes without saying that the expectation is that if Crawford has anything to offer at all, Marinelli will turn him into a star.
The biggest argument against Crawford is his lack of NFL game film. However, if you watch his college highlights (above) you’ll see a player who attacks from multiple positions. Additionally, you’ll also see a player who is disciplined in gap control against rushing attacks and has a fierce combination of power and speed when rushing.
The biggest reason Crawford will break out? Opportunity.
According to Rowan Kavner, the Cowboys featured over 20 defensive linemen last season. Though those numbers are a result of injury, it goes to show the lack of quality talent the team had. Now, add the departure of the team’s two best defensive linemen in 2013, DeMarcus Ware (Denver Broncos) and Jason Hatcher (Washington Redskins), it’s clear that opportunity awaits those willing to step up.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Tyrone Crawford never posted a poor grade in terms of pass-rushing. Despite not registering a sack, Crawford managed five quarterback hurries and three quarterback hits. If Crawford can contribute like that as a rookie with limited time, imagine what he can do with development in the Tampa 2 defense.
I’m not the only one who believes Crawford is on the verge of something special. Rowan Kavner also quoted quarterback Tony Romo talking about the young defender.
“I think Tyrone Crawford’s going to be a guy that’ll be shocking a lot of people, and I think if we’d had him last year, it’d been a very different defensive unit that we would have had," Romo said.
It looks like Crawford is beginning to build a reputation. Watch out, NFC East.