A year ago, Linebacker Luke Gifford made it through the Dallas Cowboys final cuts as a rookie free agent despite missing a large part of training camp with an ankle injury he sustained in the preseason opener – the same game he recorded his first NFL interception against the San Francisco 49ers. He ended up appearing in six regular-season games, but landed on injured reserve in December with a broken arm. His impact in Year 1 was minimal, but there’s a good chance that could change heading into Year 2.
Prior to free agency, it was expected Luke Gifford was the favorite to become the primary backup for both Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch. Those expectations died quickly though once the Dallas Cowboys brought back Sean Lee, Joe Thomas, and Justin March-Lillard. The hopes of being more involved and receiving more playing time look dead now that he is buried on the depth chart once again, however, it doesn’t mean the impact he can make in 2020 is.
At best, Luke Gifford is probably fifth on the Cowboys linebacker depth chart right now. His chances of receiving much playing time on defense seems like a long shot, but things can change quickly in the NFL. With Sean Lee’s known injury history and Leighton Vander Esch’s unknown long-term health due to his neck injury, Gifford finds himself just a play or two away from receiving significant playing time.
Now, it’s a bit of a stretch to go from fifth on the depth chart to becoming a regular key contributor on defense, however, it’s not so far out there that it’s not completely out of the realm of possibility. We all know Sean Lee has a problem staying healthy and no one really knows how Leighton Vander Esch will rebound after having offseason neck surgery. Hopefully they’re good to go, but with Gifford and some of the other promising LB depth, the Cowboys at least won’t be caught with their pants down.
This of course would be a doomsday scenario for the Dallas Cowboys. Odds are Luke Gifford’s defensive impact in 2020 will once again be minimal. That doesn’t mean he can’t be more impactful than he was as a rookie though. He should become one of the better special teams players under John “Bones” Fassel. That in itself should make Gifford an underrated, although valuable piece of the puzzle for the Cowboys success this season.