Dallas Cowboys: Why Jaylon Smith may be the No. 2 pass-rusher

LANDOVER, MD - OCTOBER 29: Outside linebacker Jaylon Smith
LANDOVER, MD - OCTOBER 29: Outside linebacker Jaylon Smith /

Stephen Jones had some interesting things to say regarding Jaylon Smith and the Dallas Cowboys pass rush. Might he be the No. 2 pass-rusher in 2018?

With the rise of the run-pass option and the addition of defensive mind Kris Richard, changes were expected on this somewhat stagnant Rod Marinelli defense. Seattle has always been a model for the Dallas Cowboys and this offseason seemed like the perfect time to make the leap and add a few wrinkles in the process.

Two months ago, I stated what some of those changes could be. After adding Leighton Vander Esch in the first round, I speculated the Dallas Cowboys would be implementing some 3-3-5 in 2018. That’s because the 3-3-5 would be an opportunity to match up better against RPO teams (expect 2018 opponents: Philadelphia, Carolina, Washington, Tennessee, Seattle, and Jacksonville to all use it with regularity).

The 3-3-5 also would allow Dallas to play all three linebackers at once, getting their very best players on the field all at once.

Just earlier this week I got a little more specific. One of those things is replacing the 1-tech nose tackle with a SAM in the 3-3-5 nickel coverage. This would load the field with speed and pass-rushers for those pesky obvious passing situations.

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Admittedly, this was speculation. Fact-based speculation, but speculation nonetheless. Dallas didn’t publicly say much this offseason about schemes. But their actions certainly spoke to it: After passing on a plethora of affordable free agent 1-techs, and passing on so many sliding 1-techs in the draft, the Cowboys showed how much they value the traditional “plugger”.

Even more to the point, the Dallas Cowboys spoke of Jaylon Smith’s expanded role and rising expectations, all while investing their top pick in the draft in an uber-athletic linebacker. Add in the rise of the RPO, and how college typically combats it with extra linebackers, and you have quite the prominent breadcrumb trail.

All of that speculation shifted to reality when the Dallas Cowboys started gearing up for Oxnard.

First we heard linebacker Damien Wilson say this:

Then we heard Stephen Jones say this:


Jaylon Smith, the pass-rusher

Granted, the Dallas Cowboys didn’t definitively state their intentions of using a 3-3-5 but they did cite Jaylon Smith as the new pass-rushing weapon. It’s not such a crazy thought either since he proved to be quite the pass-rusher in college. I detailed that in my pre-draft scouting report of Smith, when I predicted he’d be a second round steal for the Cowboys (notice I conveniently remember my correct predictions and fail to mention those misfires) I digress…

As all of us know, Jaylon is recovering from a catastrophic knee injury. Each day is a new day in his recovery and where he finally plateaus is unbeknownst to us all. What is beknown is that it’s a heck of a lot easier to run upfield as a pass-rusher than it is to flip the hips and move downfield in coverage. That’s why using Jaylon as a backfield disruptor more than a coverage man is such a smart move. He’ll still be asked to do those other responsibilities, but making him the stand-up bookend opposite DeMarcus Lawrence in the nickel 3-3-5 could be his ticket to the Pro Bowl.

Who’s the No 2 pass-rusher?

Quite obviously, DeMarcus Lawrence is the top dog in the Dallas Cowboys’ pass-rush. But with David Irving in parts unknown, and Randy Gregory working himself back into NFL shape, Jaylon Smith appears to be the best pure pass-rusher on the team.

The fact that Stephen Jones has called him out by name is pretty significant. It’s as if this LEO-like role on the Dallas Cowboys is being tailor made just for him. The signs have been there for quite a while and they’ve been supporting yesterday’s statements. This all leads us to believe Jaylon Smith will serve a pretty vital role in the pass-rush.

Randy Gregory maybe the best pure pass-rusher on the team but it’s going to take time for him to come back after roughly two years away. And we have no idea what to expect from David Irving when he comes back from suspension in Week 5. Behind them is a rotation of Tyrone Crawford (5 sacks maybe), Taco Charlton (5-6 sacks) Kony Ealy (4-8 depending if they use him at at the 3-tech too), and Jihad Ward (I’d set the over/under at 4).

When you look at it all, there really isn’t a clear No. 2 pass-rusher for Jaylon to overtake.

By the end of the year I fully expect Randy Gregory and David Irving to be up there right behind Lawrence as the Dallas Cowboys top pass-rushers. But there’s an excellent chance Jaylon Smith logs the second-most pressures and sacks on this team when all is said and done.

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Expect to see new things from the Dallas Cowboys on defense. This is no longer speculation – it’s reality. What may soon become reality, as well, is Jaylon Smith as your No. 2 pass rusher.

  • Published on 07/26/2018 at 12:01 PM
  • Last updated at 07/26/2018 at 15:39 PM