This week, the front office in Dallas made the uncharacteristic decision to make moves before the trade deadline. The Dallas Cowboys traded a sixth-round pick to the Las Vegas Raiders for veteran defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins. Dallas will also receive a seventh-round pick in 2024. The move was as unexpected as it was calculated, and it shows that the front office is all-in on this 2022 defense—as they should be.
Before joining the Las Vegas (then Oakland) Raiders in 2018, Hankins was often mentioned as a possible acquisition for Dallas. It never materialized, and Hankins had a solid four years with the Raiders. He now returns to the NFC East as a Dallas Cowboy. The move could be as impactful as it was cheap—a sixth-round pick is essentially a dart throw when it comes to the draft. For Dallas, the acquisition of Hankins could correct much of their spotty effectiveness against the run this season. At 6’3’’ and 340 pounds, Hankins is the type of gap-plugging nose tackle the Cowboys hope will shore up their run defense.
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Dallas Cowboys Trade for Johnathan Hankins to Improve Run Defense
The stellar play in other parts of the defensive game has made the run deficiencies even more glaring. Dallas comes into Week 8 allowing an average of 120 rushing yards a game, which is 20th in the league. Compared to all other defensive stats, of which Dallas is in the top 5-10, rush defense is a blatant outlier. That’s where Hankins comes in.
The ten-year veteran has shown over the season that he still has plenty in the tank, especially when it comes to rush defense. PFF currently has Hankins graded better than any Dallas defensive tackle outside of Trysten Hill. Nose tackles like Hankins rarely have eye-popping stats, but his contributions could be invaluable to the effectiveness of the defense. Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch has been having a career resurgence this year but is still susceptible to getting washed out of plays. He, like many linebackers, plays better when able to stay free and make plays on the ball carrier. The same can be said for Anthony Barr, who is still finding his role in Dallas. The second level of the defense could benefit tremendously from the presence of Hankins. This is something the front office had to have been thinking about when making this trade.
Dallas All-In on Defense
This move reveals how the Dallas front office feels about this team in a few different ways. First, it shows that the coaching staff and front office agree about the rush defense. Inconsistent play in recent games against the Philadelphia Eagles and Detroit Lions has appeared to expose weaknesses in an otherwise championship-caliber unit.
The Eagles did not have overwhelming numbers in their win, but Dallas was not able to stop the run on a crucial fourth-quarter drive that essentially sealed the game. They also frustrated Micah Parsons all game—something not many can do—with their run strategy. Last week, the Detroit Lions obviously took note and ran all over the defense to start the game. Jamaal Williams averaged 5.3 yards a carry and had some explosive runs. If not for the goal-line heroics of DeMarcus Lawrence in the fourth quarter, the game could have gone a much different way.
This is insane. Demarcus Lawrence split the double, disrupted the puller on G-Lead, stoned the tight end (playing fullback), and then finally forced the fumble on the goal line. All in one play.
When it comes to DL highlights, this is like hitting for the cycle in one at bat. pic.twitter.com/HnqcBvy7MM
— Brett Kollmann (@BrettKollmann) October 24, 2022
Issues against the run have shown themselves all season long, and teams are beginning to catch on. The Chicago Bears will undoubtedly be looking to continue exposing any weaknesses with their own run-heavy scheme on Sunday. The schedule after the bye does not let up with regards to teams looking to use the run attack, meaning when this trade occurred showed some front office savvy as well.
The trade’s timing shows how the team feels about the remainder of their season opponent-wise. The general theme in the remaining Dallas schedule is teams with good/great running backs and middling quarterbacks. Teams like the Indianapolis Colts, New York Giants, and Tennessee Titans have running games that can upend any defensive effort. There’s also a rematch with the Eagles and an away game against the 5-1 Minnesota Vikings lurking out there as well. Yet, none of these teams have a quarterback (yes, even Jalen Hurts) that will do well if they have to stand in the pocket and pass against this defense.
Dallas is nearly unstoppable when forcing their opponent to pass the ball as they have proven week after week. They lead the league in sacks with 29, almost double the number they had at this point last season (17). The reason Dallas had two strip-sacks to end the game against Detroit is they finally forced them to pass. Making teams abandon the run will be something the Dallas Cowboys look to do early and often, and they are betting the trade for Johnathan Hankins will help to do just that.
— theScore (@theScore) October 25, 2022
Much of the fanbase has been clamoring for Dallas to trade for a wide receiver before the deadline. While there could still be another move made on the offensive side, two trades in one season feels unlikely. With the trade for Johnathan Hankins, the Dallas Cowboys have shown they believe the road to the playoffs lies with this defense.
Dak Prescott has still only played two games this season, and the offense looked more effective as last week’s game went on. If Hankins finds a sold role, and the offense elevates as it should, this move could be extremely impactful moving into the second half of the season.