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 Post subject: Here’s why this could be a breakout year for
PostPosted: 21 Jan 2020, 08:29 
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Joined: 23 Jan 2019, 09:59
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After each game during the Cowboys 2018 season we posted grades on each position group. Now we’re handing out final grades. We covered the secondary last week and this week we look at the linebacker unit. First , let’s recognize that unlike the team’s secondary unit, the Cowboys have invested significant resources in the linebacker group:The Cowboys top trio of Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch and Sean Lee were all premium draft picks, taken in the first or second round. While Smith and Vander Esch are still on relatively cheap rookie deals, Sean Lee had the third highest cap hit on the team in 2018 ($10.1M).Lee’s inability to stay on the field severely compromised the team’s 2017 season and the Cowboys aggressively addressed that situation in the 2018 draft. At the time, it seemed like a move that was looking more towards 2019 and beyond but the decision proved prescient as Lee was again injured and his play declined in the 2018 season. As a result, Smith and LVE are now the entrenched starters going into 2019. StatisticsSmith and Vander Esch combined for 261 tackles which is a monster number for a linebacker tandem. LVE’s 140 tackles ranked third in the entire NFL (behind fellow rookie Darius Leonard and Green Bay’s Blake Martinez), earning him second-team All-Pro honors. This, despite LVE starting only 11 games. By comparison, Sean Lee topped 104 tackles exactly once in his career - in 2016 when he earned All-Pro honors with 145 tackles.Jaylon Smith continued his miraculous return from a devastating injury many thought had ended his career. One of the unappreciated accomplishments of Smith has been his ability to stay healthy. He has now started 34 games in two seasons. Many athletes returning from major injury will suffer nagging, soft-tissue injuries when they return. Smith, instead , has been plug-and-play reliable. His 120 tackles doesn’t capture all he contributed as he frequently rushed the passer on passing downs (negating the ability to record tackles on such plays). Luckily, splash play statistics do reflect Smith’s contributions from rushing the passer. Bob Sturm of The Athletic keeps track of splash plays and I’ve charted out his numbers from the season:Here we see Smith’s impact as he recorded virtually every type of splash play possible:Fumbles caused: 2Fumbles recovered: 2Sacks: 4Passes defensed: 5Runs stuffed: 3Holding penalties drawn: 2Fourth-down stops: 1 (he actually had two, one against Houston and one against Philadelphia but I’m using Sturm’s stats here)Finally, he recorded the team’s only defensive touchdown of the season on this scintillating play against Tampa Bay:In total, Smith recorded 23 splash plays on the season or about 1.5 per game. Vander Esch claimed 18 splash plays and, due to fewer snaps played, had a similar snaps per splash (42) to Smith (44). Not all splash plays are equal. An interception is obviously worth more than a tipped pass and a fourth-down stop more valuable than a run stuff. Let’s look at the unit’s splash points:The splash points again illustrate Smith’s dynamic contributions. His 30 splash points ranked second on the team (DeMarcus Lawrence led with 51) and was 13 full points over Jeff Heath’s third ranked 17 splash points. LVE ranked fourth with 16 splash points, driven by his two interceptions. Those turnovers helped him earn NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month in November. In short, both LVE and Jaylon Smith contributed play after play, evidenced by their tackle numbers, but they also were wreaking havoc creating splash plays that can be game-changers. Here’s how it looks in chart form:We see that on a per-play basis all the linebackers were making plays. There’s serious reasons for fans to be optimistic about this group, particularly Smith and Vander Esch. Both are under 25 and only entering the prime of their careers. The prospect of these two patrolling sideline-to-sideline together for the next 4+ years , frankly, leaves me drooling. Just a reminder of some of their contributions:One thing to consider when evaluating this (or any) group is what resources has the team invested in this group? The following shows each player’s:Draft value (using commonly defined values found at places like Ourlads Scouting Services)2018 salary cap numberNumber of defensive snaps playedPercent of defensive snaps playedApproximate Value as defined by Pro Football Reference (for an in-depth insight into this metric and it’s strengths and weaknesses I encourage you to read One Cool Customer’s great post)We also see what PFR’s AV metric thought of the group. The following table (shout out to OCC) is a useful guide when looking at AV:As we see, PFR’s AV metric graded both Smith and LVE to be at the high end of the “starter quality” range. As AV is a counting metric, they’re really saying LVE played at an All Pro/Pro Bowl level. This corresponds with the eye test which certainly left most of us thinking both were Pro Bowl caliber players. Having two players in the same position unit ranking so high is a luxury; having both of them on rookie contracts is a lavish luxury. Damien Wilson and Sean Lee should not go unmentioned here. They both contributed given