Can an undrafted rookie out of Nebraska crack the Dallas Cowboys final-53 man roster at one of it’s most stacked positions?
In the recent past, the Dallas Cowboys offensive line has been considered the overall best positional group on the entire team. And with three perennial Pro Bowlers on their depth chart, it’s easy to see why.
But very quickly, the Cowboys linebacker corps is starting to rival their offensive line. This upcoming season, Dallas is expected to field the most talented group of linebackers in the NFL. With a projected starting lineup that includes two-time Pro Bowler Sean Lee, former second-rounder Jaylon Smith and one of last year’s top rookies, Leighton Vander Esch, there simply is no other defense in the entire league that can match that talented trio.
Beyond the star-studded starters, the Cowboys linebacker corps features some quality depth as well. Veteran Joe Thomas returns for another season in Dallas after impressing early last year. Justin March-Lillard is also back, but his impact has mainly been on special teams so far. Kyle Queiro is a converted safety that is a name to watch this summer. Finally, Chris Covington was a sixth-round selection last year whom the Cowboys certainly hope can take another step in his development this offseason.
In this year’s draft, the Cowboys didn’t select a single linebacker with their eight total picks. Instead, the team brought in a trio of undrafted rookie free agents including Michigan State’s Andrew Dowell, Northwestern’s Nate Hall, and Nebraska’s Luke Gifford. The latter has been earmarked by DallasCowboys.com’s Bryan Broaddus as his kiss of death player to watch through OTAs.
Here’s what Broaddus had to say about the undrafted rookie linebacker’s play so far.
"” … keep an eye on Luke Gifford – the linebacker out of Nebraska … there is something about his game that translates to this scheme … It appears the defensive staff is asking him to play more inside, which has allowed his instincts to shine. Gifford has some slippery traits to him. He has a feel for how to play through gaps and avoid blocks.”"
Hip injuries really impacted Gifford’s college career. But the former team captain has the intangibles, motor, and leadership qualities that the Cowboys covet. Gifford posted a solid senior season for the Cornhuskers, recording 62 stops, a team-high 13 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks according to NFL.com.
In order to crack one of the most talented positional groups on the Dallas Cowboys roster, Luke Gifford will likely have to earn his bones as a special teams ace. But the fact Gifford is impressing this early into OTAs is a positive sign. But can the rookie continue to impress into training camp and the preseason? It’s worth watching.