Why Crawford is on the list
Tyrone Crawford spent last offseason coming off a torn Achilles tendon while playing defensive end. He spent the regular season at defensive tackle overwhelming opposing guards.
Crawford's quick conversion to under tackle in Dallas coordinator Rod Marinelli's defense was one of the secrets to the Cowboys' success last year. Crawford's three sacks only hint at a season of disruption. He finished with 29 quarterback hurries and 12 QB hits, an incredible number for an interior defender who only played 536 snaps.
Daniel Jeremiah, our resident scout at NFL Media, compared Crawford to a poor man's Ndamukong Suh after watching Crawford on film. He uses brute strength to push the pocket back, especially against the pass.
After watching Crawford's 2014 snaps on Game Rewind, we were also impressed by his quickness. Crawford often leaned on an opponent all game, who then became susceptible to his inside moves:
We saw Crawford beat one of the NFL's best guards, Kyle Long, with his swim move. It's rare that such a powerful player is fast off the ball. Crawford also never was short on effort, running down plays after they appeared to be over.
Playing time could get in Crawford's way. He "only" played 536 snaps last season, which is about 200 less than the very best defensive tackles. Crawford is a better player on passing downs and will have to prove to the Cowboys that he can consistently make an impact against the run. He believes that knowing he's a defensive tackle will help.
Crawford also needs to finish plays. He was very close to getting a lot of sacks last season, but quarterbacks just got the ball away. A lot of that comes down to bad luck. Crawford does a great job on the play below, but Drew Brees somehow gets the ball off:
"I changed up the way I work out, the different things I can do, different things I can focus on knowing where I'm going to be," Crawford told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram of having a set position. "It's good for me."
Most defensive tackles find it difficult to gain notice, but that shouldn't be a problem for Crawford playing on national television every week. He doesn't have a flashy style, but the "under tackle" position in Dallas' defense traditionally piles up numbers. Dallas is looking for Crawford to wreak havoc, not take up blockers.
ProFootballFocus ranked Crawford as a top-15 player at defensive tackle last season, so you could make the argument he's already broken out. But he has Pro Bowl potential if he can finish plays and master his position. Much of our optimism on Crawford centers on his relative inexperience. He's only played two seasons. Achilles surgery is perhaps the toughest to recover from in football, and he looked fantastic last year. He should be more explosive another year removed from surgery and more comfortable now that he knows his position.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has a history of awarding monster contract extensions to young, promising players on his roster. Don't be surprised if Crawford gets early breakout buzz, and Jones responds during the season by breaking out the checkbook.