The Dallas Cowboys suffered a loss to their defensive unit earlier this week when it was announced that linebacker Leighton Vander Esch would be out for the remainder of the season with a neck injury, something he's all too familiar with. Have no fear, though, the Cowboys have enough resources to handle this situation.
Rookie DeMarvion Overshown was supposed to fill the hybrid safety/linebacker role in Dallas. However, a torn ACL created an opportunity for Markquese Bell to slide in and help the Cowboys in that capacity, something defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has groomed him for from Day 1. Bell has not only stepped up nicely, he's been one of the better linebackers in the NFL in 2023.
After transitioning into more of a permanent role on the second level, Bell currently has the eighth-highest defensive grade among linebackers at 86.4, according to Pro Football Focus. His run defense grade has slipped slightly recently, but he still shows an uncanny ability to play downhill and shoot gaps with his speed. Bell is no one-trick pony. He's also been extremely effective in coverage with a grade of 87.8, which is fifth at the linebacker spot.
The Cowboys also have Damone Clark, another second-year player at the linebacker spot. Clark had spinal fusion surgery last March, and the thought was that he'd redshirt his rookie campaign. Clark’s recovery was surprisingly speedy, to say the least, and he ended up playing in 10 games with five starts and recorded 47 tackles. In 2023, the former LSU Tiger has elevated his game to the tune of 60 tackles, which leads the Cowboys, 17 more than Bell, who ranks second.
This combination has been so good this season that Clark hasn't missed a tackle yet, and Bell has missed just one. That puts them both in the top five for all linebackers with a minimum of 140 snaps. So, not only are these guys talented, but their discipline and technique have been superb.
Dallas brought in veteran Rashaan Evans last month to their practice squad. The former first-round pick of the Tennessee Titans in 2018 saw seven defensive snaps in his first game against the Los Angeles Rams. After not logging a defensive snap versus the Philadelphia Eagles, Evans saw his most action in Week 10 against the New York Giants he played 28 snaps and recorded two tackles. He's maxed out his roster elevations for the year, so if the Cowboys want him to see the field he'll have to be added to the active roster or he'll be on the practice squad until January.
Once the 2024 campaign comes around and Overshown returns, the Cowboys will have a three-headed monster at linebacker that is young, talented, and fast, especially in the case of Bell and Overshown. Also, there's the all-purpose terror known as Micah Parsons, who can also slide back to the second level whenever need be, giving Quinn the luxury to come up with a ton of different looks. And don’t forget about Jayron Kearse and Donovan Wilson acting as hybrid linebackers on occasion.
The Cowboys will still need to add some insurance in next April's draft at the linebacker position as well because, as everyone knows, depth is key. However, they are in a good spot going forward.