Dallas Cowboys: Don’t sleep on this second-year linebacker

Luke Gifford, Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Luke Gifford, Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images) /

In 2019, this undrafted free agent was a pleasant surprise before an injury stunted his growth.

Going into the new season, the Dallas Cowboys‘ linebacker corps is one of the most talented and complete units on the entire roster. Both Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch represent the present and future of the position for America’s Team.

And veteran Sean Lee completes this talented triumvirate of linebackers, bringing his experience, endless knowledge, and unmatched work ethic to a relatively young locker room.

Smith, Vander Esch, and Lee are the three names to know in the Cowboys linebacker corps. And they’ll likely be the names on the back of the jerseys you’ll see flying all over the field, making plays this upcoming season.

But the strength of this defensive unit goes deeper than their starters. One of the most underrated re-signings this offseason was that of linebacker Joe Thomas to a one-year deal.

Undrafted out of South Carolina State back in 2014, Thomas spent his first four seasons with the Green Bay Packers under current Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy. Just 29-years old, Thomas is a versatile defender that can play all three linebacker spots.

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Dallas Cowboys fans shouldn’t sleep on this 2019 UDFA

Thomas is joined on the depth chart by veteran Justin March and rookie Francis Bernard. But the player Cowboys fans shouldn’t sleep on this summer is second-year linebacker, Luke Gifford.

An undrafted rookie free agent out of Nebraska last season, Gifford’s play surprised many last offseason. Coming out of college, he was touted for his work ethic, motor, and toughness. Following OTAs, former NFL scout Bryan Broaddus praised the unheralded rookie for his instincts, slippery traits, and his ability to play through gaps and avoid blocks.

The 6-foot-3, 243-pound Gifford carried that positive momentum into training camp and then to his first preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers. The 24-year old recorded two tackles, a pass deflection, and an interception before suffering a high ankle sprain that would end up sidelining him for two months. Gifford was still able to make the Cowboys’ final roster based solely off the early potential he showed prior to the injury.

Making his regular-season debut in mid-October, Gifford would end up playing just six games as a rookie before suffering a season-ending arm injury. He’d finish last year recording six total tackles, playing only on special teams.

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Luke Gifford had a promising start to his career derailed due to injuries. Now, the second-year linebacker faces an all-new set of challenges with an offseason training program stunted due to a worldwide pandemic and an entirely new coaching staff to impress. Still, Dallas Cowboys fans should keep an eye on Gifford this summer to see if he’s able to build on his strong start from last year.