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Cowboys 2023 roster: The rise of the hybrids

Position designations? We don’t need no stinking position designations.

Seattle Seahawks v Dallas Cowboys
Markquese Bell is part of a trend in Dallas.
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys don’t care about your labels. Certainly not when it comes to their players. Ourlads does a very good job keeping track of who is on NFL rosters across the league, but when you go to their current one for Dallas, there are a couple of players who seem out of place. They list Marquese Bell as a safety still, although the team has moved him to linebacker. Rookie Viliami Fehoko is designated a defensive end despite being moved to the defensive tackle room. And before he suffered his season-ending injury, tight end John Phillips was still showing up as a wide receiver.

This is not because the people at Ourlads are doing a bad job. It is because the Cowboys don’t look at players as fitting under neat, tidy designations. The idea of position flex has long been favored by them, but this is a step beyond. They seek out players now whose skills sets can be used in multiple roles. Hybrid is a convenient way to describe these multi-taskers. While Stephens was one of the two examples how this is seeping onto the offensive side of the team, most of these are defensive players, which makes it pretty clear Dan Quinn is behind all this. It has only been clearly evident the past couple of seasons, which also makes him the likely suspect.

S/LB Jayron Kearse

The OG of this bunch. He was signed as a free agent in 2021. From the start, Kearse was a major upgrade, He led the team in tackles his first year, and was third in 2022 despite missing three games. He has also contributed three interceptions and fifteen passes defended in his two years on the roster, so he is hardly a liability in the passing game. While his obvious skills on the field make him one of the best free agent values in years, he also brought a veteran presence and leadership to the secondary that has paid off in more intangible ways. But he was the one who got this ball rolling, and it didn’t take the team long to go back to that well after signing him.

LEO Micah Parsons

The first draft pick of 2021 was met with some concern. Another first-round linebacker? But the staff saw him all along as a LEO, or hybrid defensive end and linebacker, usually lining up in a two point stance on the line of scrimmage. I mean, it’s right there in the definition.

And were they ever right. The former defensive rookie of the year is not only seen as one of the best pass rushers in the league, he is generally considered a top 10 or even top 5 talent at any position in the NFL. He has already amassed 26.5 sacks in his first two seasons, with extremely consistent production. During training camp, he was almost too good, disrupting so many passing plays that it interfered with working on offensive execution. He is determined to have an even better season this year, and that has opponents worried about stopping the charging lion.

DT Chauncey Golston

Ourlads has him right, but when I went to his Wikipedia page, he was still listed as a defensive end, the position he was drafted in. As Kyle Youmans reported in 2022, he still can be used both on the interior and outside on the defensive line. His role appears to be a passing down 3-tech, although Quinn is known to go mad scientist and move his linemen all over the place, so you might see Golston coming from just about anywhere. And despite being a bit light for an interior defensive lineman at 268, he is still effective against the run.

We discussed this overall idea on the latest episode of Ryled Up on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to our network so you do not miss any of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.

LB Markquese Bell

He was moved to linebacker from safety to fit the plans when the Cowboys waived Jabril Cox. With only four LBs even including Bell, the Cowboys are extremely light.

Which apparently is just how Quinn likes it. He often only uses one on the field at a time, and players like Kearse help make it possible. Linebacker has been seen as a position of declining value in recent years, and Quinn is staying ahead of the curve.

It is worth noting that this also looked like the intended role for rookie DeMarvion Overshown, who was absolutely making the team before his own season-ending injury in the same preseason game that saw Stephens lost. As long as Quinn remains in Dallas, this is just how it is going to be.

DT Viliami Fehoko

The rookie is following the same path as Golston. While the big news for the defensive line this year was the addition of Mazi Smith to give the team two run-stuffing DTs along with Johnathan Hankins, the focus on 3-techs who can get after the passer is another significant trend. Along with creative alignments, Quinn loves to rotate his linemen extensively to keep them fresh. Now he has some real depth to do that. If you want to see how this goes, keep an eye on snap counts.

LEO Tyrus Wheat (practice squad)

While the team lost a possibly better candidate in Isaiah Land, who was sadly claimed off waivers by the Indianapolis Colts, Wheat is another versatile player who is being given a chance to learn from the best by practicing with Parsons.

S Israel Mukuamu

While he is not as obvious, he played some cornerback as well in college, and the team has used him in some games to be more in that role.

Most of the hybrid types are defensive players, but there is one offensive name that had a big impact in building that part of the team.

H-back Hunter Luepke

Disclaimer: Luepke was my secret pet cat, although the way I stanned for him on social media may have let that cat out of the bag. His performance in the final preseason game was a bit of a revelation, showing he could be the same Swiss army knife he was at North Dakota State. He truly can fill multiple roles, as a traditional lead blocker, an inline blocker, a single running back, a short-yardage banger, and a receiver from both the backfield and on the line. His versatility allowed the team to go into the season with only three tight ends, at least as the roster now stands. And if that performance against the Las Vegas Raiders was any indication, he isn’t just a jack of all trades. He’s a bit of a master at them.

I already mentioned TE Stephens, whose skills may have allowed the team to also use him at times lined up outside. It is unfortunate that he is missing his rookie season, as he could well have been the third UDFA to make the team along with Luepke and T.J. Bass.

It is clear that hybrid players are now a thing for the Cowboys. While that may evolve if Quinn does succumb to the offer to go be a head coach somewhere in the future (knock on wood), head coach Mike McCarthy may be paying attention and seek to keep this alive no matter what.

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