Who will lead the Cowboys in sacks in 2016?

Dec 7, 2015; Landover, MD, USA; Dallas Cowboys defensive end Demarcus Lawrence (90) knocks the ball out of the hands of Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) in the first quarter at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 7, 2015; Landover, MD, USA; Dallas Cowboys defensive end Demarcus Lawrence (90) knocks the ball out of the hands of Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) in the first quarter at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports /

We try to predict which defender will lead the Dallas Cowboys in sacks in 2016.

When the Dallas Cowboys choose to use their first round pick in last month’s NFL Draft on a running back, and their second round selection on an injured linebacker who will likely need to sit out a year, the team made a definitive statement.

The Cowboys believe a powerful offense that bolsters a dominant ground game can help their defense more than any defender in the draft. Whether the Cowboys are right or not will be determined by the outcome of this season.

Still, the Cowboys defense is full of young, talented players who could make an instant impact depending upon their growth this offseason. Outside of turnovers, the stats both fans and analysts will likely be focused on is the defense’s sack totals.

Last season, the Cowboys ranked 25th in sacks with 31.0. The year before that, Dallas had only 28.0 sacks, the fourth worst total in the NFL.

But any talk of sacks in 2016 has to start with the four-game suspensions levied on defensive ends Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence by the league, the latter being the Cowboys sack leader last season (8.0).

Despite strong showing in the preseason, Gregory suffered an ankle injury last year that seemed to derail his entire rookie campaign. Due to his reoccurring drug issues, you simply can not rely on this young man to produce anything right now.

Therefore, the Cowboys will be without their two starting defensive ends to begin the regular season. But what many see as a negative could turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Gregory and Lawrence’s absence for the first month opens the door for other players to shine.

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Obviously, there are known qualities like defensive tackles Tyrone Crawford and Cedric Thornton. Crawford posted 5.0 sacks last season with a bad shoulder. Thornton was a veteran added to the team via free agency this offseason out of Philadelphia. But he is seen as more of a run-stopper and will likely start the season at the one-technique.

Rod Marinelli, the Cowboys defensive coordinator, implements a scheme that relies heavily on substitutions. Some of those rotational players will now get a chance to show what they can do with more snaps.

Those rotational players include Jack Crawford, David Irving and Ryan Russell. Crawford racked up a career high 4.0 sacks last season with limited snaps (489 – 46.31%). While Russell, the Cowboys fifth round pick out of Purdue in 2015, was active for all of one game last season before an abdomen injury ended his rookie season prematurely.

Irving was an undrafted rookie free agent that was acquired off the Kansas City Chiefs practice squad last year. Although his stats were unimpressive, the 6-7, 272 pound defender showed he can be a disruptive force from the defensive tackle position. The Cowboys could look to move Irving to defensive end and utilize his ability to bend at his size in order to get to opposing quarterbacks.

Then there are the new faces on the Cowboys roster that we frankly have no idea what to expect when they hit the field. Players like Benson Mayowa, and rookies Charles Tapper and Maliek Collins.

Mayowa was signed as a restricted free agent from the Oakland Raiders that has started a total of three games in his first three seasons in the NFL. Tapper was the Cowboys fourth round pick out of Oklahoma and is projected to be a solid edge rusher. Collins will play at the three-technique and should provide a solid pass rush behind Tyrone Crawford on the interior of Dallas’ defensive line.

So who do I predict will lead the Cowboys in sacks in 2016? Despite his pending four-game suspension, I believe it will be defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence once again. Last year, D-Law posted seven of his 8.0 sacks in the second half of the season.

Combine that fact with the possibility Lawrence’s suspension gets reduced or even reversed via a pending appeal, and in my eyes that makes DeMarcus the team’s most likely candidate to be their sack leader again this season.

But what do you think? Let us know who you believe will lead the Dallas Cowboys in sacks this year below in our comment section.

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