Jayron Kearse was signed by the Cowboys last March to a one-year deal. Originally, many felt he was a depth addition to the safety position in Dallas and a player who could help on special teams, as well.

It didn’t take long for those thoughts to fall by the wayside.

Kearse started 15 of 16 games last year and set career highs in tackles (101), interceptions (2), and passes defended (10). He gained enough trust within the coaching staff to where  he took over the defensive play calls from Micah Parsons during the Week 8 matchup with the Minnesota Vikings.

Pro Football Focus released a list on Thursday recognizing the most improved player from each team for 2021. In Dallas, that honor was given to Kearse.

Anthony Treash on Kearse’s performance:

Kearse showed flashes of promise as a reserve throughout his first four years in the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings from 2016 through 2019. After a year with the underwhelming Detroit Lions in 2020, Kearse took on a starting job with the Cowboys in 2021 and ended up as the 12th-highest-graded player at the position for the season. He led all safeties in pass breakups with 10, tied for fifth in defensive stops with 33, finished second in missed tackle rate at 3.9% (four misses on 103 attempts) and tied for third in total pressures with 11.

The former seventh-round pick had several teams looking to acquire his services before last season, but Dallas put a stranglehold on him that wouldn’t let go after multiple visits to the team’s facility.

“Among the three or four teams that I had the opportunity to talk to in free agency, Dallas just stuck out to me because of the opportunity to get on the field and just being around familiar faces – guys that I’ve either played with or I just knew from football,” Kearse said last summer via the team’s website.

Kearse was one of the spearheads that turned the Cowboys’ defense around from the abomination it was in 2020 when it finished 31st against the run and gave up 473 points, the worst in franchise history. In 2021, the Cowboys’ defense led the NFL in interceptions (26), total turnovers (34), and were the best at stopping opposing offenses on third down.

A big reason for that was Jayron Kearse and his ability to not only cover tight ends in the middle of the field but the support he provided against the run. His play was unexpected but extremely valuable and he’s made himself one of the Cowboys’ most important in-house free agents along with defensive end Randy Gregory.

Feature image via Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports