Star Evaluation: Thornton Provided Solid Depth at Defensive Tackle | Dallas Cowboys

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The roster turnover is about to begin. Free agency opens in less than one month and the 2017 NFL Draft isn’t far behind it. Over the next two months, the Cowboys will lose and replace a sizable portion of their roster.

For every new face, however, there are dozens of familiar ones who will return to begin a new campaign. From established veterans to second-year players, the vast majority of the Cowboys’ 2017 team is already on the roster. In the coming weeks, the staff of DallasCowboys.com will preview those players, analyzing where they’ve been and where they’re going.

Today we’ll continue the series with defensive tackle Cedric Thornton.

What’s Been Good: Although Thornton was primarily a defensive end in four seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, the Cowboys picked him up in free agency a year ago with the idea of moving him to defensive tackle. At 6-foot-4 and nearly 300 pounds, he has the size to work inside in coordinator Rod Marinelli’s defensive line rotation, and indeed provided valuable depth at a position of need. While never considered a sack master, Thornton did manage to total 1.5 sacks, which was a career high, while also posting only his second career forced fumble and fourth fumble recovery. And all this came despite him missing the final three games of the regular season due to an ankle injury.

What’s Been Bad: There was some thought heading into training camp that Thornton could challenge for a starting spot, but that never materialized, even when Tyrone Crawford got pushed outside to help cover for a lack of depth at defensive end. In the end, rookie Maliek Collins eventually surpassed Thornton on the depth chart, in part because Thornton was only credited with 22 tackles. He averaged 43 takedowns per season during his tenure with the Eagles.

2016 Highlight: The Cowboys were on a three-game winning streak, but questions still remained about how good the team actually was. With Andy Dalton and the Bengals coming to town for a Week 5 matchup, Dallas was expecting to see a tougher test, and although Cincinnati wasn’t quite what we thought, the Cowboys still took care of business, dominating the visitors, 28-14. The defensive line did its part, sacking Dalton four times, which included a second quarter sack by Thornton, who went on to also post a tackle for loss and a quarterback hit. The performance was a perfect example of how the big men up front could impact a game as the Bengals were limited to 269 passing yards.

What’s Next: The Cowboys will enter the 2017 campaign with Collins almost assuredly penciled in as one of the defensive tackle starters and David Irving, or if he is re-signed Terrell McClain, would seemingly be higher on the depth chart also. Thornton can again be a valuable rotational guy – you can seemingly never have enough – but now in the second-year of his four-year contract, he’s actually among the top-25 highest paid defensive tackles in the league. The Cowboys are probably hoping for a little more bang for their buck.

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