Dallas Cowboys Defenders Exceeding Expectations in 2018

With the Dallas Cowboys coming out of the bye week and getting ready for the Tennessee Titans next Monday night, we have some time to look back on the first seven weeks of the season. Last week I provided you with three Dallas Cowboys who need to be better coming out of the bye week and this week I want to give you 3 Cowboys who have exceeded expectations in 2018.

Cowboys FS Byron Jones Works With Frisco RoughRiders To Improve Hands
Nov 8, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys cornerback Byron Jones (31) during the second half of a game against the Philadelphia Eagles at AT&T Stadium. Eagles won 33-27 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Byron Jones

When Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard was hired, his first order of business was to move Byron Jones from safety to corner back. The results have been spectacular so far. So good that you wonder what took them so long to make the move in the first place.

Among players with at least 162 coverage snaps, Byron Jones ranks third in yards per snap behind only Richard Sherman and Patrick Peterson. Jones is fourth in snaps per target being targeted only once every 10.2 coverage snaps. He’s only allowing one reception every 19.6 snaps, which is good for third in the NFL. His 68.8 quarterback rating allowed is 12th in the NFL, Per Pro Football Focus. Jones has only allowed 13 receptions on 25 targets for 140 yards. Most of that coming in the Cowboys loss at the Houston Texans, when he allowed four catches for 73 yards to DeAndre Hopkins. Jones also leads the Dallas Cowboys in passes defended with seven.

It’s clear that Jones has been playing well. He’s likely a Pro Bowl candidate and has made a strong case for the All-Pro team in 2018. Under contract for 2019, after the Dallas Cowboys picked up his fifth year option, Jones may see an extension coming his way this offseason.

Anthony Brown

Byron Jones has stolen the show on the outside with his excellent play, but fellow corner Anthony Brown has been really good in this season as well.

After a 2017 that saw Brown’s play fall off a bit when asked to play more on the outside, he’s rebounded well in 2018 and has been the second best player in the secondary, only to Jones.

While Jones ranks third in yards per coverage snap allowed, Brown ranks eighth. He’s fifth in snaps per target and sixth in snaps per reception, allowing one reception every 17.4 coverage snaps. He’s 22nd in quarterback rating allowed at 78.9. Though that’s not as good as Jones, it’s still a really good number.

In a year when Chidobe Awuzie has struggled, it’s been important for Brown to step up and play well. He’s been asked to play both in the slot and on the outside at times. He’s had a couple bad moments in zone coverage, but all-in-all has been better than we could have anticipated coming into 2018.

Leighton Vander Esch

You may not have liked how the Dallas Cowboys spent the 19th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft then, but there is no way that you don’t like that pick now. Leighton Vander Esch has been far better than any of us could have expected.

Though he played sparingly in the first few games of the season, he was rock solid. Then he saw a huge uptick in snaps when veteran Sean Lee injured his hamstring allowing Vander Esch to start and play a full complement of snaps at the weak side linebacker spot. He’s been excellent.

Vander Esch has been so good that many were ready to see Sean Lee ride the bench in favor of the rookie. He’s been Pro Football Focus’ highest rated rookie defender and one of their highest rated linebackers this season.

According to Pro Football Focus, Vander Esch has only missed two tackles this season and ranks seventh in tackling efficiency. Tackling efficiency is how many tackles a player makes per miss. Leighton Vander Esch has made 29 tackles per missed tackle through the first seven games of his career.

Only six linebackers have missed fewer tackles than Vander Esch this season. He’s been equally efficient in the run and pass game and has established himself as the weak side linebacker of the future for the Dallas Cowboys.

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These three defensive players have been key for the Dallas Cowboys through the first seven games of the season and their play will be instrumental to the Dallas Cowboys chances of making the playoffs this season.

Which players have been pleasant surprises for you? 

What do you think?

John Williams

Written by John Williams

Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual, reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could.

Make sure you check out the Inside The Cowboys Podcast featuring John Williams and other analysts following America's Team.


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