PFF picks surprising Cowboys player for most improved list

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - DECEMBER 26: Jayron Kearse #27 of the Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, TEXAS - DECEMBER 26: Jayron Kearse #27 of the Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images) /

Pro Football Focus released a list stating who they think is the most improved player from every NFL team. Players on the list included Bengals’ Joe Burrow, Colts’ Michael Pittman Jr., Raiders’ Maxx Crosby, and more. The Dallas Cowboys had many players have breakout seasons this year, so you’d think the battle for this spot would be tough. PFF surprisingly (in our opinion) chose Cowboys safety Jayron Kearse.

Let’s be clear. Kearse did have a much better season this year. In his fourth year in the league, he had 101 tackles (42 tackles more than the next closest season). He certainly outperformed the likes of Demontae Kazee and Keanu Neal. All three of those safeties happen to be on the Cowboys’ list of free agents this year as well.

But was Kearse more improved than guys like Trevon Diggs, Dalton Schultz, or Cedrick Wilson? Diggs went from a three-interception season to an 11 interception season with two touchdowns. Plus, Diggs’ historic year earned him a Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro selections.

Schultz was a backup tight end last year, and this year he took over for Blake Jarwin as the starter and became one of Dak Prescott’s most reliable targets with eight touchdowns. Wilson started zero games last year, then was asked twice in this season to fill in for star WR Michael Gallup. Wilson had 6 touchdowns and 602 yards on the year, which far exceeded his prior stats.

Pro Football Focus selects safety Jayron Kearse as the Cowboys most improved player in the 2021 season

All of this is to say that while Kearse is worthy of recognition, it seems a bit surprising that out of all the options, he was the final decision. PFF notes that his final grade from 2020 was 55.7, and this year it shot up to 75.9, which is a 20.2-point difference. That is a big deal! But, keep in mind that this is based on a very specific metric that PFF calculates in-house.

For what it’s worth, PFF has Diggs listed at 59.6 because they believe he isn’t good enough in coverage. Out of all the safeties in the league, Kearse ended up as the 12th-highest in terms of overall grade. Kearse also led safeties in pass breakups (10), was fifth in defensive stops (33), and second in missed tackle rate (3.9%).

Again, we aren’t here to downgrade the breakout season Kearse had with Dallas. With such a turnaround as an entire team, it’s just hard to pick one player. Kearse is set to hit free agency in March and it will be interesting to see if the Cowboys decide to keep him/can afford to keep him. His 2021 campaign definitely proved his promising potential and likely earned him a higher-value contract.

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