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State of the Cowboys roster: How much better do you feel about the linebackers?

The Cowboys enter 2019 with one of the premier linebacker corps in the NFL.

NFL: NFC Wild Card-Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys Jerome Miron-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 2019 season?]


2018 Season 2019 Season
Jaylon Smith Jaylon Smith
Leighton Vander Esch Leighton Vander Esch
Sean Lee Sean Lee
Joe Thomas Joe Thomas
Damien Wilson Justin March-Lillard
Justin March-Lillard Chris Covington
Chris Covington Kyle Queiro
Andrew Dowell- UDFA
Justin Phillips- UDFA
Nate Hall- UDFA
Luke Gifford- UDFA


2018 Production GP TCKL TFL SCK PD INT FUM
Leighton Vander Esch 16 140 2 - 7 2 -
Jaylon Smith 16 121 6 4 4 - 2
Damien Wilson 16 37 2 1 1 - 1
Sean Lee 7 30 1 0.5 - - -
Joe Thomas 10 14 1 - - - -
Justin March-Lillard 16 4 - - - - -
Chris Covington 5 1 - - - - -

When you think back to last season, the Cowboys hit the mega-jackpot with the selection of Leighton Vander Esch at 19th overall. While the world scoffed at that pick, myself included, LVE ended up getting the last laugh as he was a candidate for Rookie Defensive Player of the Year.

The pairing of LVE with Jaylon Smith makes for one of the most talented linebacker duos in the NFL. For the first time in about a decade, the Cowboys are not handicapped by the availability of Sean Lee. Now, Lee, one of the elder statesmen on this defense will be playing the SAM linebacker position in sub-packages, while Smith and Vander Esch handle the bulk of the work in Dallas’ scheme. When you have your two starting linebackers notch 100+ combined tackles in one season, you’re doing something right in that evaluation process. This Cowboys defense is in great hands with Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith occupying the starting jobs.

Behind the those two is the aforementioned Sean Lee, who still has something left in the tank though he is in the twilight of his career. Lee has also embraced his role as sort of a throwback to the days of player-coaches. Lee’s mind is his most important asset and there is no question that he’s helped the development of Vander Esch and Smith. Though the Cowboys got a few solid productive years out of Damien Wilson, he will hardly be missed as Dallas covered themselves nicely. Joe Thomas is a solid backup at all three positions, if needed, and he just has a knack for making a few plays. Thomas could see an increased role outside of special teams and has the versatile skill set the Cowboys covet in a utility player. Justin March-Lillard earned some favor from the coaching staff and will battle it out with Chris Covington for a special teams role.

All the UDFAs at the bottom of the roster have hyper-productive collegiate résumés and the Cowboys prefer these types to churn their roster with. It’ll be difficult for any of them to earn a roster spot with the Cowboys but there is always a chance that you stash one or two on the practice squad.

Conclusion: As far as improvement, the roster is pretty much the same as it was in 2018. However, the Cowboys have perhaps one of the deepest depth charts at linebacker. There is an argument to be made that Sean Lee is possibly the third-best linebacker on the roster, that’s a good problem to have for the Dallas Cowboys. They don’t have any major concerns and are among the best in the league at the linebacker position.

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