Last season, in fact, the last few years, the Dallas Cowboys defense has been much maligned as far as its pass rush, particularly from the defensive linemen. The Cowboys just haven't gotten a lot of sacks from the guys up front. I think some of that is because they have been playing the wrong people at times.
Tyrone Crawford is a guy who I thought would provide some good pressure from the 3-technique position, but that hasn't really happened. He actually looked much better when he was out at left defensive end. Demarcus Lawrence has a lot of ability, but he had only one sack last season even though he started nine games.
The guy who actually led the Cowboys in sacks last year, defensive end Benson Mayowa, isn't really getting much attention right now. Dallas selected Taco Charlton in the first round to play defensive end, which may be overshadowing Mayowa. The Cowboys also have the recently suspended David Irving, who usually balls when he gets opportunities at defensive end, so maybe that has also dominated the conversation about Dallas' defensive line. Mayowa, however, was the only guy who had at least six sacks last year out of all of the Cowboys’ defensive linemen, so I wouldn't sleep on him this year.
Mayowa actually started at the end of last season and finished the year strong. Five of the last six regular season games, he had at least a half a sack which is pretty impressive for a guy on a team that supposedly didn't have any pass rushers.
Mayowa isn't real big or super fast, and he isn't particularly tall, either. What he is is just a really good football player whose technique continues to improve week by week.
I like him as a run defender. He's good at getting his arms extended when taking on blockers and then shedding them to make a play. Mayowa is also good with movement and run stunts. He looks really quick when he goes laterally, and he knows how to get "skinny" to slip through a gap. He's a pretty good pass rusher because he has active hands and also turns his hips toward the quarterback while he's rushing.
One small thing that I love about him as a pass rusher is that he really seems to understand about not going much deeper than the level of the quarterback, so he always has a chance to get to him.
When you watch good quarterbacks play, you will notice they are always climbing the pocket to avoid the rush rather than going deeper or laterally.
Drew Brees is a master at this even though the closer he gets to his offensive line, the harder time he has seeing downfield because of his height. What you won't see much of is a defensive player taking a deep route and sacking Brees. By the time he gets there, Brees is usually already stepped up in the pocket.
Mayowa understands this so you will rarely see him rushing behind the quarterback. Instead, when he feels himself getting too deep, he either stops and comes back inside or he does a spin move to work back to the quarterback.
Mayowa is about 6'3 and 250 pounds. He plays bigger than that, and he is as complete a defensive end as the Cowboys have on their roster. I understand people focusing on Charlton and Irving because those guys can ball. I'm just saying that if Mayowa stays healthy this year, I think he has a real chance to get to double-digit sacks.
He is ready to take a big step forward this year, and that's why Mayowa is my choice for the Cowboys' breakout player for 2017.