A new linebacking corps on the rise for the Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys (Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)
Dallas Cowboys (Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports) /

Defense wins championships, and the Dallas Cowboys made their investment

It’s been a long time since the Dallas Cowboys fielded an intimidating defense. Ever since the glory ’90s, America’s team had an above-average defense at best.

After watching the defense play like swiss cheese last season, owner Jerry Jones was sure to make changes to the roster and the coaching staff. That includes drafting defensive players with eight of their 11 draft picks in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Among the draftees are linebackers Micah Parsons and Jabril Cox. They got drafted with the 12th and 115th overall picks, respectively.

In 2018, the Cowboys drafted linebacker Leighton Vander Esch in the first round to complement 2016 second-rounder Jaylon Smith. Now, Dallas declined Vander Esch’s fifth-year option, and Smith is a potential trade/opt-out option after a poor 2020 season.

LVE has been a star on the field but suffered injuries that held him out of 13 games the past two seasons. A spinal condition called cervical spinal stenosis raises questions surrounding his long-term health and availability.

Smith has increased his tackles total year-over-year from 81 to 154 over the past four seasons. Despite that, his poor reads last season have some calling for him to get traded or cut. It wasn’t that he made a ton of bad reads, but the ones he lost were costly.

That leaves Parsons and Cox as the top two linebackers heading into 2022. That is unless Tarell Basham shows up and steals the spotlight. Considering he has yet to break out in his four-year career, it is unlikely.

Parsons specializes at rushing the quarterback and stopping the run, while Cox specializes at dropping back in coverage. Their respective strengths complement each other, making for a dominant duo that can grow together.

The Penn State product racked up 191 tackles, 6.5 sacks, and six forced fumbles in 26 games over two seasons. Micah was arguably the best defensive prospect in the 2021 NFL Draft. The combination of his on-field play, stats, and rare athletic ability is jaw-dropping.

Jabril originally played out of North Dakota State before he transferred to LSU for his draft year. In three seasons with the Bisons, he accumulated 258 tackles with 32 for a loss of yards and 14.0 sacks in 45 games. He also intercepted six passes and defended 12.

Moving to the SEC, he kept up his production despite the jump in competition. He made 58 tackles, sacked the opposing quarterback 1.0 times while grabbing three interceptions and batting five passes in ten games.

Running a 4.36 40-yard dash, Micah Parsons catches everyone off-guard. Jabril Cox runs a 4.54, which is still impressive for a linebacker. Both earned a RAS score north of 9.5 out of ten, which means both players are freaky athletic.

Making the case

Both linebackers are excellent tacklers, athletic, and versatile. They would be fits in any defense, and they give defensive coordinator Dan Quinn options regarding where to place them.

Adding them to the Dallas Cowboys’ top-heavy linebacking corps gives the rookies time to groom themselves into long-term phenoms. That’s not to say they can’t contribute right away, but they have the opportunity to earn their snaps, which means a lot more than getting it handed to you.

LVE’s time in Dallas might be over with the Parsons selection alone. Adding Cox puts the nail in the coffin. While he was a key player for the Cowboys, that doesn’t matter if he is not on the field.

Injuries, thankfully, have not bothered Jaylon since he sat out his rookie year (knock on wood). If he doesn’t prove he is worth an $11.8 million to $13.6 million cap hit, then he could move on. An opt-out next offseason is possible with the option in his contract.

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New blood is on the horizon for the linebacking corps. While I expect Jaylon Smith to stick around, Leighton Vander Esch might have to wear a different helmet next season. Micah Parsons and Jabril Cox are more than likely to take over at linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys in the coming years.