Despite the fact that the Dallas Cowboys are inching closer to an NFC East crown, Cowboys draft season is still in full swing. The Cowboys have one of the most improved defenses in the league, but they could still look to reinforce their strong unit by drafting an upgrade over Leighton Vander Esch.
The Boise State alum looked like a future All-Pro after a rookie season in which he recorded 140 tackles and was named a Pro Bowler. However, due to a series of neck injuries and some general ineffective play, the idea of Vander Esch returning to Dallas in 2022 appears to be fading away fast.
With Trevon Diggs helping stabilize the secondary and Demarcus Lawrence looking like his old Pro Bowl self, the best way for Dallas to improve their defense might be going out to find Micah Parsons a running mate at linebacker. Pro Football Focus has identified a key figure on the best defense in college football as a potential draft target.
The latest mock draft from Trevor Sikkema of PFF has the Cowboys selecting Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean with the No. 30 overall pick. Dean and Parsons could give the Cowboys the best young linebacker combination in the game for years to come.
Can the Dallas Cowboys replace Leighton Vander Esch with Nakobe Dean?
Dean is one of the fastest linebackers in the country, as he can get to the sideline faster than just about every other prospect in this class. That rare speed is mixed with an impressive hitting ability, a fondness for wiggling his way into the backfield in run defense, and the power to blitz from the edge.
A former 5-star recruit, Dean has recorded 61 tackles, five sacks, and two interceptions. Keep in mind that he was rarely in games late in the second half because his unit was so dominant. Dan Quinn’s defense asks his linebackers to cover a ton of ground, and Dean seems to be fairly comfortable executing those marching orders.
The concerns with Dean are mostly related to his size. At 6’0″ and 225 pounds, Dean looks like a slightly stockier safety to some. Because of that, Dean often struggled to generate pressure when blitzing in the A-gap or B-gap up the middle. Unless he adds weight, Dean might not earn a Week 1 starting job as a rookie.
If Dean can pack on a few pounds, everything else about his game suggests he will compete for Pro Bowls if placed in the right scheme. Dallas would get an absolute steal if Dean is still on the board when it comes time for them to make a selection.