I really thought this year was going to be the year the Dallas Cowboys finally drafted themselves a legitimate nose tackle. After Alabama mammoth Christian Barmore survived Day 1 of the draft, it just felt like the cards were going to align in the Cowboys favor. But alas, it wasn't meant to be as the New England Patriots snatched up the 310 pounder six picks before Dallas was on the clock. It's not even clear that Barmore would've been the team's second round choice had he been available, so all we really know for sure is that once again, there would be no talented young beast within the interior defensive line of the Cowboys.
This was very disappointing news considering this team was so bad in the trenches last year. Players like Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch got the brunt of the criticism for the team's dreadful run defense (and don't get me wrong, they weren't good); however, poor performance at defensive tackle really didn't give those guys much of a chance. And the DT group was miserable at generating any type of pass rush. In all, the defensive tackle position was the weakest link on a very bad Cowboys defense.
As bad as things were, the front office didn't seem all that worried. They didn't go out and make offers to any of the free agent defensive tackles who could really make an impact. Instead, they stayed true to their philosphy of frugal free agent spending and added a couple of low-cost players. They did draft a nose tackle, but it didn't come until the sixth round. And not only did the team not add any bigger known players, but they also released the team's resident 1-tech Antwaun Woods who has logged 32 starts at the position over the last three seasons.
So, where does the team go from here? Well, they have options. Nothing glamorous by any means, but hopefully one of these guys can emerge to give them quality play at the position.
The Run Stopper - Brent Urban
When the Cowboys signed free agent Brent Urban to a one-year deal this offseason, it was a move that clearly screamed "we need help stopping the run." Urban is a seven-year veteran who is well traveled, spending time with three different teams. While his inability to find a permanent home or his affordable $1.75 million salary might sway you to think he's not all that great, it should be noted that he's got a very specific skillset, so he's not the type of defensive tackle who's for everyone.
What Urban offers is very satisfactory run stopping ability. If you're not jumping out of your chair, that's fine. You shouldn't be. He offers next to nothing as a pass rusher and doesn't spend a lot of time in the opponents backfield. But what he does do is what we should all appreciate - stop the run.
Urban has excellent length combined with strong hands and he uses it well, both in shedding blocks and guiding offensive linemen. He plays with good fundamentals, staying low and winning leverage. In short, he's just a hard defender to move around. For that reason, the veteran should be a nice gap plugger for this team and help keep blockers from getting to the second level to engage with the Cowboys linebackers. That by itself, will be a welcoming site.
The Eventual Roster Cut - Carlos Watkins
Like Urban, Watkins was drafted in the fourth round; however, the former Houston Texan is a few years younger. And like Urban, he was signed to a one-year, $1.75 million deal. We may have not realized it at the time, but Watkins was the first of many long-armed defensive tackles this team would collect over the next few months as it became clearer what their new defensive coordinator was looking for in the trenches.
While Watkins brings similar block-shedding ability as Urban due to his length, the biggest difference in his game is his ability to move. He shows much greater lateral agility and will offer much more tackling range than Urban, but that also exploits his weaknesses. Watkins is easier to remove from his gaps and can be pushed out of plays. He can be late seeing double-teams and is less effective at absorbing blocks. He's not a bad player, but he just doesn't have any skills that could be considered an upgrade. Don't be surprised if he doesn't make the 53-man roster.
The Overlooked Fella - Justin Hamilton
Undrafted in 2015, Justin Hamilton didn't even see the field until 2017 and even then, it was just for four games. Following additional waives and signings, he finally carved up some playing time last year with the Cowboys where he played in 10 games. That's two more than he had over the previous five years. Opportunity came calling after the team released veteran Dontari Poe as Hamilton started seeing more reps towards the end of the season.
With a player like Hamilton, the team isn't going to get a splash player. He's vulnerable to double teams, reacts late, and spends more time fixated on battling his blocker that locating where the play is going. But what the Cowboys do get is a player that brings some power, can maneuver through blocks, and stop me if you've heard this before - uses his arms to control blockers. If Hamilton ends up being the team's best choice at the nose, then the Cowboys are in trouble, but as far as depth goes, they could do a lot worse.
The Rookie - Quinton Bohanna
Now, for everyone's favorite, the rookie from Kentucky, Quinton Bohanna. Why do people love him so much? Well, it's because he hasn't played a down in the NFL yet so it hasn't been discovered how bad he might be. Honestly, we shouldn't know what to expect, but let's not kid ourselves - he's a sixth-round draft pick.
At nearly 330 pounds, Bohanna is not only the team's biggest interior defensive lineman, he's also the most powerful. Like everyone else listed above, he's not going to give the team anything as a pass rusher, but his size and strength can absorb blocks. He gets off the ball quickly and uses that built up force to wreck blocking schemes. There are a lot of fundamentals that need to be cleaned up as you might expect with a late-round pick, but Bohanna has some qualities that could turn out to have value for this Cowboys defense.