Every NFL team has them. The gamble who can either lead your team to greatness or sink it to Cleveland. The wild-card who wows us one moment with fantastic play and leaves us cursing the next because of bone-headedness or injury. This is not a list of the best or most important players on the Cowboys. No, these players are the X-factors. If they play well Dallas will be in great shape. If not, well at least we’re not Philadelphia. To celebrate these boom or bust players I’ll be counting down the top five who can make or break the Cowboys season. We’ll start with number five and a new player will be revealed throughout the week.
#5 Tyrone Crawford
The Good: Tyrone Crawford possesses a unique blend of speed and power. He’s strong enough to bull rush interior linemen, but also quick enough to just blow by them. In addition, Crawford possesses a killer swim move.
And despite what some nay-sayers would have you believe, Crawford isn’t just potential…he gets results. His five sacks last year were good for 11th among all defensive tackles. And context makes those five sacks look even better. Dallas as a team saw the second fewest pass attempts in the league. Of the 10 DT’s who recorded more sacks than Crawford, only one played on a team that saw fewer pass attempts. In fact, the 10 DT’s as a group saw an average of 36.5 pass attempts per game. That’s nearly a full five more passes a game than Crawford saw, which is comes out to 79 more sack opportunities on the season.
And Tyrone Crawford did it all on one arm.
The Bad: Did I mention that Crawford did it all on one arm? That’s becoming something of a pattern. After not playing much at all in his first season, Crawford missed the entirety of his second season with a torn Achilles. In 2014 Crawford played in 15 games, but missed one with a knee injury. And despite playing in all 16 games last year, Crawford still fought injuries. A shoulder injury in Week 2 effectively limited him to one good arm for the rest of the season.
Can Tyrone Crawford hold up for an entire season as a DT? At his listed weight of 285lbs, he is 17lbs smaller than any other defensive tackle on the Cowboys roster, (technically David Irvin is listed as DL, not DT, and is expected to play at SDE).
Something that exacerbates the problem of Crawford’s size is his seeming unwillingness to use his quickness. I mentioned above that Crawford has a devastating swim move. Unfortunately, he hardly ever uses it, and seems to prefer to bullrush offensive linemen. Crawford also constantly neutralizes one of the biggest advantages of the three-tech position. Despite lining up outside the guard, Crawford loves to slant inside, which leaves him open to double teams from the center. This takes away his quickness advantage, and adds more stress and injury opportunity.
The Verdict: Despite his weaknesses, the sky is the limit for Crawford, and I believe he is going to break out in a big way in 2016. As Jim Scott points out over at Blogging the Boys:
Add in that Dallas faced 50 fewer pass plays in 2015 and you have Crawford impacting a pass play 5.4% of the time in 2015 against 4.1% of the time in 2014. He’s heading the right direction.
I think Dallas adding Cedric Thorton is also going to be a huge boon to Crawford. While Nick Hayden was a serviceable player, Thornton is a huge upgrade, and should allow Crawford to see even more one on one matchups. Going into his third full year as a defensive tackle, with a solid bill of health and an upgraded one-technique, Tyrone Crawford is poised to join the upper echelon of defensive takcles in 2016.