After the draft’s conclusion, fans are left wondering what kind of impact this rookie class will have in the immediate future.
This draft class is filled with many talented players, especially two of these rookies who hold the potential to be long-time starters for the Cowboys.
The Cowboys are sending a big message to the current players on the team by making all 11 of their draft picks without trading any of them away. This shows an intention of wanting younger players on cheaper contracts to come and contribute early on.
However, the veterans on the team aren’t the types to lay down their jobs for a new class. These rookies better be prepared for war as they look to make the final roster come week 1 against the defending Super Bowl champs on September 9th.
One of the bigger battles heading into the season will be among the young linebackers drafted this season facing off against a once-promising duo that could be in danger of losing playing time.
The Cowboys have Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch as their starting linebackers, but the new guys in town could make a strong push for their jobs.
To start, the Cowboys selected linebacker Micah Parsons, but he wasn’t the only one at the position taken. Dallas decided to double down in round four by also selecting Jabril Cox. The picks could be justified after the retirement of long-time linebacker Sean Lee and the departure of Joe Thomas during free agency. Yet this feels more like two potential starters in the making rather than just your everyday role players.
Micah Parsons made a name known for himself at Penn State for being a player that gravitates to the ball everywhere on the field.
His incredible sideline to sideline speed is unmatched by any linebacker this draft class had to offer. Micah’s ability to play against the run will come in handy on this team, given that the ground defense for Dallas looked atrocious in 2020.
Now some of that could be credited to the new scheme that Mike Nolan rolled out, but Parsons is coming to town with the intentions of making sure opposing running backs are held in check. His nose for the ball will have offenses double-checking to see where Micah lines up and force them to make changes on the fly.
On the other hand, Jabril Cox made his name known by being one of the better cover linebackers in football during his time at LSU. His ability to play against the pass gives the Cowboys a much-needed set of skills lacking in Dallas for some time. The secondary was being scorched last season, but having a player of Cox’s caliber in the second level could free up some playmakers in the backfield to focus more on opposing receivers.
It’s also a boost in favor of Jabril that his speed allows him to cover tight ends and running backs at will. This gives him the perfect shot at playing in the nickel formation that the Cowboys love to play in the majority of the time. His athleticism teamed up with his football IQ makes him a desirable player to have on the field.
Having NFL experience is always a plus when comparing rookies to veterans, but this could still not be enough to save Smith or Vander Esch after this campaign.
Jaylon has shown to be a liability in the passing game as he struggles with tight ends in coverage. While his tackles stats show someone who finds the ball fairly easily, the tape shows a different side. It also doesn’t help Jaylon’s case to be in Dallas for the long run due to his newly signed deal in 2019, making him one of the top five highest-paid at his position. With his cap hit rising and his playing time not matching up to that contract, this could open the door for either a trade or cut after the 2021 season. After all, fans and everyone else know that the Cowboys cap space is starting to diminish due to the contracts being paid on the offensive side of the ball.
His right-hand man Leighton is a different story. His play on the field is definitely something the Cowboys need and want from their linebackers, but his health issues cause concern. In football, or any sport, the best ability is availability, and that is one area in which Leighton has struggled since his sophomore year in the NFL. Due to injuries, the Cowboys decided to decline the fifth-year option on Leighton’s rookie contract. This coming year looks to be a prove it kind of a season for the young linebacker. If the injuries continue, don’t be surprised to see him as a free agent next year.
Now the 2021 season is still a bit away from getting started, and anything could happen. However, the odds would favor the younger, cheaper talent heading into the future.
After all, there’s a reason why Dan Quinn hand-picked these two players to play in his defense. What do you think will happen with the once-promising duo of Smith and Vander Esch?
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