In the 2021 offseason, the Dallas Cowboys stayed “on brand” in many ways. Once again, they valued the linebacker position in the draft more than most. Once again, they executed a traits-based strategy that focuses on physical measurable and scheme fit more than most. And once again, the Dallas Cowboys targeted versatility and position flex.
In free agency, they brought in Damontae Kazee, a converted cornerback who plays primarily free safety and a little slot cornerback; Keanu Neal, a box player who can play both safety and linebacker; And even Brent Urban, a defensive lineman who can play both 1-tech DT and 5-tech DE with 1-gap or 2-gap responsibilities.
The position flex trend only continued in the 2021 NFL Draft. From Micah Parsons in the first round to Matt Farniok in the seventh round, Dallas drafted the versatile. It was a staple of the draft and one of the biggest takeaways from their 2021 draft haul.
The Dallas Cowboys gave themselves maximum versatility by targeting position flex in 2021.
After a disastrous 2020 season which featured numerous injuries and constant adapting, the importance of a versatile roster has been reinforced upon the Cowboys brain trust. Injuries happen to everyone and it’s the teams that deals with them the best who often come out on top.
Position flex doesn’t just help with injuries, it also helps with match-ups. The Cowboys can matchup with teams a number of different ways. Their safeties can play LB and CB. They have CBs that can play inside and out. They have linemen that play across the line. They have linebackers that can lineup on the edge.
Offensively, they have RBs that can play in the slot. They have TEs that can split out wide. They have linemen that can play multiple spots. Their top-3 WRs can play all three spots. The list goes on and on.
Did I mention the Dallas Cowboys are undergoing a scheme change? With Dan Quinn’s arrival, the Cowboys will change back to a defense that resembles their Cover-3 of old. With a few twists and adaptations, the Cowboys will move between a 3-4 base and a 4-man fronted nickel defense. You need versatile players to do that. Dallas targeted that heavily in free agency and the draft.
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While Micah Parsons doesn’t immediately stand out as a player with position flex, he has a chance at being an impact player in a role other than the position he was drafted as. Keep in mind, Parsons comes to Dallas as an off-ball linebacker. But the Cowboys have bluntly stated their intentions of using him as a pass rusher.
Position flex also helps the Dallas Cowboys get the best players on the field at the same time. Position flex is a great way to get the four best defensive linemen on the field at the same time. It’s also a great way to get the five best O-linemen in the starting lineup.
Based on the D-line picks the Dallas Cowboys made, it seems they were targeting rotational players with position flex rather than filling defined roles. They may have passed on better players at specific positions but gained some game day versatility.
All things considered, it makes perfect sense as to why Stephen Jones and Will McClay valued position flex so much. An injury here or there can have major implications on a roster. And having players that can adapt can go a long way in dealing with such adversity. Match-ups, optimization, and an unpredictable scheme also speak to the importance of flex.