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The 2021 NFL Draft will provide plenty of quality linebacker options on day three for the Cowboys

If you’re the Cowboys, don’t draft a linebacker early.

Kentucky vs Tennessee Photo by Jacob Noger/Collegiate Images/Getty Images

When taking a look at the needs for the Dallas Cowboys in 2021, cornerback, defensive tackle, safety, and linebacker are four of the biggest needs on the team. As you can tell, the Cowboys need a lot of help on defense. It should burn that linebacker is such a big need just two years after giving Jaylon Smith a nice payday, and spending a premium first-round pick on Leighton Vander Esch in 2018.

But the truth is, it is, and the Cowboys would be wise to use the 2021 NFL Draft to add talent and depth to the linebacker room. But if we learned anything from the 2018 NFL Draft, it’s you really don’t want to draft off-the-ball linebackers high (there’s always exceptions to the rule, though I don’t see one in 2021).

Thankfully, the 2021 NFL Draft provides plenty of really solid day three linebacker options, and the Cowboys should be really digging into some of these names.

Jamin Davis | Kentucky | RS Junior | 6’4” 224 lbs

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Florida Gainesville Sun-USA TODAY NETWORK

It took until 2020 for Davis to crack the starting lineup for the Kentucky Wildcats, but boy was it a breakout year for the RS Junior. Davis, listed at 6’4”, 224 lbs, is an athletic, rangy, long off-the-ball linebacker with the ability to cover large areas of the field in zone coverage, and provide strong man-coverage skills from the WILL linebacker spot. Davis lives around the football, and shows off his impressive speed when defending the run sideline-to-sideline. Davis grew as a downhill run-defender as the season developed, and shined in coverage with three interceptions, and three PBU’s. He still has some developing to do as a downhill player, and being more physical when taking on blocks, but the range, length, instincts, and athleticism he plays with is very intriguing.

Tony Fields II | West Virginia | Senior | 6’1” 222 lbs

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 17 Kansas at West Virginia Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Unlike Jamin Davis, Tony Fields II has a ton of experience in college football, seeing action in 46 games, starting all of them at Arizona (37) and West Virginia (9). Fields II has experience at both inside linebacker and outside linebacker throughout his years at Arizona and West Virginia. Fields II is a very high-quality coverage-defender, with sideline-to-sideline range. Similar to Davis, Fields II has very good speed, length, and plays the position with high level athletic traits. While there are still some issues with a linebacker of his size taking on blocks, the speed, instincts, and physicality when in coverage and when attacking ball carriers is impressive.

Justin Hilliard | Ohio State | Senior | 6’1” 227 lbs

CFP National Championship Presented by AT&T - Ohio State v Alabama Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

While Hilliard projects in a different role than Jamin Davis and Tony Fields II, he still would add quality value, depth, and a potential starting caliber skillset on day three of the 2021 NFL Draft. Projecting more as a undersized MIKE linebacker or a SAM in Dan Quinn’s scheme, Hilliard plays the position with extreme downhill physicality, an attacking mentality, and showed the ability to disengage blockers with ease. While he showed up as a cover-defender in the BIG10 Championship, that isn’t an area we’ve seen him enough in to project him as a WILL linebacker at the next level. Hilliard does play with above average athleticism, and would step in as a key special teams player. Down the stretch of the season for the Buckeyes, Hilliard was one of the team’s best defenders, and that helped elevate his draft stock after spending most of his career as a depth piece in the Ohio State defense.

Riley Cole | South Alabama | Senior | 6’2” 245 lbs

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 24 ULM at South Alabama Photo by Bobby McDuffie/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After originally committing to Alabama, Riley Cole ended up having an extremely successful career at South Alabama. While he isn’t the extraordinary athlete that any of the three guys listed above are, he still provides value as an instinctive, downhill linebacker that plays the position with great physicality when taking on blocks, average athleticism, and a very-sure tackler when in space. Cole projects best as a SAM or MIKE in Quinn’s scheme, and his growth and “want too” as a pass rusher in 2020 and throughout the offseason, further grew the liking of the idea of him at SAM linebacker at the next level. Similar to Hilliard, Cole is day-one impact on special teams, and possesses the instincts and traits to crack a starting lineup eventually if the arrow continues to point upwards.

There are plenty of other great names to know on day three, but the above are some of my favorites. Below are a few other names to keep an eye on as we progress through the offseason.

  • Garrett Wallow, TCU
  • Paddy Fisher, Northwestern
  • JaCoby Stevens (S/LB), LSU
  • Divine Deablo (S/LB), Virginia Tech
  • Derrick Barnes, Purdue

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