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Cowboys changes on defense could use Jaylon Smith more as a pass rusher in 2020

The Cowboys defense won’t be so rigid this season, leading to new roles for some defenders.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

For the better part of the last three months we have all done our best to figure out exactly what Mike McCarthy’s Dallas Cowboys are going to be. Obviously we can look to McCarthy’s Green Bay Packers teams as templates for what he’ll be building at The Star, but that doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story.

We have seen the Cowboys handle a few things in free agency, and while they have brought in some interesting names, what they do in the NFL Draft will ultimately be the most telling. The team’s new defensive coordinator is Mike Nolan and many people have been wondering if he’ll be implementing more of a hybrid defense with multiple fronts as opposed to a strict 4-3.

What the Cowboys do in the first round could be an indication of Nolan’s plans

We are less than a week away from knowing what the Dallas Cowboys want to do in the first round of the draft, assuming they don’t trade out. Whether they go safety, cornerback, wide receiver even, we are going to have some solid information come next Friday morning.

There seems to be a growing sense that the Cowboys might be taking a linebacker with the 17th overall pick. Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray and LSU’s Patrick Queen are two names that have been connected to this idea, but what exactly would that mean?

Many have pontificated that should Dallas draft a linebacker with their first pick that it would mean there is more to Leighton Vander Esch’s health status than the the team has let on to this point (for what it’s worth Stephen Jones might be sending smokescreens on this subject). While that is obviously one theory, it is also possible that a drafted linebacker could fill a void left by LVE’s counterpart Jaylon Smith.

Smith isn’t actually going anywhere, in fact, the Cowboys just signed him to an extension right before last season. Instead, the Cowboys may have different plans for Smith, like using him as a rusher in 3-4 fronts, thereby creating a void of sorts. NFL Network’s Jane Slater teased this idea in the promo for her latest podcast episode.

“I’ve been told it’s more to the point of what you’re talking about, Bobby. This is going to be more of a 3-4 linebacker set and that we could see Jaylon Smith potentially rushing more.”

Based on his physical build people have wondered for the last four years whether Smith could be someone that the Cowboys use as a pass rusher more. If this were to be the case, then the Cowboys might theoretically need another linebacker in the middle which is where someone like Murray or Queen could come in handy.

Rushing the passer isn’t something that is foreign to Smith. He has plenty of experience at it from his time at Notre Dame.

He has also had plenty of success doing it in Dallas when the team has used him as a blitzer. Over the last two seasons he has picked up 6.5 sacks for the team.

When it comes to the pass rush in general there are questions beyond the very top in DeMarcus Lawrence. Dallas has veterans Tyrone Crawford and Dorance Armstrong as well as hopefuls like Randy Gregory and Aldon Smith. Perhaps they see a route of Jaylon Smith doing more if it with a rookie in the middle as the path of least resistance.

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