Dallas Cowboys linebackers named league’s best tandem in 2019
The football analytic website Pro Football Focus recently ranked the NFL’s best linebacker tandems going into 2019. And the Dallas Cowboys came out on top.
It appears the Dallas Cowboys have cracked the code when it comes to fielding the top linebacking corps in the entire NFL. First, already have a veteran linebacker on the roster that’s a two-time Pro Bowler. Second, draft a top-five level talent in the second round following a devastating knee injury and redshirt him for a year. Finally, draft yet another linebacker, this time in the first round.
It may seem like a pretty straight forward formula for success, but what a long strange trip it’s been for the Cowboys and this positional group. Now, Dallas has the opportunity to field a linebacker corps with an unbelievable starting lineup of Sean Lee (strong), Jaylon Smith (middle), and Leighton Vander Esch (weak). Talk about a real Dream Team.
In the span of a year, the linebacker corps has leapfrogged the Cowboys’ offensive line as, not only the best positional group on the team, but maybe the best one in the entire league. And that fact hasn’t been lost on the good folks over at Pro Football Focus (PFF).
Here’s what Connor Price wrote on the football analytics website recently after ranking the duo of Vander Esch and Smith as the NFL’s best linebacker tandem heading into 2019.
"“Smith & Vander Esch are easily the most talented pair at the position as their 84.4 and 84.9 respective grades ranked sixth and fifth among all NFL linebackers last year. In fact, Dallas is the only team with two top-10 linebackers … You would be hard-pressed to find a data point that this duo does not excel in.”"
Price pointed out the fact Vander Esch led the Cowboys with 62 defensive stops despite only starting in 11 games as a rookie. He also earned a grade over 80.0 in both coverage and run defense, a feat only four other linebackers accomplish last season.
As for Smith, his injury concerns seemed to be in the rear view mirror as he played all but 48 defensive snaps in 2018. Jaylon also posted career-highs in tackles (121), sacks (4.0) and pass defends (4) in his third season in Dallas.
Although it was Vander Esch who earned his first Pro Bowl nomination as a rookie last season, NFL.com recently predicted that Smith would be the next to receive the honor. And they also floated the idea that both linebackers have a legitimate chance be named Pro Bowlers together this upcoming season.
There is little doubt the Dallas Cowboys have a bright future at the linebacker position. In fact, this trio of talented defenders may represent the best linebacker corps America’s Team has ever had. Now, all they have to do is win the hardware to cement their legacy.
For more grades, advanced statistics and more at Pro Football Focus, subscribe to PFF’s EDGE or ELITE subscriptions at ProFootballFocus.com.