A Dallas Cowboys Sleeper At Pass Rusher No One Is Talking About


The biggest overall weakness for the Dallas Cowboys in 2014 was their pass rush. The team’s inability to get to the quarterback last season likely cost the Cowboys a Super Bowl appearance.

This offseason, Dallas’ front office dedicated themselves to improving the pass rush, signing controversial Pro Bowl defensive end Greg Hardy in free agency. And then drafting Nebraska star pass rusher Randy Gregory in the second round in last month’s NFL Draft.

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Throw in Dallas’ 2014 second round selection at defensive end, DeMarcus Lawrence and the Cowboys’ sack leader from last year, defensive end Jeremy Mincey, and this defensive line all the sudden looks bloated with talented pass rushers.

But there is still one sleeper at defensive end no one in Dallas is talking about. Mainly because he was a seventh round selection last year who suffered a season-ending injury before he had to chance to prove himself on the field.

We are, of course, talking about Stanford defensive end Ben Gardner. As the 231st player chosen in the 2014 NFL Draft, Gardner received absolutely zero fanfare upon his selection. And a shoulder injury suffered in his very first padded practice last offseason, landed him on injured reserve and therefore out of the minds of both media and fans entirely.

But Cowboys fans do have reasons to be excited by the potential Gardner brings to this defensive line. Coming out of Stanford, Dan Brugler of CBSSports.com (and The Cowboys Draft Show) was surprised the versicle defensive lineman wasn’t invited to the Scouting Combine as a Senior.

"“Considering that [Gardner] was an integral component of Stanford’s success defensively the past three seasons, Gardner may have been the most shocking of the Combine snubs and he posted the most eye-popping numbers in retaliation, wowing scouts from all 32 NFL teams on March 20 with a 39.5″ vertical and 10-2″ broad jump after measuring 6-foot-4, 262 pounds. Those numbers would have ranked second and fifth, respectively, among all defensive linemen tested in Indianapolis in 2014.”"

The former team captain had his best season at Stanford in 2013, recording 49 total tackles, 14.5 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks as a junior. A torn pectoral muscle he suffered during his senior season caused Gardner to fall in the draft to the Cowboys. He was still able to record 19 total tackles, 7.5 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks in nine games that season.

"“This is the best I’ve felt in five to six years, not since my early days at Stanford,” Gardner told the Dallas Morning News. “I had basically a full year off to get back to where I needed to be. My legs feel good, my shoulder feels great. I’m as confident as ever physically…You think about this [moment] your whole life. I feel confident about my own abilities and really confident about our defensive group and the talent we have. It’s going to be a fun year.”"

Despite the bigger names playing ahead of him on the depth chart, Gardner can still have a major impact on the Cowboys this season. That’s all thanks to coordinator Rod Marinelli’s defensive scheme, which relies heavily on substitutions. As part of the defensive line’s regular rotation, a sleeper like Gardner will find moments to shine in 2015.

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