The linebacker position for the Dallas Cowboys seemed to be set with Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch. However, injuries and poor play forced Dallas to look to upgrade the unit in the NFL Draft, and they took a double-dip.
After missing out on cornerbacks Patrick Surtain and Jaycee Horn in the first round, the Cowboys landed who many thought to be the best defensive player in the draft with the 12th overall pick, Micah Parsons. In the fourth round, they snagged Jabril Cox, who some believed to be a Day 2 selection. Three games into the preseason, both have played well, and according to Pro Football Focus, they are the highest-graded rookie linebackers in terms of run defense.
PFF College on Twitter: “Highest run-defense grade by rookie LBs1. Micah Parsons, Cowboys – 85.72. Jabril Cox, Cowboys – 76.2 pic.twitter.com/WgbxoXICAy / Twitter”
Highest run-defense grade by rookie LBs1. Micah Parsons, Cowboys – 85.72. Jabril Cox, Cowboys – 76.2 pic.twitter.com/WgbxoXICAy
When Parsons was drafted, the fear of many was that he would only be used as an off-the-ball linebacker. But, under the tutelage of Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn, Parsons has been able to use his plethora of skills. Not only has he lined up as a linebacker he’s also rushed the passer from the edge and the defensive tackle position.
At 6’3 and 245 pounds, Parsons has shown incredible speed from sideline to sideline. He sets the edge well and sheds blocks to make plays against the run. Also, he has the ability to drop back into coverage with his range on the field.
Brian Baldinger on Twitter: “.@dallascowboys @MicahhParsons11 the entire Dallas D is being built around the talents of Parsons. Smart coaching. #BaldysBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/OX0MSUMclM / Twitter”
@dallascowboys @MicahhParsons11 the entire Dallas D is being built around the talents of Parsons. Smart coaching. #BaldysBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/OX0MSUMclM
The Cowboys have been cautious with his snap count in the preseason. After 11 snaps in the Hall of Fame Game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, it went up to 14 against the Arizona Cardinals and then 18 against the Houston Texans. Although his playing time has gradually increased, Parsons feels like he’s been held back a bit.
“I feel like I wasn’t able to fully go-go yet,” Parsons told reporters Saturday night. “I feel like the leash is still on. But we’re going to let it off soon.
“We’re just very limited right now, not trying to show too much. I’m kind of just biting my tongue because I know what we’re really capable of.”
Parsons had a run defense grade of 92.4 entering the NFL Draft which was the highest for all linebackers so his performance in the preseason shouldn’t surprise anyone. There’s no telling that how much Parsons will play in the Cowboy’s final preseason game this Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars or if he’ll play at all. However, he’s already proved that he’s a swiss army knife and the most versatile defender on the Cowboy’s defense.
While Parsons’s play against the run was expected, it wasn’t a strong suit for Cox during his college days. However, he has shown that he can diagnose plays quickly and use his speed to close in on ball carriers in the run game.
The former LSU Tiger has totaled 17 tackles in the preseason which leads the team and he’s led or been tied for the most tackles in every game. He’s also shown his versatility much like Parsons. In the videos below provided by Bob Sturm of The Athletic, Cox displays his ability to play the run, drop back in coverage, and rush the quarterback.
Bob Sturm on Twitter: “Jabril Cox is going to be good. Clip 1. pic.twitter.com/pfcL8hRTFT / Twitter”
Jabril Cox is going to be good. Clip 1. pic.twitter.com/pfcL8hRTFT
Jabril Cox pt 3 pic.twitter.com/x4QO31iWGr
Cox is currently the fifth linebacker in the Cowboys rotation. That doesn’t mean he won’t see the field though especially with his pass coverage skills which have tremendous value on third downs. There’s still room for improvement, but Cox is showing that he could be one of the biggest steals of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Young, fast, and talented are proper adjectives to describe Parsons and Cox. The Cowboys have set themselves up nicely at the linebacker position for the foreseeable future, and the fact that these two can do so many things, Quinn has many options on how to utilize their skills and keep offenses guessing on how to defend them.