When it comes to rookie pass rushers, patience matters most

IRVING, Texas -- ESPN Insider Todd McShay has the Dallas Cowboys taking a running back in his most recent mock draft, but there are plenty of needs they have to fill, most of them on defense.

At the Pro Bowl, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said the Cowboys have to get better up front to aid a pass rush that recorded just 28 sacks in the regular season. Jeremy Mincey led the Cowboys with six sacks, which was the lowest total to lead the team since Greg Ellis had six in 2001.

The Cowboys have rebuilt their offensive line with three first-round picks in the last four years. They started the process of rebuilding the defensive line through the draft by taking DeMarcus Lawrence in the second round, giving up their third rounder to get him.

Earlier this week Steve Muench of Scout.com listed his top-five defensive ends in the upcoming draft, with Nebraska’s Randy Gregory, Florida’s Dante Fowler Jr., Clemson’s Vic Beasley and USC’s Leonard Williams leading the way.

These rankings are by no means close to final, so some names can change, but the chances of the Cowboys landing a top-five pass rusher with the 27th pick seem remote. The top three pass rushers in last year’s draft -- Jadeveon Clowney, Khalil Mack and Anthony Barr -- went in the first nine picks. The Cowboys were looking at Barr as a defensive end even though he played linebacker for the Minnesota Vikings.

Kansas City took Dee Ford with the 23rd pick, and he recorded one sack.

Of the pass rushers taken in the first round in 2014, Mack led the way with four sacks. Asking a rookie to transform a defensive line is a tall task. It doesn’t happen often. For as good as DeMarcus Ware was for the Cowboys, he had four sacks in the first 14 games of his rookie year before posting four in the final two.

Perhaps the Cowboys can hit on a pass rusher in the first round. Ezekiel Ansah, the fifth pick of the 2013 draft, has 15.5 sacks in his first two seasons. The No. 3 pick that year, Dion Jordan, has three.

So as you ponder names in the draft, like the five guys mentioned by Muench or others such as Alvin Dupree or Nate Orchard, remember to be easy on the expectations.

Lawrence did not record a sack in the regular season but recorded one each in both of the playoff games.

The lack of immediate success could find the Cowboys continuing to go with numbers at the spot in free agency, perhaps re-signing Anthony Spencer, George Selvie, or both as stop-gaps so the Cowboys don’t find themselves reaching when it comes to the draft.