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) /
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Wake Forest
Justin Strnad, Linebacker (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

Justin Strnad, Wake Forest

Round Grade: Late 5th

Value: Fine

Percent Available: 100%

We are now reaching the “high upside athlete” territory. Strnad, in game, moves extremely well and can match up against most receivers. That is why his numbers at the combine turn some heads. For a guy who moves well in the open field, it’s shocking that his 40-yard dash time was 4.74 seconds.

This is also why the combine isn’t the end-all-be-all. Numbers like these are meant to be a justification tool. In the case of Strnad, it makes you revisit his tape. Even then, he didn’t look slower in-game because speed, in this case, isn’t relative?

Okay, I’ll stop rambling now.

Strnad has fallen to the fifth round for several reasons. Like Bailey, Strnad had an injury that he obtained in October. While a less severe bicep injury, the inability for teams to clear him medically will naturally lower his draft stock.

Throw in his all-around instincts and you see a guy who needs more work than those above him. The injury will probably knock him down farther than the fifth round, but according to the simulator, he was the best linebacker available.

As a pass rusher, Strnad was effective. In 33 games, the Demon Deacon totaled eight sacks and 22 tackles for loss. He uses his speed to shoot gaps pretty consistently, but his lack of hand usage and general ball awareness limit his total productivity.

As a run stopper, Strnad is extremely raw. He struggles to play with correct gap discipline causing him to over pursue the ball carrier en route to a tackle. He does make some impressive open-field tackles in space, but the closer he plays to blockers the more he gets exposed.

In coverage, his movement is fantastic. Not only does he have adequate straight-line speed, but also he is extremely loose in his hips and it allows him to change direction with ease. If only his coverage instincts were as good as his hips he’d be a force to reckon with over the middle of the field. Even though the Demon Deacon has logged four interceptions, he caught three in 2017 and was the beneficiary of some bad throws.

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Strnad could be an interesting piece for a team because he has unreachable athleticism. He will need to become a more disciplined player, but he doesn’t need to experience drastic production to be an impact player. If he can understand his assignments as a run stopper, you have a SAM linebacker. If he can develop some coverage instincts, he can play the WILL. Teach him how to pass rush and he’s your pass-rushing MIKE linebacker.

There is a lot of potential with the senior; all it takes is a team to give him a chance. WIth a torn bicep that teams can’t check on, how long will it take?

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Two years after drafting an off-ball linebacker in the first round, the Cowboys seem to be revisiting that position on defense. It is hard to figure out why they are looking at this position with the talent on the depth chart, but they seem to know something we don’t.