In this series, we’re going to go through all the needs the Cowboys currently have and find the candidates in the 2018 NFL Draft that fit the bill. We’ve currently been through defensive tackles and edge rushers which now brings us to linebackers.
This class isn’t the deepest at linebacker but we were able to find at least five guys that might be worth a look.
Tremaine Edmunds, 6’4, 250 lbs, Virginia Tech (Brugler: 14th, 1st OLB)
He’s got the prototypical size and build you want at the position with impeccable instincts to boot. He’s got great anticipation to read and react without hesitation and he sniffs out screens better than any linebacker in the class. Edmunds is a reliable tackler with superb burst and initial quickness off the snap. He’s got great length, but he’s a bit too aggressive at times and is known to take a few ill-timed guesses.
For his instincts being off the charts, he needs to work on his ball skills. Edmunds tends to go for the big hit instead of the takeaway, only recording one fumble recovery and one interception in 40 collegiate games. He’s got the upside and skill set that could make him a future star in the NFL.
Where you get him: First round for sure but you may have to trade up for this type of player.
Leighton Vander Esch, 6’3, 240 lbs, Boise State (Brugler: 38th, 2nd OLB)
He’s beginning to climb up the draft boards with his 141 tackles this past season, 8.5 tackles for loss, and four sacks. He was extremely productive for Boise State and won the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year honors. Vander Esch also possesses the instincts needed to excel as a middle linebacker. He is a bit of a one-year wonder though and that gives folks a little pause. Brugler has compared him to 2018 Hall of Fame inductee Brian Urlacher. Both guys have strong similarities and small school backgrounds.
Vander Esch is very intriguing as his tape shows a well-rounded player with the size, strength, athleticism, and reliable tackling that warrants Top-50 consideration.
Where you get him: He’s a second round player but should go higher than where the Cowboys pick. If he’s staring at them by pick 50, it’s worth it.
Josey Jewell, 6’1, 236 lbs, Iowa (Brugler: 65th, 2nd ILB)
Jewell ranked third in the country with 125 tackles and averaged 11.4 tackles per game. He is certainly a productive player that has probably the highest football IQ of all the linebackers in this class. He’s a bit undersized but he doesn’t play with any limitations and has worked extremely hard to get to this point having added 36 pounds. Jewell was a three-year starter and captain due to his incredible awareness and vision. He knows how to make plays on the ball where he defended 26 passes while snagging six interceptions.
He plays with a high level of intensity but can look a little stiff some of the time. He doesn’t have eye-popping athleticism but he’s a leader on and off the field. His teammates flocked to him and he was what made his defense tick. He’s smart enough to know where everyone lines up and what their jobs are, holding guys accountable.
Where you get him: Late second to middle of the third round.
Jerome Baker, 6’1, 225 lbs, Ohio State (Brugler: 89th, 8th OLB)
Baker’s athleticism is second to none and it’s a very rare find in a linebacker that it makes him all the more tantalizing for teams that need sideline-to-sideline speed. Baker is an aggressive open-field tackler that doesn’t shy away from the contact. Where most guys on this list have incredibly high football IQ’s, Baker is still a work in progress. He needs to work on his anticipation and can be a little too reactionary.
Baker has a definite fit in today’s NFL that is about mismatches and short passes to backs and tight ends. Finding a linebacker with the athletic makeup of Baker is not easy but he still has a lot of room to grow before he’s ready to be a full time starter.
Where you get him: Third round
Fred Warner, 6’3, 235 lbs, BYU (Brugler: 139th, 12th OLB)
Warner has an insane ability to cover all types of receivers due to his athleticism. He’s got the size and speed you want and changes direction with a smoothness you don’t see all that often. He’s a fluid athlete that plays linebacker but moves like a safety. He’s got a little hybrid appeal there too because he’s very versatile. Warner is a playmaker as he recovered five fumbles and recorded six interceptions in the past three seasons.
Like Jewell, Warner was a team captain that has amazing instincts. His length paired with his closing speed and athletic abilities will be hard to pass on. However, he does need to continue to improve his consistency as a tackler and will need a team that knows how to use him.
Where to get him: He should be there when the Cowboys pick in the fourth round.