Heading into last night’s preseason opener Cowboys fans had their minds on three linebackers: Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, and Leighton Vander Esch. Of course, they were right to focus on those three. They are the three most talented linebackers on the roster, and each were taken within the first two rounds of their respective drafts.
During the game against the San Francisco 49ers, however, an under-the-radar linebacker stole the show for the Dallas Cowboys. If you were watching you know that linebacker is Joe Thomas. With Sean Lee out Joe Thomas got a chance to play with the first team defense, and boy did he take advantage of that opportunity.
Joe Thomas finished his night with five tackles, one TFL, and an interception on the play below. Thomas was relentless in pursuit, flying all over the field and keeping himself near the ball at all times. This relentlessness put him in position to capitalize on Kavon Frazier’s pass deflection, and come away with the pick.
Multiple times during the first half Joe Thomas made everyone in Cowboys Nation ask “who is that!?” And in the preseason, that’s at the top of the to-do list of every lesser-known player.
On the very next play… PICKED. #DALvsSF https://t.co/X62FGTNpKV
Over the last few seasons the Cowboys have severely lacked depth at the linebacker position. When starting WILL Sean Lee is out, which happens quite frequently, the entire unit seems to fall apart. Their attempts at bargain shopping at linebacker, or snagging mid-round depth in the draft, hasn’t necessarily worked all that well.
Adding Leighton Vander Esch during the 2018 draft was a step towards building the linebackers as a complete unit, but Joe Thomas’ performance last night adds even more stability.
No, Thomas isn’t going to take a starting role from Sean Lee, but he does add quality depth behind what are high profile linebackers. Jaylon Smith looked better and healthier last night than he has during his entire time as a Dallas Cowboy, Vander Esch looked like an athletic freak at times, and Sean Lee is still Sean Lee.
If Joe Thomas is going to show up like he did against the 49ers on a nightly basis, the Cowboys suddenly possess one of the deeper front sevens in all of football.