The Dallas Cowboys are in a precarious spot with the linebacker position. It’s a very top-heavy position featuring one of the premiere players in the NFL, followed by a number of question marks.
Micah Parsons, in one year, has placed himself as not only an elite LB, but overall defender as well. Displaying abilities to pass rush, stop the run and play coverage, earning All-Pro honors and becoming the first unanimous Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Aside from him, the depth is eye-opening. The lack of experience and flux of players with injury concerns.
The exception being Jayron Kearse. Coming off a career year, Kearse displays abilities as the third safety, sub-LB closer to the line of scrimmage no other player can. Considering how often the Dallas ran nickel or dime formations. Often with three safeties.
Most forced incompletions in zone coverage last season— PFF NY Jets (@PFF_Jets) April 8, 2022
1️⃣ Jordan Whitehead: 7 ✈️
2️⃣ Jayron Kearse: 6
3️⃣ Marcus Williams/Kevin Byard: 5 pic.twitter.com/oz8RaPq3I0
Kearse shows valuable coverage skills against in-line tight ends, as well as players coming across the middle or out of the backfield. He will be the most important inside defender next to Parsons.
Hopefully it doesn’t stop there. The next few players on the depth chart have injury history’s attached to them. Leighton Vander Esch and Jabril Cox will both factor heavily in the LB rotation.
As the slated starting WILL and SAM LBs, they’ll see plenty of time as long as they stay healthy and consistent.
With Cox, there’s never been an issue for him. He’s got long arms, he’s fast and was one of the top coverage players in his draft class before tearing his ACL. Similar to Vander Esch, who’s play has been inconsistent in recent years, hampered with a number of injuries, predominantly in the neck, but is still one of the Cowboys better tacklers.
After these players, who else will step up? All are going to get a large amount of snaps to allow the vets to rest for the season, making who’s left have to earn the likely 2-3 final LB spots.
Luke Gifford is back on a one-year deal but is far from a lock to make the team. He is primarily a core special team’s defender but can be expendable. Especially with so many young, talented rookies coming in.
The only rookie we can probably rule out is fifth-round pick Damone Clark. With a herniated disk leading to what will essentially be a redshirt rookie season.
However, there are still plenty of talented rookies like Markquese Bell, who got plenty of first and second team snaps at safety and LB in OTA’s. Similar to the Jayron Kearse role. Despite being undrafted.
The other undrafted LBs, Aaron Hansford and Storey Jackson, each posses skills that could help them earn a spot. Though more likely on the practice squad. Jackson is a well-round player who can paly coverage and stop the run. Hansford, a Dallas Cowboys official visit, is a strong, willing tackler but lacks great speed. Neither, however have the edge of draft picks will get early.
Devin Harper is a ‘traits player’ meaning he could develop into a quality player, but is going to have to make his mark on special teams if he wants to make the roster. He’s still very raw but has good size, speed and athleticism that could help him earn a spot. Potentially beating out the new veteran additions.
Malik Jefferson and Christian Sam are both vets looking for their second chances. Jefferson is a former third-round pick who’s career has been affected by injury, bouncing from practice squad to practice squad. Similar to Sam, who has found time in the USFL as well.
Both are arguably the biggest uphill candidates to make the team. This defense has seen some great play from the LB position but going into training camp, it appears to be Parsons, Kearse and others.
Considering Kearse and Bell will be designated as safties, despite where they play, this only tightens the competition. The depth isn’t in a desirable place but a player or two will shine come August. They’ll have to.
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