The Dallas Cowboys have a poor history when drafting defensive ends


Though the Dallas Cowboys will almost certainly draft a defensive end next week, the organization’s past record of selecting players at that position is not reassuring.

Unless one considers finding a franchise quarterback the Dallas Cowboys’ top priority in the NFL Draft, then defensive end is the team’s most glaring need in the 2016 draft. With pick No. 4, Dallas should have its pick of any defensive lineman in this year’s deep crop but the team has not had great success when drafting defensive ends during the tenure of owner and general manager Jerry Jones.

Jones’ first draft was in 1989 and since that year the Dallas Cowboys have drafted 19 defensive ends. Of that group, only three (Greg Ellis, Tony Tolbert and Jason Hatcher) have been named to the Pro Bowl.

Some may be willing to cut the Cowboys slack for drafting future Hall of Fame inductee and franchise career sacks leader DeMarcus Ware as a pass rusher. However, Ware spent eight of his seasons with Dallas as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defensive scheme.

A look back at some of the defensive ends Jerry Jones has drafted while general manager should make Cowboys’ fans shudder at the thought of selecting another this year, though it is a necessity. This pattern of poor drafting goes all the way back to the Cowboys’ run of success in the decade of the 1990’s.

In 1994, Jones drafted defensive end Shante Carver out of Arizona State with pick No. 23. Carver was a bust on the field and had odd incidents off of it including leaving the scene of an automobile wreck to then report the truck as stolen. He was also suspended six games in 1996 for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

In 1996, knowing that Carver was a bust, Dallas spent its top pick (a second round pick, No. 37 overall) on defensive end Kavika Pitman from McNeese State. He recorded only 18 career sacks in 108 games and was not resigned by the franchise after his rookie contract expired.

In 1999, the Cowboys drafted a defensive end in the first round for the second consecutive year. After picking Greg Ellis at No. 8 overall the previous year, Jones selected Ellis’ college teammate Ebenezer Ekuban from North Carolina with pick 20 of the first round.

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The team was desperate to replicate the dominance it had with Tolbert and Hall of Fame inductee Charles Haley book ending the defensive line during the 1990’s. Ekuban’s selection marked the fourth time in six drafts the Dallas Cowboys had picked a defensive end with the organization’s first draft pick but still the hole at pass rusher remained.

Ekuban suffered through numerous injuries and inconsistent play causing the team to let him walk away following the expiration of his rookie contract. He recorded only 13 sacks in five seasons with the Dallas Cowboys.

Another top-20 pick spent fruitlessly on a defensive end was pick No. 20 in the 2005 draft. After selecting Ware at pick No. 11, Dallas picked LSU defense end Marcus Spears with its second first round pick (which it acquired by trading its 2004 first round pick to the Cleveland Browns).

Spears never developed into a pass rush threat to compliment Ware. Playing defensive end in the team’s new 3-4 scheme (which does not ask defensive ends to be dominant pass rushers), Spears collected only nine sacks in eight seasons with the Cowboys. Though he was a decent run stopper and a good presence in the locker room, Spears was yet another defensive end that did not live up to the expectation of being a first round pick.

More recently, in the past two drafts the Cowboys have spent premium second round picks on defensive ends with sparse results. After trading up 13 spots in the 2014 second round to draft defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, last season Dallas used its second round pick (No. 60 overall) on end Randy Gregory of Nebraska.

What is important to note is that neither Lawrence nor Gregory recorded a sack in their first regular season and the duo has only eight career sacks thus far. Plus, Gregory’s four-game suspension for drug use has put the Cowboys in the position of needing to draft yet another defensive end this year.

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However, there is no guarantee that the defensive end Dallas drafts will be a success, no matter how highly he is ranked by so-called draft experts. Every pick in the NFL Draft is a gamble but in the last 25 years, when the Dallas Cowboys have drafted a defensive end, that gamble has far too often come up short.