Linebacker is one of the deepest positions in the league right now, as 21 different players racked up 115 or more tackles in 2020. When you have solid interior linebackers it can change the entire look of your defense, as the best ones in the league can slow down tight ends and slot receivers in the passing game while still providing elite run support. Let’s take a look at the top five interior linebackers the Dallas Cowboys are set to face in 2021.
No. 5 – Kenneth Murray, Los Angeles Chargers – Week 2 @LA
When the Chargers selected Kenneth Murray with the 23rd overall pick 2020 everyone knew that he was set to take over as the starter at middle linebacker right away. He didn’t disappoint either, as he put together one of the strongest rookie campaigns at the position with 107 tackles, five tackles for loss, and three passes defended. He struggled in coverage at times like a lot of rookie LBs do, but he showed enough to give the Chargers full faith in him improving that skill as bulbs on his solid rookie season.
No. 4 – Blake Martinez, New York Giants – Week 5 and 15
Blake Marinez has been one of the most consistent tacklers in the league over the past four seasons, as he has recorded at least 144 tackles in all four. In his first season with the Giants last year, he was as productive as ever, finishing with 151 tackles, nine for a loss, three sacks, six QB hits, five passes defended, two forced fumbles, and an interception. Blake Martinez was highly active in his two games against the Cowboys in 2020, totaling 18 tackles, one sack, and a fumble recovery.
No. 3 – Deion Jones, Atlanta Falcons – Week 10 @Dallas
When Deion Jones is firing on all cylinders he’s one of the most well-rounded interior linebackers in the entire league. He has an elite coverage skillset and has finished with triple-digit tackles in all four seasons he has notched at least 13 games. He did appear to take a step back in the passing game in 2020, but that could have been a product of the Falcons defense struggling as a whole, as Jones still finished with six passes defended and two interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown. Jones also added 106 tackles and 4.5 sacks as he played a full 16 games for the second consecutive season.
No. 2 – Eric Kendricks, Minnesota Vikings – Week 8 @Minnesota
Eric Kendricks is actually the highest-rated linebacker the Cowboys will face off against this year according to PFF, as he came in at number three on their list of the top-32 LBs. Not only is he a lock for 100+ tackles every season, but he is also in the conversation for the best at defending the pass from the LB position. Per PFF, including the playoffs, Kendricks leads the league with 17 passes defended over the past two seasons. While Eric Kendricks doesn’t do much as a pass rusher (only nine career sacks), he has racked up 639 tackles, 41 passes defended, and seven interceptions over his six-year career in Minnesota.
No. 1 – Lavonte David and Devin White – Week 1 @Tampa Bay
It may seem like a bit of a cop-out to list both Lavonte David and Devin White as co-number ones, but I believe there is an argument that could be made for both to claim this spot by themselves. Together, they form the best combination of interior linebackers in the NFL, and their games complement each other perfectly. Even in his age 30 season, Lavonte David came away with 117 tackles, 12 for a loss, six passes defended, three forced fumbles, and an interception. Devin White fully broke out in 2020, using his 4.3 speed to cover the entire field for 140 tackles, nine sacks, four passes defended, and 15 tackles for a loss. Any small step Lavonte David may take back this year as he continues to age into his early thirties will be offset by the improvements Devin White is expected to make over the next few years.