their opportunities. Weekly GradesNow we’ll look at the unit’s weekly grades as assigned by yours truly. Obviously, these grades are only one man’s opinion and your mileage may vary. Here’s the grades and a “points” system I developed for this effort:There’s a lot to like here, unfortunately, the season ended on a bummer performance for this unit. The group enjoyed all As and Bs for most of the season (except for a 2-game blip against Washington and Tennessee) until heading to December for a week 15 game.But in the final month of the season the linebackers twice struggled mightily. First, in what should have been a warning of what could come, the Colts simply steamrolled the entire Cowboys’ defense and the LB unit was a prime culprit. Then again in the team’s playoff loss to the Los Angeles Rams this unit simply had no answers.In both cases opponent’s simply ran at will and the young linebackers never seemed to catch their balance. Sometimes they read plays wrong; sometimes they reacted too slow, sometimes they got beat one-on-one. It kind of felt like these were students who worked hard and progressed throughout the year but then came up short on the final exam. Final Grade: BIf we average the linebacker’s play over the entire season we come up with a grade of 3.5, which is right between a B and a B-. I’ll round up in this case and give this very young, promising group a well-deserved B. Going into 2019 it’s clear the LVE/Smith duo are the top two backers who should expect to be on the field for virtually every snap. It would be nice to have Sean Lee as insurance but to do so he’ll have to take a significant pay cut (something I think is very possible). I assume Damien Wilson has played his last play as a Cowboy as I expect he’ll attract a significant contract the Cowboys will not be willing to match. I expect Joe Thomas - who impressed in preseason but saw little regular season action - to be back next season on an inexpensive deal.Chris Covington , drafted in 2018, should also be in the mix. I also expect the Cowboys will draft a LBer in the fourth through seventh rounds because you pretty much always need such players as depth and for special teams. He’s a summary of the two units we’ve looked at thus far, graded by week:And here’s an overview of these two units:You see the difference in resources invested as the Cowboys’ secondary ranked dead last in NFL spending and also had small draft investment. Next up, we’ll look at the defensive line. Is Amari Cooper waiting for Julio Jones to get a new contract? Will Michael Gallup have a breakout year? Is Dak Prescott poised for a breakout year? These stories and more in your latest edition of Cowboys news." />Skip to main contentclockmenumore-arrownoyesHorizontal - WhiteBlogging The BoysBlogging The Boys, a Dallas Cowboys fan communityLog In or Sign UpLog InSign UpFanpostsFanshotsSectionsLibraryCowboysOddsShopAboutMastheadCommunity GuidelinesStubHubMoreAll 322 blogs on Horizontal - WhiteFanposts Fanshots Sections Dallas Cowboys NewsCowboys news: Is Amari Cooper waiting for Julio Jones to boost the wide receiver market?New,48commentsHere is your daily dose of Cowboys news...CDTShareTweetShareShareCowboys news: Is Amari Cooper waiting for Julio Jones to boost the wide receiver market?Kim Klement-USA TODAY SportsIs Amari Cooper waiting for Julio Jones to do a deal? – Mike Florio, ProFootballTalkWhen it comes to landing a big contract, timing is everything and the Cowboys new receiver might be waiting it out for the most opportune moment. 5 things you need to know about Cowboys WR Amari Cooper’s contract negotiations - Kate Hairopoulos, SportsDayHere are five things too keep in mind about Cooper’s contract, including how he’s just getting started in Dallas. Fantasy Football: Amari Cooper now ‘main vein’ of Dallas’ passing attack - Jamey Eisenberg, CBS SportsHow much Cooper is worth is up for debate, but one thing we should all agree on is he should be a strong fantasy player on the Cowboys offense. Randall Cobb might feel ‘lost’ with Cowboys , but he doesn’t look it - Todd Archer, ESPNIt didn’t take long for Amari to fit in. Will new addition Randall Cobb take long to adjust?2019 - Terence Watson, The Landry HatAmari Cooper and Randall Cobb bring excitement to the offense, but it could be the second-year receiver who turns some heads this year. Ridiculous logjam at Wide Receiver - Steven Mullenax, The Landry HatThe wide receiver position group is one to keep a close eye on as there are bound to be some surprises. Which ones would you keep? Every NFL Team’s To-Do List for Rest of Offseason - Kristopher Knox, Bleacher ReportWhat does each NFL team need to do prior to the preseason? Bleacher Report examines every team and comes up with a to-do list. Why Dak Prescott is Poised for Breakout 2019 -David Latham, Last Word on Pro FootballPrescott is entering a contract year, and there is no time like the present to put together a big season. Here’s why this could be a breakout year for the Cowboys young quarterback.What Would a Successful Season Mean for Kellen Moore’s Future? - Mauricio Rodriquez, Inside The StarHow much confidence do fans in their new offensive coordinator? So much that they’re already worried about losing him. Donovan McNabb believes his numbers are better than Troy Aikman’s. Is he right? - Alaina Getzenberg,SportsDayMcNabb channels his inner Rodney Dangerfield as he pleads his case for a gold jacket.


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