Dallas Cowboys Draft: 5 Best Linebackers in each round

Jaylon Smith #54 and Leighton Vander Esch #55 of the Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Jaylon Smith #54 and Leighton Vander Esch #55 of the Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images) /
3 of 6
Mississippi State
Willie Gay Jr, Linebacker (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

Willie Gay Jr, Mississippi State

Round Grade: Late 2nd

Value: Great

Percent Available: 100%

Gay Jr has had one of the more odd offseasons in recent memory. After only playing four games this season, due to an academic dishonesty issue, Gay put on a show at the combine. Not only did he display his blazing speed, but also his tree trunks for legs proved they were explosive. Now with limited personal communication, teams only have a rough image of his character.

When a 6-foot-1, 243-pound guy runs a 4.46-second 40-yard dash, vertical jumps 39.5 inches, and broad jumps 136 inches, there is a natural draw to his ridiculous athleticism. Teams look at these numbers and think they can turn this man into a playmaker. Fortunately for Gay, he is already more than halfway there.

Oddly, the hardest part for linebackers is one of Gay’s strong suits. The Bulldog is quite impressive in coverage. Typically lined up as a MIKE linebacker, Gay was asked to guard the middle of the field. However, it wasn’t all that simple, Gay had to move a lot. He disguised his coverages by faking blitzes and shifting his gap alignment.

It’s common for coaches to throw athletic beasts all over the field and Gay was no exception. However, for how good his cover skills are, he gets increasingly inconsistent the closer he plays to the line of scrimmage.

As a pass rusher, his game is underdeveloped. He tries to use his speed and attack as a free rusher. However, when he can’t escape the grasp of offensive linemen, his motor dies and he essentially spies the quarterback. For how strong he is, it is unusual he isn’t trying to turn his speed into power. This is something he will probably learn to do in the NFL.

As a run stopper, his awareness is lacking. He doesn’t always square up his hips with the ball carrier. When he lines up in his gap, he tries to shoot sometimes missing tackles to either side of him. For someone fairly stiff, he needs to learn to be more patient and just widen his base so he can cover ground quicker.

Gay projects as a MIKE or WILL linebacker at the next level. No matter the position he plays, he will need to diversify his pass-rushing arsenal and develop some run stopping instincts. However, teams can draft him knowing they have an athletic stud on their roster.