Dallas Cowboys

It’s risky for Cowboys to get a ready-made pass rusher in draft

Is Cowboys owner Jerry Jones concerned about Joey Bosa's character issues?

Jerry Jones addressed the media on Monday to discuss the Cowboys plans for their 1st round pick in this weekend's NFL draft. (video by Joyce Marshall)
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Jerry Jones addressed the media on Monday to discuss the Cowboys plans for their 1st round pick in this weekend's NFL draft. (video by Joyce Marshall)

It’s no secret the Dallas Cowboys must improve their pass rush. They had only 31 sacks a season ago, and 28 in 2014.

Owner Jerry Jones, executive vice president Stephen Jones and coach Jason Garrett all understand the importance of getting pressure on the quarterback, and will look to address it in the upcoming draft.

That’s why Ohio State’s Joey Bosa is linked as a natural fit for the Cowboys with the fourth overall pick in this year’s draft. Bosa is almost universally regarded as the top pass rushing prospect in this class, and would fill a seemingly large hole for the Cowboys.

But the Cowboys are also in win-now mode with Tony Romo’s window closing and history shows that pass rushers take time to develop. None of the top five pass rushers from a season ago recorded double-digit sacks as rookies.

Can the Cowboys afford to use the fourth overall pick on a player who will likely need time to develop?

“Every player is different. You don’t know what is going to happen when you turn them loose,” vice-president Stephen Jones said. “Players respond differently to different systems. As we all know, there doesn’t necessarily have to be one guy getting pressure on the quarterback. Seattle has been really successful, winning a Super Bowl and went to another back to back and they got pressure through a variety of players on their team, waving defensive linemen through.

The Star-Telegram's Clarence Hill Jr. and Drew Davison break down the Cowboys options for the #4 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. (video by Joyce Marshall)

“One of the things [Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli] is really good at is using all the defensive linemen to get pressure. If we don’t have a guy that is a 15-20 sack guy it doesn’t mean we don’t get pressure on the quarterback.”

Still, the Cowboys should know as well as any team in the league the difficulty of relying on a rookie pass rusher.

They thought they had a steal when Randy Gregory slipped to them in the second round a year ago, but Gregory battled injuries and didn’t record a sack in 12 games. DeMarcus Lawrence also had an injury setback his rookie season in 2014, and didn’t flourish until the second half last season with seven of his eight sacks coming in the final eight games.

Gregory and Lawrence are now facing four-game suspensions for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy, another reason why the Cowboys are almost cornered into a box to take a pass rusher.

But signs show it's hard to expect much from a rookie pass rusher.

Houston’s J.J. Watt, who led the league with 17.5 sacks last season, had 5.5 as a rookie. Oakland’s Khalil Mack had 15 sacks in his second season, compared to only four as a rookie. Detroit’s Ziggy Ansah didn’t record a first double-digit sack season until his third season, racking up 14.5 last year. Cincinnati’s Carlos Dunlap (13.5) and New England’s Chandler Jones (12.5) rounded out the top-five sack getters in 2015, and each didn’t reach double-digits as rookies.

There are exceptions, of course. Denver’s Von Miller had 11.5 sacks as a rookie, for instance. But, for the most part, pass rushers need time to develop.

“Every player is different,” Stephen Jones repeated. “Some guys are ready to walk in and ready to work and some guys it takes a little time. The key is finding the guys that can step right in and help.”

Bosa projects as a top-five pick in the 2016 Draft.