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Did the Dallas Cowboys improve at linebacker in 2018?

Taking a good look at every position on the roster and asking the question: Did the Cowboys improve?

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

[In this series, we’ll take a look at the additions and subtractions at every position on the Dallas Cowboys roster. We’ll compare where the Cowboys were to where they currently sit and ask the ultimate question. Did the Cowboys improve or not? In other words, do you feel better about the state of the roster going into the 2018 season?]

Last season:

Sean Lee - 11 games played, 101 tackles, one pass deflection, one interception

Anthony Hitchens - 12 games played, 84 tackles, two pass deflections, signed five-year, $45M deal with Chiefs, avg. $9M per season, $25M gtd.

Damien Wilson - 16 games played, nine starts, 35 tackles, one pass deflection, one sack

Jaylon Smith - 16 games played, six starts, 81 tackles, two forced fumbles, one sack

Justin Durant - 7 games played, 3 starts, 13 tackles, current free agent

Kyle Wilber (special teams) - 16 games played, 10 tackles, one forced fumble, signed two-year, $2.75M deal with Raiders, avg. $1.375 per season, $1.4M gtd.

Justin March-Lillard - 7 games played, three tackles

Jayrone Elliott - Acquired via trade with Packers, one game, released September 19th, signed with Saints this past January

Mark Nzeocha - Practice squad, signed by 49ers on September 25th

Tre’Von Johnson - Practice squad

This season:

Sean Lee

Jaylon Smith

Leighton Vander Esch - drafted 19th overall (1st Round), College stats: three seasons (Boise State), 28 games played, 188 tackles, 13 TFL’s, six pass deflections, five sacks, four forced fumbles, three interceptions, one fumble recovery, led team with 91 tackles in 2017

Damien Wilson

Joe Thomas - signed two-year, up to $3.6M, $900K base salary gtd., $1M in incentives, 2017 stats (Packers): 12 games played, one start, 14 tackles, 0.5 sack, one pass deflection

Justin March-Lillard

Chris Covington - drafted 193rd overall (6th round), College stats: four seasons (Indiana), 27 games played, 118 tackles, 15 TFL’s, five sacks, five pass deflections, one forced fumble, one recovery

Tre’Von Johnson

Joel Lanning - UDFA Iowa State, College stats: three seasons, 35 games, 114 tackles, 11 TFL’s, two pass deflections, one interception, one fumble recovery

Eric Pinkins - UDFA defensive back from San Diego State 2009-2013

The linebacker position starts with Sean Lee, he’s the heartbeat of the defense and as we’ve learned, he’s pretty much the most important voice in the linebacker room. Lee missed five games last season and it certainly showed on the field for the Cowboys run defense. Whenever Sean Lee is present, it doesn’t take long for him to make his presence felt.

Jaylon Smith was better when his snap count was being monitored. Smith, still recovering last season, was exposed when he was asked to play the majority of snaps on defense. Still, Smith really started to show a lot of promise and another year removed from that horrific injury should allow him to gain more athleticism back. It’s not certain what his role will be, if he will be sharing duties with Leighton Vander Esch at MIKE or if he’s going be used more as a pass rushing SAM. There are a lot of things the Cowboys could do with him and reasons to be excited about his outlook this season.

Vander Esch is the presumed starting MIKE if you’ve been picking up what Bryan Broaddus has been putting down. He’s got great coverage abilities, which is essentially a must against today’s high-powered passing offenses. When the Cowboys lost Anthony Hitchens in free agency, they really placed a premium on linebacker. Vander Esch gives the Cowboys a young guy with tons of potential. Joe Thomas was an insurance policy signing in free agency as he had a decent three years in Green Bay. He’s at least going to supplement the loss of Justin Durant, who should have never un-retired.

Justin March-Lillard has received a lot of the snaps in the offseason practices and he’s turned a few heads in his direction. Damien Wilson has been a decent outside linebacker but has never really shown his ability on a consistent basis, it doesn’t help to be involved in the wrong offseason headlines. Chris Covington was essentially drafted for a role on special teams to help supplement the loss of Kyle Wilber. Johnson, Lanning, and Pinkins are fighting for a likely practice squad spot, it’s going to take great preseason performances to get a spot on the final roster.

Conclusion: With the moves the Cowboys made, they were making sure that they wouldn’t be completely reliant on whether Lee plays or not. He’s still vital to this defense as they are quite young and have a lot to learn. The Cowboys certainly improved their linebacker corps and it was clear that it was one of their top priorities this offseason. They have a nice group of talented starters but their depth is much better as well.

Poll

Did the Dallas Cowboys improve at linebacker in 2018?

This poll is closed

  • 85%
    Yes
    (1915 votes)
  • 6%
    No
    (137 votes)
  • 8%
    Indifferent
    (184 votes)
2236 votes total Vote Now

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