The Boys Are Back to Defense | LB Damien Wilson becomes a Dallas Cowboy in 4th
The Dallas Cowboys continued addressing defense at the start of Day 3, selecting Minnesota linebacker Damien Wilson with their fourth-round pick at No. 127.
Wilson (6-0, 245) became a two-year starter for the Gophers after transferring from junior college and earned second-team All-Big Ten honors as a senior with a team-best 119 tackles.
The Cowboys have now taken defensive players with three of their first four draft picks. They selected Connecticut cornerback Byron Jones at No. 27 overall in the first round and grabbed Nebraska pass rusher Randy Gregory at No. 60 in the second round.
The Dallas Cowboys are getting healthier at linebacker with Sean Lee returning from ACL surgery to play the weak side. Rolando McClain is also back (on a 1-year deal), likely to play middle linebacker, and last year’s fourth-round pick Anthony Hitchens was productive at multiple spots. But given the Cowboys’ past injury problems at linebacker, Wilson will provide needed depth.
Here’s a look at Dane Brugler’s scouting report for Wilson:
BACKGROUND: A no-star defensive end recruit out of high school, Wilson started his career at Alcorn State and was one of the top FCS freshman pass rushers, but wanted to play at the FBS level. After a season at Jones County Community College, he transferred to Minnesota and became a starter in 2013 as a junior, recording 79 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and 1.0 sack. Wilson started 12 games in 2014 as a senior and led the team with 119 tackles, adding 10.5 tackles for loss, 4.0 sacks and one forced fumble, earning Second Team All-Big Ten honors. He earned an invitation to the 2015 NFLPA Collegiate Bowl.
STRENGTHS: Solidly built frame with above average arm length for the position – lost 15 pounds prior to his senior season … quick first step and loves to throw his body around with very good closing burst … reliable tackling technique, lowering his head and opening arms to wrap and drive through his target…physical pop at contact with good take-on skills, using his long arms to work off bodies and keep blockers at bay … dialed-in instincts and plays with a chip – appeared more confident as a senior with a full year under his belt at Minnesota … passionate player who loves to compete and hates to come off the field … high threshold for pain and toughs through injuries … productive senior season, finishing third in the Big Ten in tackles per game (9.2).
WEAKNESSES: Needs to keep his weight under control and maintain consistent conditioning … aggressiveness hits both extremes, waiting for the action to come to him on some plays and then over pursuing misdirection on others – needs to find balance between his eagerness and discipline … has some hip tightness that shows in coverage when covering down the seam … room to improve his spatial awareness in zone coverage’s … needs to control his intensity and play smarter, eliminating late hit penalties … good speed, but struggles to make up ground after a false step … durability could be a long-term issue due to his propensity for physical collisions – tore the meniscus in his knee (Nov. 2013) that required surgery, but didn’t miss a game.
SUMMARY: A cousin of former teammate David Cobb, Wilson started his career as an undersized defensive end at Alcorn State, but his desire to play on a bigger stage led him to the JUCO level where he was the National Defensive Player of the Year in 2012. He spent the last two seasons at Minnesota where he developed into one of the Big Ten’s top linebackers in 2014 – lost weight, played faster with showed more confidence in the scheme. Wilson is active and directs traffic pre-snap, showing the diagnose skills to attack and finish, although his aggressive play style will get the best of him and lead to mistakes. He is well-rounded with the physical temperament that fits what NFL teams are looking for at the position.
The Boys Are Back to Defense | DE addressed again with Ryan Russell in the 5th
The Dallas Cowboys added the best defensive end in free agency and perhaps the most talented pass-rusher in the draft.
But that didn’t stop them from adding depth to the position, drafting Ryan Russell from Purdue with the 27th pick in the fifth round and 163rd overall.
Russell, a local product from nearby Carrollton, started 47 games over his four-year career for the Boilermakers. The 6-4, 270-pound prospect had 44 tackles and three sacks in his 12 starts last season.
The Dallas Cowboys sent defensive coaches to Purdue to work out Russell, who also came down to Dallas for a visit with the staff as well.
“I love watching the Cowboys, I’m so happy being near home and getting to play for a great organization,” Russell said. “When I heard Jerry Jones on the phone, I was in awe, shocked, relieved, humbled, blessed, I just can’t describe it. I just wanted a team to believe in me as much as I believe in myself and give me the opportunity to grow. I couldn’t have picked a better team to go to.”
Russell joins a defensive end position that has Greg Hardy and now Randy Gregory, along with Jeremy Mincey and last year’s second-round pick DeMarcus Lawrence.
