The Dallas Cowboys have made a bevy of moves to bolster their defensive line this offseason. They acquired interior lineman Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe, along with two edge rushers in Aldon Smith and Everson Griffen. With Demarcus Lawrence already locked up long-term, this defensive line unit does have top-10 potential this year.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here in crowning this unit as the best in the division. Sure, the potential is certainly there, but potential doesn’t always translate to production in the NFL.
Aldon Smith hasn’t played a snap in the NFL since 2015. There’s an argument to be made that he’ll be refreshed and ready to wreak havoc on opposing offensive lines this year, but five years is a long time. He’ll be 30 heading into this season.
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Both Dontari Poe and Tyrone Crawford, two of the Cowboys interior lineman, are currently on the team’s Active/PUP list. Poe has a higher chance of being ready for the start of the season than Crawford at this point, but it’s unclear if either will be ready for week 1.
Gerald McCoy is a fine rotational lineman along the inside, but he’s obviously not the Pro Bowl player he used to be. At 32-years-old, he’s coming off one of his worst years of his career. He recorded five sacks (his lowest output since 2012) and just 13 QB hits (his lowest total since 2013).
According to Pro Football Focus, McCoy hasn’t posted over a 70 pass rush grade in two years and his overall grade of 72 in 2019 was his lowest mark since 2015.
Aside from Lawrence, there are a lot of ‘ifs’ surrounding this Cowboys defensive line. I’d take the Eagles continuity over Dallas’ potential any day of the week.
For starters, 2020 will be the first season that both Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox will be entering the season fully healthy. Neither have shown signs of slowing down. Graham generated 67 total pressures last season, and Cox had the more pressures over the past two season than any interior defensive lineman not named Aaron Donald.
Newly acquired Javon Hargrave, who’s coming off his best season as a pro, and the return of Malik Jackson from injury should make this the best group of interior lineman the Eagles have had during the Pederson era.
Derek Barnett hasn’t been the premiere pass rusher we all hoped he’d be at this point in his career, but at just 24-years-old, there’s no reason to write off Barnett yet. He’s still been solid, posting career highs in sacks (6.5) and QB hits (22) last season.
The re-signing of Vinny Curry should benefit this pass rushing rotation as well. He quietly had a great season in 2019, earning a 81.7 pass rush grade from PFF (12th best at his position) and recording a pressure rate of 16.9%, tied for fourth in the NFL with J.J. Watt.
Josh Sweat also brings some pass rushing ability to the table, totaling four sacks while playing just 28% of the defensive snaps last season.
So yeah, miss me with the “Cowboys have the best defensive line in the division” talk. The best defensive front in the NFC East still resides in Philly.