Cowboys need to find right fit on defensive line

Joey Bosa leads a group of defensive linemen the Cowboys could consider with the No. 4 overall pick. Joe Robbins/Getty Images

With the draft fast approaching, the Dallas Cowboys have needs all across the board. Over the next two weeks we will offer up a position-by-position review of the roster and match up the best available in the draft at those positions.


On the roster: DeMarcus Lawrence (signed through 2017), Randy Gregory (signed through 2018), Benson Mayowa (signed through 2018-*), David Irving (signed through 2016), Ryan Russell (signed through 2018), Mike McAdoo (signed through 2017). * - contract can void after 2017.

Cap status: Lawrence $1.501 million, Gregory $867,031, Mayowa $1.8 million, Irving $525,000, Russell $575,747, McAdoo $450,000.

Best available in draft: Joey Bosa, Noah Spence, DeForest Buckner, Shaq Lawson

Down the line: Kevin Dodd, Jihad Ward, Shilique Calhoun, Matt Judon

Position review: The Cowboys have added Mayowa as a restricted free agent but they will be without Gregory for the first four games because of a suspension and Lawrence is coming off back surgery.

What makes Rod Marinelli's defense work is a pass rush and the Cowboys need more pieces. They thought they added an elite piece last year in Greg Hardy, but he had six sacks and caused more problems than solutions. Gregory's rookie season was a wash after he hurt his ankle in the season opener. Whatever momentum he had coming out of training camp was lost.

Lawrence led the Cowboys with eight sacks in his move to left defensive end. Depending on how the Cowboys attack the draft, he could be moved back to the right side, which is where they thought they would play him when he was picked in the second round in 2014.

Irving, who was signed off the Kansas City Chiefs' practice squad a year ago, has room to grow and position flexibility but will he ever be more than a rotational player? The same goes for Russell, last year's fifth rounder.

Draft need: HIGH. The Cowboys had a successful enough pass rush in 2014 without what Jerry Jones calls a “wardaddy,” when Jeremy Mincey led the team in sacks. But they still need numbers.

The defensive end scene: The Cowboys break their defensive ends up into two categories: left defensive end and right defensive end.

The right defensive end is the pure pass-rusher. Think Simeon Rice or Julius Peppers. The left defensive end is the beefier of the two with the ability to play the run.

In this draft, there aren't many high-level right defensive ends. The best might be Spence from Eastern Kentucky. He started his career at Ohio State but was banned from the Big Ten. He can bend around the corner and get to the quarterback. Is he worth the fourth overall pick? His off-field troubles say otherwise and the Cowboys got burned by their second-round chance a year ago in Gregory.

Bosa has been most linked to the Cowboys just out of sheer need. He might not possess the top-end athleticism but he made plays at Ohio State and was able to deal with double teams. He uses his hands far better than most defensive ends to keep blockers off of him. Buckner might look more like a 3-4 end but teams believe he can bend well enough play in a 4-3 scheme.

If the Cowboys trade back from four, Lawson could be an option. He had 24.5 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks last season at Clemson.

The best guess: Defensive end should be a must every year for every team and the Cowboys find themselves with a big need there this year. Bosa has been talked about for so long that he is now starting to take hits because of over-analysis. He would be a walk-in starter. The Cowboys believe in building through their lines. They've done it on the offensive line. They need to do more of it on the defensive line.

The series: