When It Comes to Cowboys Nose Tackles, Check the Transmission

The annual search for a nose tackle to pair with Jay Ratliff continues. The question, as always, concerns the type of nose the Cowboys want. Conventional wisdom holds that the 3-4 needs a massive 325-335 lb. plugger. Dallas would not mind one, certainly, but that conventional wisdom only holds if the nose tackle candidate can run.

Most 3-4s do not two-gap all the time. In fast, most NFL 3-4s two gap only a small percentage of the time, if at all. Rob Ryan’s brother Rex claimed in a coaches clinic presentation a few years ago that his Ravens’ D two-gapped at most 15% of the time. The rest of the time the nose was slanted towards the center or lined up as a 1 or 3 technique, responsible for penetrating a single gap and chasing the ball if it went away from him.

Big guys who can also run are rare, and the Cowboys have had trouble finding them. Look at the nose tackles Dallas has started since Bill Parcells made the 3-4 the team’s standard front in 2005:

Jason Ferguson, 6’3″, 310 lbs.
Jay Ratliff, 6’4″, 303 lbs.
Tank Johnson, 6’3″, 315 lbs.
Josh Brent, 6’2”, 315 lbs.
Average — 6’3″, 311 lbs.

Not one nose over 315 lbs. Technique, quickness and consistency matter more than bulk. Johnson’s inconsistent motor — and his sideline meltdown in Philly — meant a quick ticket out of town. Look at the DTs on Dallas’ 2010 draft board and you see more players fitting the general template. (Draft board positions are shaded blue, actual draft positions are in yellow.)

Ndamukong Suh, 1-3, 6’4″, 307 lbs. 1-2
Tyson Alualu, 1-22, 6’3″, 304 lbs., 1-10
Dan Williams, 2-34, 6’2″, 327 lbs. 1-26
Bryan Price 2-37, 6’1″, 303 lbs. 3-35
D’Anthony Smith 3-53, 6’2″, 304 lbs. 3-74
Corey Peters 3-57, 6’3″, 300 lbs. 3-83
Torrel Troup 4-80, 6’3″, 314 lbs. 2-41
Linval Joseph 4-84, 6’4″, 328 lbs. 2-46
Al Woods, 4-97, 6’4″, 309 lbs. 4-123
Art Jones 5-117, 6’3″, 301 lbs., 5-157
Average size and weight — 6’3″, 310 lbs.

Notable omission — Terrence Cody 2-57

A player’s ability to chase in a one-gap scheme mattered and will continue to matter. Look at Terence Cody, the biggest name at the nose tackle position, pun intended. He’s your stereotypical nose tackle, a 354 lb. mass of a man who college linemen could not move. How many mocks did you see last spring that sent Cody to Dallas?

Cody had a bad body (you do the google search if you must, but have lots of brain bleach handy) and analysts who watched extensive tape of Cody commented on how few downs he actually played for Alabama. Questions about his stamina arose. The Cowboys decided, for whatever reasons, that Cody did not fit their scheme, and left him off their board.

Only two of the ten NT prospects on Dallas’ ’10 draft board topped 315 lbs. One, Dan Williams, was a frequent Cowboys mock partner in the weeks leading to the draft. He rated much lower than Dez Bryant, Dallas’ eventual pick. The other, Linval Joseph, offers a lesson in the position.

Potential nose tackles rise — a lot. Look at the board ratings and the actual draft positions of these players. Alualu was the first big wow pick of the day when Jacksonville took him 10th overall. Troup and Joseph, two players the Cowboys assigned 4th round grades, were gone by the mid 2nd.

If the Cowboys really want a big, quick nose, they should try their best to forecast where they think they’ll go, and if they want to push one a bit? The class is considered thin, with Marcel Dareus, Phil Taylor and Kenrick Ellis fitting the big, quick and versatile profile. Southern Mississippi’s squatty Anthony Gray is a late-round option.

Everybody loves the big NFL touring cars, with large, powerful engines. If the D-line roadsters have shoddy transmissions, and can’t get that big chassis up to speed quickly, they won’t interest the Cowboys.

Rafael Vela

Rafael Vela

Senior Analyst Cowboys Nation.com at Sports Talk Line
Started covering Dallas Cowboys @ TheBoys.com in '95 and '96. Two more stops along the way and here I am. Senior Analyst for SportsTalkLine.com
Rafael Vela

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  • Noneyabidness

    Keep in mind, last years draft was based on the Phillips 3-4, which Rat was the prototype.

