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Did The Dallas Cowboys Improve At Linebacker In 2017?

The linebacker position all depends on one player making his debut.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys-Minicamp Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

[After an incredible rise from worst to first in 2016 that saw the Cowboys ride the backs of two outstanding rookie campaigns to 13-3 and a changing of the guard, we have to examine the roster. From 1 to 53, we only have one question?

Have the Dallas Cowboys improved?]

Today, we have a loaded question, did the Cowboys make improvements at linebacker from 2016 to 2017?

Last Season:

Sean Lee - (started 15 games, 145 tackles, 93 solos, All-Pro selection, Pro Bowl Alternate)

Anthony Hitchens - (started 16 games, 78 tackles, 39 solos, 1.5 sacks)

Justin Durant - (played 13 games, 37 tackles, one sack, three passes defensed, currently FA)

Damien Wilson - (started six games, played in 16 games, 34 tackles, 0.5 sacks)

Kyle Wilber - (started one game, played in 15 games, nine tackles, one FF)

Andrew Gachkar - (played in 16 games, 10 tackles, currently FA)

Mark Nzeocha - (played five games, three tackles)

Jaylon Smith - (drafted 34th overall, redshirted entire rookie season)

Rolando McClain - (suspended indefinitely, currently FA)

This Season:

Sean Lee

Anthony Hitchens

Jaylon Smith

Damien Wilson

Kyle Wilber

Mark Nzeocha

Lucas Wacha - (UDFA from Wyoming)

Before we go any further, let’s address the elephant in the room. Everything we’ve been told has led us to believe that Jaylon Smith will play. We’re going to operate under that assumption that he’s a big part of their plans. As was pointed out previously, the nerve is regenerating and that means he’s cleared to practice and play. Until we’re told otherwise, that’s what it is. When Smith plays, we’ll know very quickly what this defense is capable of.

Sean Lee is a great example of it doesn’t matter how you start, it’s how you finish. Over the last two seasons, Lee has missed only three games and two were only precautionary. Lee has added two-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro to his resume over that time while racking up 273 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and an interception. He’s the ultimate leader for the defense.

We spoke about Hitchens recently and he’s been a solid player for them. He’s had to come in and fill the shoes of guys like Sean Lee and Rolando McClain. He’s not the playmaker of Lee’s caliber, he’s not the athletic specimen that is Jaylon Smith, but he has added value to this team. He’s got 220 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and a forced fumble over his three-year career with the Cowboys.

Damien Wilson made the most of his opportunities last season and he certainly has playmaking abilities. There are a lot of folks excited about his future prospects with the Cowboys. He’s a run and hit linebacker but he also has a good combination of size and speed.

Kyle Wilber offers up great experience and has contributed not only to special teams but on defense when he’s been asked. Wilber is better suited as a SAM because he’s got pass rush ability and he’s made a career out of being at the right place at the right time. He’s usually good for one game-changing play per season like the Vikings game last year when he forced a fumble on special teams, setting up and easy score for Dallas.

If you subscribe to the idea of keeping only five linebackers, then Nzeocha is going to have a hard time making this team. It’s not that he doesn’t have upside, it’s that he can’t stay healthy and hasn’t done anything for this team. Lucas Wacha is on this list because he’s shown some flash plays during OTA’s. However, unless he balls out during the preseason, he’s likely got a shot to make the practice squad at best.

Conclusion: It all comes down to Jaylon Smith. The Cowboys are way better off this season with Smith’s caliber of athleticism over Hitchens’. Under that notion, the answer has to be yes to improvement. We’re going to find out really quickly how this position shakes out once the pads come on.

Poll

Did The Dallas Cowboys Improve At Linebacker In 2017?

This poll is closed

  • 86%
    Yes
    (1035 votes)
  • 13%
    No
    (165 votes)
1200 votes total Vote Now