With the 2022 NFL Draft still yet to come, the offseason is far from over for the Dallas Cowboys. Dallas, perpetually focused on cheap rookie contracts, prefers to focus on the draft for most of their roster needs. And only after the compensatory pick window has closed will they really attack free agency (which immediately follows the draft each year).
So the Cowboys still have plenty of time to address their needs on the defensive line and linebacker positions. But which area should take priority? Where should their focus go first these next few weeks?
Linebackers are largely at the mercy of the linemen in front of them so the Dallas Cowboys should prioritize the line before linebacker.
Linebackers are typically only as good as the players in front of them. If they are constantly taking on blocks from offensive linemen, chances are they aren’t going to find much success on the day. In a perfect world it’s the defensive linemen who will occupy and disrupt. This allows second level players to lean on their speed and athleticism to make plays.
Pro Football Focus looked at this very topic earlier in the year. They broke down what happens on perfectly blocked plays vs imperfectly blocked plays (aka plays that were disrupted by defenders). The findings were unsurprising. When a play was perfectly blocked, the defense only won 39.8% of the time. When a play was not perfectly blocked the defense stopped the run 74.3% of the time.
The Dallas Cowboys happened to have LB league leaders in both categories. Micah Parsons was one of the most successful run-stoppers in the NFL when a play was perfectly blocked. He was so unstoppable even a perfectly executed play was vulnerable to No. 11.
Leighton Vander Esch was on the other side of the spectrum. He was a league leader when playing behind a disruptive defensive line. LVE was fifth in the NFL in stop rate against not perfectly blocked runs.
With both Parsons and LVE returning for 2022, the Dallas Cowboys could go a number of ways in addressing their interior defensive line. They could invest in a big NT to occupy blockers and disrupt. This would play to LVE’s strengths and allow him to be a force against the run.
Or the Dallas Cowboys could embrace their transcendent second year man, Micah Parsons, and let him clean up the mess in front of him. After all, his 10.3% stop rate against perfectly blocked runs was third in the NFL last year.
One thing is clear, the Dallas Cowboys probably shouldn’t be investing more premium picks in the linebacker position until they’ve addressed their issues on their interior defensive line. Players like LVE who thrive with disruptive DTs in front of them are far more common than players like Parsons who can be effective in any circumstance.
Linebackers are the running backs of the defense. Their talents usually only matter if the play around them gives them opportunities so use said talent. Apply this how you see fit but just know that upgrading the LB position without addressing DT stands to be a waste of resources.
For as much as we like the future of Osa Odighizuwa and Neville Gallimore, something must be done at the 1-tech spot next to them.