The Cowboys have an outstanding linebackers coach in Matt Eberflus. He will most assuredly make the shortlist of candidates for defensive coordinator post-Rod Marinelli, that is if they can keep him from being poached by another team. What he has been able to accomplish over his tenure with the Cowboys has not gone unnoticed and could be a column in itself. With that said, Dallas still has room to grow at linebacker and they could use a bit more talent outside of Sean Lee.
Some folks will point out that the Cowboys were able to snag Jaylon Smith in the second round of last year. Everyone is well aware that the injury that Smith suffered is what dropped him from Top-5 pick to second-round flyer. The injury in itself has been hashed and rehashed over and over again. Cowboys fans all over are waiting on pins and needles in anticipation for his triumphant return to begin what could be a legendary career in Dallas.
As much hype and optimism that is drawn out of watching his bi-weekly workout videos and the news that his nerve has re-fired; there is no real timetable as to when he will become available for the Dallas Cowboys. There is hope but until he can run, cut, and do everything needed without that mechanism that holds his foot in place, you have to be skeptical. This defense needs a stud of his capability as fast as they can get one, which is why they shouldn’t hesitate to select a linebacker in this draft should the opportunity arise.
You can talk about edge rushers and cornerbacks but we’re probably underestimating the power of what better than adequate linebacking could do for this defense. Here are some guys to look at in this year’s class that could be interesting to the Cowboys.
Zach Cunningham, 6’3, 230 lbs, Vanderbilt (CBS 18th, DraftTek 32nd)
Cunningham is an impressive athlete with a nose for the ball and the ability to never lose sight of his target. Though he could improve his lean frame in order to help him tackle better, he rarely is out of position and has speed and power to become a dynamic linebacker in the 4-3 alignment.
Cunningham’s elite awareness make him a prime candidate for an outside role as he’s able to track runners no matter how big or small and stop them from bouncing out to the edge. He’s very good in pass coverage and is sneaky enough to trick quarterbacks into mistakes. For as long as he is, Cunningham is anything but stiff often showing the bend and flexibility to play loose and light maintaining body control and contortion to make huge plays.
Haason Reddick, 6’1, 237 lbs, Temple (CBS 31st, DraftTek 54th)
Anytime you hear a guy that is getting consistent comps to Ryan Shazier that should perk you up. If you remember the Cowboys were ready to draft Shazier if not for the Steelers beating them to the punch. Like Shazier, Reddick is a dynamic player at linebacker and could translate inside or outside in a 4-3 alignment. His size would leave more to be desired but he makes up for it big time with his on-field abilities.
He’s extremely strong at the point of attack and can shed blockers with relative ease. Reddick jumped out at everyone in the Senior Bowl practices where he likely made his leap into the first round. He’s got speed and quickness off the snap to rush the passer if needed but the instincts and awareness of a middle linebacker. Though he gets knocked as a tweener, a team that places him at linebacker with confidence is going to be repaid for their efforts. Reddick is a true talent that immediately upgrades the defense he’s playing on.
Raekwon McMillan, 6’2, 240 lbs, Ohio State (CBS 41st, DraftTek 92nd)
If you’re looking for the epitome of a run-stuffing, hard-nosed, tough-guy at middle linebacker; it’s McMillan. He’s kind of got an old-school feel to him but still possesses the good awareness and ability in coverage that won’t scare you off of him. McMillan has prototypical size and speed for the position though some worry that he played with better players around him in college. McMillan won the Butkus Award in high school and was a finalist in college.
He is impressive at shedding blocks and has the power to keep himself in the play and not get washed out. His spatial awareness and keen senses have helped him track quarterbacks in the past and he can be a force manning the middle of a defense. Though he lacks the size of Rolando McClain, he does have some of that nastiness to straight halt the ball carrier before he has a chance to do anything.
Jarrad Davis, 6’1, 238 lbs, Florida (CBS 44th, DraftTek 28th)
Davis is a relentless competitor that CBS has called the “Energizer Bunny” and that’s a perfect comparison for him. Though he’s barely over six feet, he’s tightly built with muscle definition and an extremely high motor. Davis is a guy that often times is overlooked but he makes an impact on every play. His instinctual effort and awareness in coverage are ideal for the middle linebacker position in a defense like the Cowboys.
He’s surprisingly a phenomenal blitzer and has an incredible sneakiness quality about him that makes him a load for quarterbacks. He’s got some explosiveness in him with the closing speed to chase down ball carriers and stop big plays from occurring. He’s had some past hiccups with injuries but seemingly put those behind him. He’s insanely active and will fly up the boards due to his high on and off field character; he’s just a great football player with the mind and ability to do a number of things for a team.
Anthony Walker Jr., 6’1, 245 lbs, Northwestern (CBS 108th, DraftTek 102nd)
Admitting, he’s probably a bit heavy but he’s packed on a ton of muscle too. Still, that worries some scouts that it’s hurting his athletic ability. Despite this, Walker has been tremendously active and productive in his time at Northwestern. In three seasons (including a redshirt year) he amassed 278 tackles, 35.5 tackles for loss, and was named to the All-Big Ten First, Second, and Third Teams.
Walker possesses great straight-line speed and definitely has a burst with the second gear to him. He’s extremely smart with a high work ethic and a terrific motor. He can be a bit stiff but has shown the ability to change direction and make his way back to close out plays. He’s got outstanding awareness and instinctual attributes that should intrigue a lot of teams. He was a leader on and off the field that plays with great balance. An NFL team will want him to play lighter but he does have 16 passes batted down in his time and doesn’t seem hindered in any way.