Dallas Cowboy: Can this rookie top Aaron Donald in 2015?


The Dallas Cowboys had a great draft this year especially on the defensive side of the ball.  So great, there is a rookie on the roster that could potentially be the 2015 NFL rookie defensive player of the year.

There is still a lot to prove for this rookie class, but one player that comes to mind was ranked by some draft analyst as a top five pick in the NFL Draft.  Ultimately, he fell to the second round due to some character concerns and a failed drug test at the NFL Combine.

More from The Landry Hat

If you haven’t guessed who I’m talking about by now it’s none other than rookie defensive end Randy Gregory.   Gregory’s draft pedigree is backed up by some solid stats while he attended the University of Nebraska with a college highlight reel that leaves you wanting to see more.

But all the stats and highlight reels in the world can’t guarantee success in the NFL.  A bit of luck, hard work, and favorable conditions can, however.  This potential combination is what gives Gregory an opportunity to compete for the award.  He also happens to share a favorable defensive environment that is similar to the 2015 Pro Bowler and reigning rookie defensive player of the year winner St. Louis Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

With elite run stuffing ability, Donald’s true talent appears to be getting to the quarterback. This statement is backed with strong stats and the 9.0 sacks he had last year that tied for second among all players that play his position. Well documented, Donald’s sack total and consistent play down the stretch ultimately won him the award.

Donald played with a top five defensive line unit that included monsters like 2015 Pro Bowl defensive end Robert Quinn, defensive end Chris Long, and defensive tackle Michael Brokers.  This environment he played in helped to build a good foundation and cultivate a great rookie season for Donald.

This next statement is in no way trying to marginalize Donald’s phenomenal rookie year.  However, when you are surrounded by the level of talent Donald was, you can imagine there’s plenty of play-making opportunities.

The above mentioned environment that Donald played in is comparable to Gregory’s future situation with the Cowboys defensive line.  While the Boy’s defensive line isn’t on the same page as the Rams yet, there is promise on the horizon.

You can start by looking at what the Cowboys did to improve their pass rush as the right direction isn’t an adequate definition for what the Dallas did to their defensive line.  A complete overhaul is a better label.

It all starts with the addition of 2014 Pro Bowl defensive end Greg Hardy and the fact that he is only serving four games of his original 10-game suspension for conduct detrimental to the league.  He is followed by sophomore defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence coming off a strong playoff performance and a complete offseason body make over.

Then there is the banter surrounding defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford as a potential breakout super star.  Lastly, let’s not forget about the stable of under-the-radar young, talented, and hungry defensive linemen that shouldfill in the gaps.

The above is a formula that includes strong competition, talent, and team chemistry that could cultivate an opportunity for Gregory to dominate.  It has been discussed that Gregory could be used primarily in pass rush situations as the majority of the core playing time would go to Crawford, Lawrence, and Hardy.

The thought of Gregory coming into the game with fresh legs in pass rush scenarios with the aforementioned teammates should give every fan something to smile about. If Gregory capitalizes on these opportunities, he could surpass Donald’s performance from the last year and begin in a new era of Dallas Cowboys football.