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Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith Ranked as Top 5 Linebackers

John Williams



Cowboys, Bears Proving Defense Can Win the NFC

Yesterday, Pro Football Focus, a site that watches the film and hands out grades on each individual player in the NFL, released it's top five overall grades at linebacker for the 2018 season. Not that we should be surprised, but Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith both appeared on this top five list.

Pro Football Focus on Twitter

Bobby Wagner is the highest graded linebacker in the NFL through 16 weeks.

We see it every Sunday, so we know how good they've been from a Dallas Cowboys context, but being on a top five list with Bobby Wagner and Luke Kuechly should tell you that we are watching something special happening. Wagner and Kuechly have long been considered two of the best linebackers in the NFL and both have been rewarded with Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections, deservedly so.

There is only one other team that features two linebackers in Pro Football Focus' top 10 and the is the Carolina Panthers with Kuechly checking in at number two and Thomas Davis at number 10. The Cowboys and the Panthers are the only teams to have two linebackers in the top 15 at their position as well.

We're watching something special, even if we don't truly appreciate it. Ever since Rod Marinelli took over this defense, I've been patiently, and at times not so patiently, waiting for this team's version of Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. Finally, we may have it.

What's amazing about what these two are doing, is that they're doing it at such a young age, with very little experience. Leighton Vander Esch is a 21-year-old rookie who just played his 15th NFL game after starting for only one season at Boise State after he walked on because as an eight-man football player he got zero scholarship offers. Jaylon Smith is 23, has had to overcome that devastating Fiesta Bowl knee injury he suffered at the end of his college career. He spent his rookie season in 2016 rehabbing and 2017 playing mostly as a part-time player before taking the reigns at middle linebacker this season.

The results have been spectacular and they're a duo that hasn't even reached the limits of what they're capable of and that should scare the rest of the NFC.

On the season, Leighton Vander Esch is third in total tackles and second in solo tackles, according to Pro Football Reference. Vander Esch's two interceptions has him tied for fifth at the linebacker position. The rookie is also third in the NFL in stops, which are recorded by Pro Football Focus as a "play that results in a loss for the offense." Vander Esch is in the Defensive Rookie of the Year discussion, which should say a lot about the way he's played.

Jaylon Smith is 13th in the NFL in solo tackles. Among linebackers, Jaylon Smith is tied for seventh in the NFL with four sacks and is 12th in the league with 15 total pressures, per Pro Football Focus. Jaylon ranks 16th in the NFL in PFF's stops statistic.

By many measures and when you watch the games or any all-22 film, you see an explosive, athletic, and fast duo that has wrecked opposing game plans all season long. You can see why the Dallas Cowboys were willing to make Sean Lee a healthy inactive in a win and clinch game. It also makes it hard to believe that either of these guys didn't make the Pro Bowl.

Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch are a big part of the reason that the Cowboys defense is playing as well as it is this year, and if this year is any indication, the Cowboys will be fielding a really nice defense for a long time coming.

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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Report: Amari Cooper Likely out for the Rest of the Preseason

Matthew Lenix



Report: Amari Cooper Likely out Until Week 1

Dallas Cowboys Wide Receiver Amari Cooper is likely out for the remainder of the preseason according to ESPN's Todd Archer. He is currently dealing with a form of plantar fasciitis that has kept him out of practice since August 6th.

The three-time pro bowler changed life in Dallas last season as the team went 7-2 in it's final nine games after he was acquired to win the NFC East. Cooper isn't worried about any long term effects, though, as this is something he's familiar with.

"I'm not worried about it at all, because I know if it does linger, it doesn't matter," Cooper said. "I had 1,000 yards when I played on plantar fasciitis before."

The Cowboys host the Houston Texans this Saturday in what is known as the "dress rehearsal" game before the regular season. Starters normally play about a half of football to get the juices flowing for when games really count in September. Ideally, the plan would be for Cooper and Dak Prescott to get a rhythm of sorts before the season starts but that will have to wait until the team prepares to take on the New York Giants on September 8th.

