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Do the Dallas Cowboys Have a Substantial Need at Linebacker?

Heading into in the 2019 season, the Dallas Cowboys were in a great position at the linebacker position. After Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch broke out in the 2018 season confidence at the linebacker position was sky-high. With Sean Lee and Joe Thomas providing depth, there was very little concern for the level of play the Cowboys would get from the second level of their defense.

Just seven months later, the Cowboys may have a very significant need at linebacker as they prepare to retool their roster for the 2020 season. Interestingly, visiting the University of Oklahoma for the Sooners’ Pro Day, members of the Cowboys front office met with All-American Linebacker Kenneth Murray.

James Palmer on Twitter

First round pick Kennith Murray will meet with the #texans on the 18th. After that he has roughly 15 visits planned. I do know a few of those teams in the 15 are the Ravens, Raiders, Cowboys, Cardinals. https://t.co/kpRAJOoJrp

Meeting with Murray may just be the Dallas Cowboys doing their due diligence, however, it may mean they aren’t as confident in the future of the linebacker corp as they were last Summer.

Jaylon Smith made through the season healthy and though he had a solid year, it was a bit disappointing based on expectations. Leighton Vander Esch was off to a good start, but a neck injury that was rumored to be an issue at Boise State seemed to flare up in 2019. While there’s optimism that he’ll be ready to go, there is certainly some concern about Vander Esch’s longevity.

Joe Thomas, Malcolm Smith, and Sean Lee are set to be free agents. The Cowboys have expressed interest in bringing back Lee, but it seems like Thomas has an opportunity to find a significant role with another team in free agency. Malcolm Smith was likely brought in by former Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard who was Smith’s defensive coordinator during their time in Seattle. The Cowboys would be wise to try and retain at least two of these three players to backup Smith and Vander Esch.

Given the issues that Vander Esch has had with his neck, it would make sense for the Cowboys to have a plan in place in the event this becomes a lingering issue into the 2020 season and beyond.

The other way it could make sense for the Cowboys to have serious interest in Murray is new Defensive Coordinator Mike Nolan’s interest in playing multiple defensive fronts. Both Jaylon Smith and Kenneth Murray are really good pass rushers from the linebacker position. Nolan could have ideas for how to get them both involved and on the field in three linebacker sets, even in nickel.

Theoretically, the Cowboys could play their nickel defense with three defensive linemen, three linebackers, and five defensive backs and keep offenses off guard with how they deploy their linebackers. They could send any combination of their linebackers on the rush or not at all.

Kenneth Murray is arguably the best linebacker in this draft class along with LSU Linebacker Patrick Queen. Either one would be a tremendous asset, but given the Cowboys’ needs across the defense, it’s hard to imagine the Cowboys using a premium pick at linebacker.

While it’s unlikely that the Cowboys would draft a linebacker in the first round, they definitely need to figure out what they’re going to do with the linebacker depth chart. After 2019, confidence is lower in Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch to lead the way at the linebacker position. The Cowboys may not need to find a starter in the draft, but they need really good depth to ensure they don’t miss a beat if Jaylon Smith or Leighton Vander Esch are forced to miss time.

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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  1. Most definitely the Cowboys need LB help. I know a lot of mocks have CB or WR in 1st Rd, but I respectfully disagree. I commented several times here, in particular about Kenneth Murray as being a great draft pick. LVE health concerns, Smith regression, and Lee injury history and age: all are not good news. GET OUT IN FRONT OF THIS.

    Murray 6′ 2″, 243 with 4.5 speed, length, strength. Great production, 334 career Tackles, 32 TFL. Enormous high ceiling. Go get him! When you look at how our defense was RUN on last year (think Aaron Jones! etc.), this should be a no brainer. I would draft him in 1st round.

    That being said, Malik Harrison out of Ohio State, would be a great pick later on in the draft. Besides us needing better run support, we need to put MORE PRESSURE on the QB. Both Murray and Harrison would provide this. Harrison is a great BLITZER and had 16.5 TFL last year.

    • Correction; Murray had 37 TFL. BTW, 334 Tackles and the TLF were for THREE YEARS. Then go get a CB. WR class is very deep. Can get a Reagor, Hamler, or Pittman Jr. in 3Rd. Love Pittman, 6’3″, 225, in the 3Rd. Has No 1 Receiver potential.

  2. Cowboys need a real middle linebacker. Cowboys passed up Darius Leonard. Plus, Cowboys knew the Vander Esch had neck problems, before they drafted him. Therefore, Cowboys shouldn’t gave up a 1st Round Pick for a guy who would play 2 years; tops! Blake Martinez is too little and a defensive liability! When don’t need another defensive liability, we just got rid of Jeff (No Tackling- No Covering) Heath. Jets Robbie Anderson proved that!

  3. The Cowboys are set at MLB with J. Smith. The question is whether LVE is ok or not and of he isn’t then they could draft Murray at 17 or trade down and grab him in the early 20s. Otherwise if they feel LVE is ok then wait until rds 3-4 and draft depth. The Cowboys have holes at CB, RDE, SLOT WR, and C.

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