The club lost Anthony Spencer (New Orleans) in free agency, but have now added another former Purdue standout in the fifth round.
Here’s a look at Dane Brugler’s scouting report on Russell:
STRENGTHS: Prototypical NFL measureables for the position with ideal size, strength and speed … physical hands and adequate length to work off blocks with balance to continue his path to the pocket … smooth body type to sink and redirect while in pursuit … stays low off the snap, using leverage and hustle … disciplined vs. the run when he locates, playing contain … effort isn’t a question, working through the whistle … active on stunts, rushing from different angles … strong upper body to wrap and finish tackles, playing with a consistent temperament … experienced in multiple fronts and is well-versed with various front-seven responsibilities … four-year starter (47 career starts).
WEAKNESSES: Allows his pads to rise and plays too upright off the snap … not a twitchy athlete and doesn’t play with burst of change of direction skills … runs around the pocket and too often can’t figure out how to penetrate the backfield – struggles to control his momentum on the move and needs to improve his movement discipline … not overly fluid when asked to drop and slow-footed reacting to the action … will crash inside and be washed out of plays, abandoning his responsibilities on the edges … playmaking instincts have improved, but still not where they need to be for a four-year starter … appeared constantly dinged up with numerous nagging lower body injuries to his knee and ankles … unimpressive production, averaging with only 25.0 tackles for loss and 10.0 sacks over 47 career starts … streaky off-the-field effort and had a tough time with the coaching change (from 4-3 to 3-4 scheme) after the 2012 season, which affected his attitude, according to several within the program.
SUMMARY: When scouting Purdue’s past defensive line prospects like Kawaan Short, Ryan Kerrian and Bruce Gaston, it was Russell who often grabbed the attention of scouts with his NFL size and promise. But he struggled to develop his talents the last few seasons, especially the last two years under the new coaching staff that implemented a 3-4 base scheme, which had Russell lining up all over the front-seven in a hybrid role. He is well-rounded, but also doesn’t stand out in any area with the lackluster film to match. Although he looks the part, Russell was not the sum of his parts – projected late rounder.
Dallas Cowboys close the draft with a German LB, V-Tech OT and Texas TE
To kick off their seventh, the Dallas Cowboys picked up Wyoming linebacker Mark Nzeocha (Ne-ZAH-chuh) with the 236th overall selection. He visited the Dallas Cowboys in early April during the Top-30 visits at Valley Ranch.
“Dallas is a great organization and I had great conversations with Jerry Jones and the other coaches – Coach Eberflus,” Nzeocha said. “I’m super excited. I think it’s a great fit for me. I can’t wait to get started.”
Nzeocha, a native of Germany, suffered a torn ACL knee injury midway through his 2014 season.
“It was a tough situation. I was very disappointed,” said Nzeocha, who also played some safety in college. “But I came back fairly ahead of schedule.”
While the theme of the Dallas Cowboys 2015 NFL Draft will remembered as a defensive-oriented weekend, the team made a mini-flurry of offensive blockers to close their seventh round, even making a trade to pick up an additional pick.
In all, the Cowboys picked three times in the seventh round, getting another offensive tackle in Laurence Gibson (Virginia Tech) and then traded a future pick in 2016 to get Texas tight end Geoff Swaim. Gibson and Swaim were two of the three offensive players taken among the eight selections, including third-rounder Chaz Green from Florida with No. 91 overall.
As for Gibson, the two-year starter for the Hokies served as a backup to begin his career, but can play both left and right tackle.
“I played three different positions in college. I played right guard, right tackle and left tackle. So I am pretty familiar with all of them,” he said.
Gibson would have been the final selection of 2015, if not for a decision by the front office to surrender a sixth-round pick in 2016 to acquire Swaim. The junior college transfer didn’t manage much of a role as a receiver while at Texas, as he tallied just 13 catches for 84 yards and one touchdown in two seasons. The Dallas Cowboys valued him for other reasons, including his ability as a run-blocker.
With James Hanna entering a contract year, Swaim’s experience as a blocker could prove useful.
“That’s kind of what I did in my two years with Texas. I did run blocking. That’s all I did,” he said. “That’s not to diminish what I can do in the passing game, but that’s what I was asked to do and obviously I’m very used to doing that. So I’m sure that will be a big role as well as special teams. And just working hard to make the roster, because it’s just the start of it.”
BONUS AUDIO: Secret calls, prospect interviews and more
There’s tons of audio coverage on these new players over on the Dallas Cowboys Audio Archives page … check it out!