However, the good thing here is this issue doesn't seem to be serious and Cooper will be ready for the start of the 2019 season.

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Report: Cowboys Agree To Contract Extension With LB Jaylon Smith

Kevin Brady



Jaylon Smith, Eagles

The Cowboys are neck-deep in contract negotiations with some of their team's most important players, but it appears they have gotten one key guy signed this afternoon.

ESPN's Todd Archer is reporting that the Cowboys have agreed to a contract extension with middle linebacker Jaylon Smith, though the exact terms of the contract have yet to be announced.

Todd Archer on Twitter

The Cowboys have agreed to a contract extension with linebacker Jaylon Smith, according to sources. Smith was set to be a restricted free agent after this season but the Cowboys and his representatives started talks in the spring and they ramped up once camp began. Smith, a...

Of course, the Cowboys drafted Jaylon Smith early in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft despite the horrific leg injury he suffered in Notre Dame's college bowl game. Some didn't think Smith would ever recover to be the same player he once was, but in 2018 Smith emerged as an excellent middle linebacker once again. Smith finished the 2018 season with 121 combined tackles and 4 sacks, and has looked just as imposing thus far in the preseason.

Smith regained his athleticism and sideline to sideline speed, while retaining his impressive hit power and sound tackling to become one of the league's best. Combining Smith with Leighton Vander Esch, the Cowboys have put together arguably the best linebacker group in the NFL.

And now, there's no end in sight for the dynamic duo.

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Report: 2 Dallas Cowboys to be Activated off of P.U.P. List

John Williams



Auto Draft 6

Per a report from ESPN's Todd Archer, the Dallas Cowboys will soon activate Tyrone Crawford and DeMarcus Lawrence off of the Physically Unable to Perform (P.U.P.) List.

"The Cowboys are planning to activate defensive linemen DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford from the physically unable to perform list on Tuesday, according to a source. They will work through individual drills in their first steps on the field before going through full practices. Lawrence had shoulder surgery not long after signing a five-year, $101 million contract in April. Crawford has been working his way through a hip issue that kept him out of the offseason program. Safety Byron Jones (hip) and receiver Noah Brown (knee) remain on PUP."

Todd Archer -

This report comes after DeMarcus Lawrence had offseason shoulder surgery in April and signed his five-year deal making him the highest-paid player in the history of the Dallas Cowboys, at least for now. It looks as if Lawrence will be ready for a week one return.

It's long been believed that Lawrence would be available for week one of the regular season and hasn't suffered any setbacks to this point that should lead you to believe otherwise. With Robert Quinn suspended for the first two games of the regular season and Randy Gregory's status still up in the air (he still hasn't applied for reinstatement), getting Lawrence and Crawford back for the first two weeks of the season becomes instrumental.

The Dallas Cowboys defensive line has looked really good through the first two games of the preseason, but as good as they've been, they'll need Lawrence and Crawford once the regular season starts. Lawrence will slot back in as the left defensive end and Tyrone Crawford will split snaps at right defensive end with Dorance Armstrong and 3-technique defensive tackle with Maliek Collins, Trysten Hill, and Kerry Hyder.

While the additions of DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford will help the defense tremendously, there still isn't a timeline on the return of Pro Bowl Cornerback Byron Jones. Jones has been out since having hip surgery this offseason.

With as good as the Dallas Cowboys defense has looked this offseason, there's reason to believe that they can be even better once each of these guys are back in the lineup full-time. For a defense that was one of the 10 best defenses in the NFL in 2019, they'll need Lawrence, Crawford, and Jones to make the jump into the elite stratosphere of NFL defenses.

With the Dallas Cowboys' eyes set on capturing that sixth Lombardi Trophy, getting Lawrence and Crawford back in time to be ready for the regular season is vital to starting the 2019 season off right.

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