    Ryan’s version of the 3-4, contains a traditional 2-gap NT.

  • AustonianAggie

    Gosselin released his first mock. It generally reflects a ‘pure board’ if I recall. His first mock is supposed to represent the league’s slotting of players. In it, he gives Tyron Smith to Dallas, insinuating that the league also see’s Smith as a solid #9 pick.

    Additionally, the last time everyone saw a player going to Dallas, fate couldn’t keep him away in the form of Felix Jones.

  • Milkshaker

    If anything can be learned from Dallas’ leaked draft boards, it seems we consistently undervalue OL and DL prospects. After you go past the top tier, we’re typically off by a considerable margin.

    Look at our recent DL draft history since going to the 3-4…

    Jay Ratliff – 7th
    Josh Brent – 7th
    Stephen Bowen – Not Drafted
    Sean Lissemore – 7th
    Marcus Spears – 1st
    Jason Hatcher – 3rd
    Chris Canty – 4th
    Marcus Dixon – Not Drafted
    Kenyon Coleman – Not Drafted

    And Canty was a top tier guy who fell due to injury. At least with OL we try and fail. DL we don’t even make an attempt. And we’re actually looking to move on without Spears and Hatcher.

    Makes me think DL might get serious consideration in Round 1 again.

    Time to swing the pendulum back to Cameron Jordan and JJ Watt, Raf!

    • Milkshaker

      And we picked up Clifton Geathers during the season. Dallas had a 6th round grade on him on their draft board.

    • kameleon_o

      Good point. Raf wrote something about this awhile back. How we undervalue O-linemen compared to other teams that are snagging starters and we have them valued a round or so later.

    • Rafael Vela


  • kameleon_o

    Personally, I’m just looking for another rotational type guy. Someone with potential and who could probably be a part of a rotation immediately. Late round pick to me

  • Bluefin


    Rob Rang has a blog entry up with teams being concerned about bones growing together in Phil Taylor’s feet, something he states is not correctable with surgery.

    Rang states it’s a pain tolerance issue and Taylor’s weight, 340 pounds on a good day, will make teams wonder how he will be able to cope with the problem.

    If this report is accurate, Rang confirmed Taylor had been red flagged by another team as well, will it keep him out of round one?

    Will it boost Kendrick Ellis’ stock?

    • Smooth

      i sure hope not cuz im hoping he drops to the 3rd. I’m a dreamer.

  • Alright Anthony Gray love the guy benched 225 39 times. 330 with a great vertical of 31.5 and great 40 time 5.17. Want in 7th but would be happy with a 6th or as early as a 5th if not addressed earlier. Still want him even with another NT pick . If he was 3 inches taller he would be a 3rd round pick maybe even a 2nd round pick.

  • Are we looking to replace Ratliff or spell him?

    If we’re looking to replace Ratliff then you’re going to have to pay the price for NTs that always rise on draft day.

    If we’re just trying to find a guy to rotate in to keep Ratliff fresh throughout a game and throughout a season, then I think we already have that guy in Josh Brent. Not a world-beater, but certainly proved himself up to the task as a rookie.

    I would spend our draft picks elsewhere unless an NT was the BPA when we come on the clock. If we’re going to push for need, we have many more other needs to push.

    • that is one reason i like gray he would b the perfect guy on running downs to spell ratliff and would come cheap 6th round

      • Timwebbsite

        I think they have genuine interest in Aldon Smith due to his versatility and probably think he can work his way inside even more as he gains weight, but I don’t know that he’s the guy at #9. Maybe a trade down target along with all the OLinemen they brought in.

        I don’t know that they want a really big guy, as shown in the article, so much as a really dominant guy, but we’ll see.

    • Smooth

      I think we’re looking to be versitile on our line and be able to have guys who can play both nose and end other than ratliff and brent. Because I think our defense will be more unpredictable and having guys who can play more than one position does that I believe.

    • greatwhitenorth

      right on the money. Taylor and Ellis are interesting, not because they would replace Ratliff but because they’d be potentially dominant DEs that could flip inside occasionally as well. I think that Brent is far better than anyone Dallas could get after round 4, and I’ll be surprised if they do draft an NT at all.

  • ehart3

    I believe that Brent is going to surprise alot of people and that lissemore is even going to be in on the rotation. Unless Dareus is on the board at 9 we should wait and address Oline in the 1st, which will help improve the run/pass game giving the defense time to rest.