Although linebacker isn’t a huge weakness for the Dallas Cowboys, they can use some depth; here are six prospects for them in the 2017 NFL Draft
The hope for the Dallas Cowboys is that their linebacker corps will be a strength in 2017. The biggest reason for that is the anticipation of pairing their Pro Bowl outside linebacker, Sean Lee, with their 2016 second-round pick, Jaylon Smith. Smith should be manning the middle linebacking spot for Big D.
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Smith was considered a top-five pick based on his talent and production while playing for Notre Dame. He slipped into round two due to a devastating knee injury which he suffered in January as the Fighting Irish played against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. A torn ACL and LCL was bad enough, but the nerve damage which followed was the biggest concern. That damage also led to him taking a redshirt approach to his rookie season.
Now Smith feels ready to go, and he and Lee could be an explosive combo. They also feature the promising Damien Wilson and versatile Anthony Hitchens. While the Cowboys would feel comfortable starting Smith, Lee and either Hitch or Wilson, they can use some depth. It also wouldn’t hurt to find a guy capable of fighting for a starting spot along side their star player and young prospect.
Here is a look at six guys they may want to take a long look at in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Nov 21, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Temple Owls defensive lineman Haason Reddick (58) dives to make a tackle on Memphis Tigers wide receiver Jae’lon Oglesby (19) during the first half at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
1. Haason Reddick, OLB — Temple
Hassan Reddick is climbing boards quickly after becoming a solid player in his fourth season for the Temple Owls. Recorded 22.5 tackles for a loss and 9.5 sacks as a senior showing his ability to make impact plays.
Height: 6-2 Weight: 237 pounds Career Tackles: 149 Career Sacks: 17.5 Career Interceptions: 1
What the Scouts Say:
Reddick is a quick athlete that was seen as a leader on the field for Temple. His size isn’t ideal, but really shouldn’t be a problem. Well respected scouts like Dane Brugler of CBS Sports like the athleticism shown by the senior linebacker:
Finely tuned athlete with coordinated movement skills. Masterfully controls his throttle in space to break down and finish ballcarriers. Flexible to drop his pads and turn the corner around edge blockers. Initial burst to attack gaps and squeeze into the backfield.
The biggest issue with Reddick will be his technique. He missed 16 tackles and even had some issues staying on the field. Still, he’s one of the more exciting linebacking prospects in the draft.
Does he Fit in Dallas?
Reddick is going to be one of the first linebackers off the board in the 2017 NFL Draft. That means that he would probably be gone by the time Dallas picks. However, should he be there at No. 28, it still seems unlikely that they would pull the trigger. While Reddick has shown some pass rushing skills, the Cowboys would prefer a more traditional pass rusher with the kind of pick it would take to acquire the Temple product.
Jan 24, 2017; Mobile, AL, USA; North squad running back De’Veon Smith of Michigan (44) catches a pass against inside linebacker Connor Harris of Lindenwood (16) during practice at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Glenn Andrews-USA TODAY Sports
2. Connor Harris, ILB — Lindenwood
Never heard of Connor Harris? Not many have unless you happen to be a fan of the Lindenwood Lions of the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association. The Division II player spent five seasons (one redshirt season) playing all over the field. He amassed an unreal amount of tackles but also contributed as a running back, a punter (yes a punter) and even ran a kick back for good measure.
Height: 5-11 Weight: 241 pounds Career Tackles: 633 Career Sacks: 8.5 Career Interceptions: 6
What the Scouts Say:
He’s a hard nose, throwback kind of a player. It wouldn’t be hard to see Harris wearing the leather helmet and running around with the players of the old days where one guy played several positions. Just because he was active all over the field doesn’t mean he’s a gadget player. He’s also not a weak player despite playing in a small conference, as highlighted by an anonymous college scouting director in Lance Zierlein’s NFL draft profile.
“He’s a good player. He’s a Division I player who happens to play Division II. I don’t think he ever gets tired because he is always in on plays or right there next to them.”
Does he Fit in Dallas?
The Cowboys typically don’t draft small school players. The reason for that is because they’ve been burnt by this in the past. A guy performs well in a small arena and then freezes in the spotlight of America’s Team. Harris, however, doesn’t appear to be that type of guy. He seems like he should have a long NFL career ahead of him, but thanks to his background it probably won’t be in Dallas.
