They say nothing happens in a vacuum in the NFL. If something goes down, there are likely to be host of factors involved. Such was clearly the case with Jaylon Smith. When the Dallas Cowboys opted to release him this week, it wasn’t for just one reason, there were multiple factors working together – money, ability, the positional depth, etc…
But let’s not make this about Jaylon. We’ve discussed it already and since it tends to be sensitive topic to a certain faction of Cowboys fans, let’s move past it. This is about the roster ramifications and who stands to gain from the situation.
The door has been cracked for Dallas Cowboys rookie linebacker Jabril Cox this season, will he walk through?
Even before recent events, the linebacker hierarchy was well established. Micah Parsons, Keanu Neal, and Leighton Vander Esch were/are your top-3 LBs. That much isn’t changing anytime soon, even if Parsons splits time at defensive end. It’s what comes after that’s worth discussing.
Jabril Cox, the Dallas Cowboys fourth round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, was a draftnik darling from Day One. Considered a top-50 prospect by many, Cowboys fans were enamored to acquire him at Pick 115. The dynamic linebacker out of LSU has a next generation skillset with unique coverage ability that makes him perfectly suited to be a star in today’s pass-happy NFL.
It was his tackling ability that raised concerns (and likely led to his slide in the draft). From 2019-2020 he had a missed tackle rate of 12% (which is actually isn’t bad). But scouts say he’s not a natural attacker and leaves a lot of yards on the table when he plays the run. It’s likely his 6-foot-3, 233lbs build is a little lean for the demands of the position and he’ll need to bulk up before he can put his run-stopping concerns to bed.
Still, Cox answered critics throughout the preseason. He graded out as one of the top defensive rookies this year (not just on the Cowboys but in the entire NFL) and was doing it against the run and against the pass.
According to PFF, 35% of fourth round linebackers become starters. That may sound slim but those are pretty good odds compared to other positions. And when you factor in Cox’s ability to defend the pass from a variety of different places and against a variety of different opponents, you have to like his chances at beating those odds.
Clearly, this is not the plan in Year One. Dan Quinn is building something big here in Dallas and he’s leaning on a mix of veterans and rookies to do it. Not only will veterans like Neal and LVE get snaps over him, but the safety duo of Jayron Kearse and (eventually) Donovan Wilson will also cut into his opportunities (There’s crossover between box safety and LB).
Cox is likely more long-term in Quinn’s vision, but that doesn’t mean Cox can’t carve out a role right now. With Jaylon Smith out of the picture, the door opens for someone like Jabril Cox. Cox now takes over the LB4 role, and keep in mind, Smith played 148 defensive snaps as the LB4 this season already. Granted, he did so because Parsons needed more time at defensive end and Keanu Neal was on the COVID IR, but such is the nature of the beast. It stands to reason opportunities like this are ahead for Cox just like they were for Smith.
Is it Jabril Cox szn? Maybe. The door has certainly been opened and opportunities are just around the corner.