So far through four games of the preseason, Pro Football Focus.com’s number one graded linebacker in pass coverage is…well by the title I’m sure you guessed it. Rookie DeVonte Holloman of the Dallas Cowboys. On a per snap basis, Holloman has graded out better than Von Miller, Lance Briggs, or Jerod Mayo in the passing game. Make no mistake about, DeVonte Holloman has had a terrific preseason and has easily made the Dallas Cowboys 53 man roster.
Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports
When the Cowboys drafted DeVonte Holloman I was hesitant on the selection because I liked the depth the Cowboys had at the linebacker position. Would a sixth round pick at linebacker even have a chance to crack the 53 man roster? After seeing Holloman play in four preseason games, the answer is absolutely yes. Holloman has played 97 snaps on defense and has accumulated eight tackles, one sack, one quarterback hit, two interceptions and one defensive touchdown. On top of that, he also forced a strip sack fumble that was incorrectly called an incomplete pass. We will get to that later. The average NFL defense is on the field for about 60-70 snaps, and what is so impressive is that Holloman has created so many plays in approximately six quarters of NFL action. It’s easy to see that when Holloman is on the field, he makes plays.
DeVonte Holloman’s coverage ability makes him a unique player in the NFL. Through the preseason, quarterbacks have a quarterback rating of only 20.5 when they direct passes towards Holloman. Compare that to the recently signed Sean Lee in 2012, in which the average quarterback rating when passes were thrown in his direction was 77.5. A remarkable difference for a rookie sixth round pick.
Normally when I scout a player, I can think of a pretty good NFL comparison within the first few games I see of them. With Holloman, it took me only a few snaps. Although they play different positions, Holloman reminds me so much of Chicago Bears linebacker Lance Briggs. When comparing their measurables, I was stunned.
40 YD Dash
20 YD Shuttle
I was shocked to see how similar Holloman and Briggs measured out physically. And when I watch DeVonte Holloman, particularly in the passing game, he is aggressive, smooth and a risk-taker when it comes to making plays in coverage. But what reminded me most of Briggs when I watched Holloman is the “My-Ball Mentality” that both players possess. It is their job to get the football, regardless of what they may have been taught. DeVonte Holloman’s first interception of his career was actually a blown assignment according to coach Jason Garrett. But Holloman relied instead on his instincts and created a game changing turnover that helped his team win the game.
DeVonte Holloman is a risk taker. And in Monte Kiffin’s defense, that is what he wants Holloman to be. Here is a breakdown of a play that is a great example of why DeVonte Holloman may be a perfect fit for Monte Kiffin’s attacking defense:
This play occurred in the third preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals and it shows Holloman’s playmaking style of play. But before we get to that, take notice of where Holloman lines up. The Cowboys are lined up in a familiar 3-4 defense with Holloman playing the strong side rush linebacker. The Cardinals line up with two tight ends on the strong side of the formation, hoping that they can survive with a running back blocking a linebacker. The outside tight end is going out for a pass pattern while the tight end lined up next to the tackle is going to crash down on the line, creating a throwing lane for Drew Stanton.
The running back is rookie Stepfan Taylor and he makes a no pun intended “Cardinal Sin” as a blocker. He allows a free rusher to his quarterback. Suddenly, Holloman has a decision to make. Holloman has the choice to either run through the quarterback, getting the sack or to ignore just the sack and make a play at the football. If Holloman decides to lunge for the football, there is a chance that he misses the ball and the quarterback altogether if Stanton moves up in the pocket. If you know the kind of player DeVonte Holloman was at South Carolina, you already know his decision,
Holloman decides to leap for the ball and hit the quarterback’s arm for the strip. Albeit risky, Holloman knows no other way to play. The gamble to strip the ball instead of going for the sack is what has gotten Holloman into the NFL today. Taking chances and creating his own turnover opportunities have given DeVonte Holloman the chance to become an NFL player.
Holloman does in fact get to the arm of the quarterback, knocking the ball loose for the fumble. The play was incorrectly ruled as an incomplete pass, but that does not dismiss the fact that Holloman made an outstanding play on the ball. The risk pays off and Holloman once again shows that he may be a playmaker at the linebacker position for Dallas.
So after seeing Holloman create turnover after turnover you may think, “Why did DeVonte Holloman drop to the sixth round in the draft? It isn’t because he is slow, small or can’t make plays. Why did he fall?” Pro Football Focus makes a pretty good argument as to why he fell. Holloman has been the best coverage linebacker in the entire NFL so far this preseason, but he has also been the worst run defender in the league. Will this be something he will be able to improve upon? Most likely. He may never become an outstanding player in the run game, but he has all the tools and instincts to become a solid one. Make no mistake about it, Holloman’s bread and butter in the NFL will come from creating turnovers in coverage and on blitzes in passing situations.
Here is something big to consider when it comes to the future at linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys. Sean Lee was signed to a long term deal last week and will remain with the team for some time. And according to multiple reports, Dez Bryant and Tyron Smith are both ahead of weakside linebacker Bruce Carter on the pecking order when it comes to long term deals. If Holloman continues to make plays when the games count, could he knock Carter even further down the totem poll and potentially to the open market when his current contract expires? It is very possible considering what Dallas’ cap future looks like. But as for right now, there is little doubt that Holloman can be that a nickel linebacker who has a knack for making game changing plays. This is something that the Dallas Cowboys have lacked from their linebackers corps for a long time running.