Commentary

DE pick: 'I'm my own Demarcus'

Pass-rusher Lawrence right choice to help Cowboys forget Ware, last year's poor D

Updated: May 12, 2014, 2:44 PM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys' draft board had three elite pass-rushers on it: Jadeveon Clowney, Anthony Barr and Demarcus Lawrence.

Clowney and Barr were each gone after nine selections.

When Day 2 of the draft began Friday, the Cowboys decided they had to have Lawrence, because without DeMarcus Ware on the roster they didn't have a pure pass-rusher.

[+] EnlargeDemarcus Lawrence
AP Photo/Otto KitsingerAs crucial as Demarcus Lawrence is to the rehabilitation of the Cowboys' defense, he certainly doesn't need to be a DeMarcus Ware right out of the gate.
So Jerry Jones & Co. made it happen. Good for them.

Yes, it cost the Cowboys a third-round pick to move up 13 spots, a steep price in a deep draft, but they believed the Atlanta Falcons would take Lawrence with the 37th pick.

The Cowboys gambled. Sort of. Hey, it's better than being passive.

We expect first-round pick Zack Martin to be a good player. The Notre Dame offensive lineman was a top-10 player on the majority of NFL draft boards and should be a stalwart for a decade.

That's cool, but you must understand Lawrence is the key to this entire draft.

In the first two rounds of the draft, where the majority of the talent lies, getting a good player is imperative to long-term success. After that, getting the player you want also is critical -- and that's what the Cowboys did.

Moving down and taking the player who's left from a group of four or five has never ever appealed to me. If you like a player and you believe he's going to be a difference-maker, then go get him and live with the consequences.

This defensive scheme doesn't work without a pass-rusher capable of demanding double-teams. This scheme is based on rushing the passer without blitzing, allowing seven defenders to drop into coverage.

Without a pass rush, as we saw last season, the defense doesn't work. See, getting a player with Lawrence's ability wasn't optional for the Cowboys.

[+] EnlargeDemarcus Lawrence
Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY SportsWhile Lawrence made it clear he will develop his own style, he said he enjoys trying to "steal" Ware's pass-rushing moves.
They had to have him.

"We thought there was a drop-off, and we thought Lawrence was the drop-off," Jerry Jones said. "There will be others that say, no, it dropped off with Clowney, or there will be people that say ... we thought that [player] was our level of drop-off.

"We very consciously did overpay and stepped up and used that pick and are very aware that it cost us a player."

Lawrence is crucial to the Cowboys' defensive improvement this season, but it's not as though he needs to be a star or Rookie of the Year. He certainly doesn't have to be Ware, who had eight sacks as a rookie and at least 10 each of the next seven seasons.

Any comparisons to Ware in terms of performance are silly. The Cowboys just need Lawrence to be a factor this year. That's kind of ambiguous, but we'll all know if he achieves it.

"I love trying to mirror his game and steal his pass-rushing moves," Lawrence said of Ware. "I really like how he works his feet, because he's a technician

"I study a lot. It's not all about my athletic ability. I go into the film room and watch guys and try to use [a tackle's] strengths against him."

The game has never been more about the quarterback than it is in today's NFL. The Cowboys must find a way to disrupt opposing quarterbacks or put them under duress on a regular basis, otherwise we're going to see the same raggedy defense week after week that we saw last year.

Dallas allowed six passers to throw for more than 300 yards, including four games of more than 400 yards. Seven times they allowed more than 30 points in game, including two games of more than 40 points and one of more than 50.

Opposing quarterbacks had a collective passer rating of 95.6, with 33 touchdowns and only 15 interceptions.

Dallas managed only 34 sacks. Only five teams had fewer sacks, and none made the playoffs. In fact, no team ranked in bottom eight in sacks made the playoffs.

Understand, sacks aren't a cure-all. The Buffalo Bills finished second with 57 sacks and missed the playoffs.

Still, if you can't rush the passer, it's hard to win consistently. Ware set a standard here for a decade. Now, it's Lawrence's turn to establish his own standard.

"I'm my own Demarcus," Lawrence said. "I don't try to be anyone else. I try to be me, and I'm going to do it well."

He must. Or the defensive futility will continue.

Jean-Jacques Taylor joined ESPNDallas.com in August 2011. A native of Dallas, Taylor spent the past 20 years writing for The Dallas Morning News, where he covered high schools sports, the Texas Rangers and spent 11 seasons covering the Dallas Cowboys before becoming a general columnist in 2006.

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