Over the past few seasons the Cowboys defense has seemingly relied on one man: Pro Bowl linebacker Sean Lee. Though he is obviously a special talent, the complete lack of organization and production among the Cowboys defense when Lee is absent has been very concerning.
Without Lee, the Cowboys defense falls on its face. They've lacked linebacker depth, interior defensive line presence, and any type of leadership on defense when Lee has been injured and missing from the lineup.
Heading into 2018, however, the Cowboys can finally relax a bit even if Lee misses time. And though they drafted a linebacker in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, it's a lesser known linebacker and a second round selection which make this statement true.
Joe Thomas has been the star of the preseason.
Thomas has been in the league for a little while now, making contributions on the Green Bay Packers prior to joining the Dallas Cowboys. Despite some obvious talent, however, it's been hard for Thomas to get on the field consistently since joining the league in 2014.
With Sean Lee missing the entire preseason, Joe Thomas got his opportunity to prove what he is worth. And, through the first three (and the only somewhat meaningful) preseason games, Thomas has been the star.
Beginning with his interception during the opener in San Francisco, and ending with multiple splash plays on defense and special teams against the Cardinals last week, Joe Thomas has been all over the field for the Cowboys.
Not only will Thomas be an immediate contributor on special teams this season, but he can start at WILL over multiple games if Sean Lee must miss time with injury. And, based on his history, there's probably a good chance that Lee will face some injury troubles this season.
Jaylon Smith looks like, well, Jaylon Smith.
Now onto that former second round pick.
The Cowboys faced some serious backlash when they drafted the injured Jaylon Smith 34th overall in 2016. But, now that he appears to be healthy and in full form, the franchise will likely have the last laugh.
After missing his entire rookie season Jaylon Smith showed flashes of promise during the back-half of his sophomore season. Still, he struggled with lateral quickness and took some not-so-great angles from time to time. So far in training camp and preseason, though, Smith has looked like his Notre Dame self.
Actually, he's looked better than that in some ways, such as his physicality when taking on and shedding blocks from offensive linemen.
Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith can potentially be the linebacker duo we hoped Lee and Rolando McClain might become, and with Joe Thomas and Leighton Vander Esch providing athletic depth, this linebacker corps is quickly becoming one of the better ones in the NFL.
And for the first time in a long time, we might not face disaster if Sean Lee misses time.