Nov 5, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers linebacker Kendell Beckwith (52) tackles Alabama Crimson Tide running back Damien Harris (34) during the second half of a game at Tiger Stadium. Alabama defeated LSU 10-0. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
3. Kendell Beckwith, ILB — LSU
A hard-hitter who won’t offer much more than being a run stuffer in the NFL, Kendell Beckwith earned first-team All-SEC honors during his senior season, but saw that year end with a torn ACL. He has a cousin and brother who both played college football, proving football is in his blood. He could be a steal for a team who wants a talented run defender in the middle rounds as his injury might force him to slip a bit.
Height: 6-2 Weight: 252 pounds Career Tackles: 263 Career Sacks: 7.5 Career Interceptions: 1
As of now, Beckwith has the outlook of a two-down backer with the likelihood of being rarely used in pass coverage. Even with that drawback, depending on system, Beckwith is a a solid third or fourth rounder currently and may be a better fit in a 3-4 system.
He’s reminiscent of middle linebacker Rolando McClain, but with no evidence of being a dunderhead. He also doesn’t have the cover skills of McClain, but offers that middle of the defense enforcer type of play. He would be a nice fit in Big D in such a role on first and second downs while giving way to more athletic players on third down. Beckwith wouldn’t be a bad selection at all for them if he could be had in Round 4. But without being a three-down guy, it wouldn’t make much sense to select him with a higher pick than that.
Sep 5, 2015; Nashville, TN, USA; Tennessee Volunteers linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin (21) reacts after sacking Bowling Green Falcons quarterback Matt Johnson (11) during the second quarter against the Bowling Green Falcons at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
4. Jalen Reeves-Maybin, OLB/ILB — Tennessee
Tennessee linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin was fantastic for the Volunteers as a junior, but his final season in Knoxville was a letdown. He fought shoulder issues during his senior year and played in just four games, recording only 20 tackles. His rough year could lead to him falling a little later in the draft than he would’ve had he gone pro following his third season in the NCAA.
Height: 6-0 Weight: 230 pounds Career Tackles: 240 Career Sacks: 8 Career Interceptions: 1
In a vacuum, he has the instincts, athletic ability and cover talent of a starting, three-down linebacker. If he regains full health he could be a steal, but he might need another year of rehab work and working with strength coaches to bulk up to NFL standards.
The Twitter account The Football Bible has a nice short video of highlights from the linebackers time with the Vols for those who haven’t seen him perform on the field:
Reeves-Maybin is a great fit for Dallas. Not only is he ideal for the Tampa 2 defense as stated earlier, but he’s also a talented player who could fall due to injury. Dallas has won drafting those kind of players before like with linebacker Sean Lee and Bruce Carter. They hope to be doing the same this season with Jaylon Smith returning. Could it be a trifecta with Reeves-Maybin? Not the worst idea ever.
Nov 12, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans linebacker Riley Bullough (30) reacts to a play on Rutgers Scarlet Knights running back Josh Hicks (8)(not pictured) during the first half of a game at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
5. Riley Bullough, ILB — Michigan State
The younger brother of Houston Texans backup linebacker Max Bullough, Riley Bullough is the fifth in his family to play for the Michigan State Spartans. His grandfather, father, uncle, and brother all played there before him, and he hopes to join the NFL like his grandpa and brother. This is a serious football family and all members in it are tough as nails.
Height: 6-2 Weight: 227-Pounds Career Tackles: 154 Career Sacks: 5 Career Interceptions: 2
What the Scouts Say:
He’s praised for his smarts, which isn’t hard to believe considering the football lineage. However he is limited when it comes to his physical and athletic abilities according to Charlie Campbell of Walter Football:
Bullough was a steady run defender for the Spartans in 2015 as he totaled 106 tackles with 7.5 for a loss, four sacks, two interceptions and two passes broken up. Like his older brother Max, Riley Bullough looks limited in terms of speed and athleticism for the NFL.
Does he Fit in Dallas?
Bullough isn’t going to pass the eyeball test. He weighs less than 230 pounds and struggled to stay on the field during his time at MSU. He also isn’t likely to blow people away with his performance at the Combine. What he can be though is a solid special teams player who can be found late in the draft, or possibly in undrafted free agency.
Dec 17, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; San Diego State Aztecs quarterback Ryan Agnew (9) is pressured by Houston Cougars linebacker Steven Taylor (41) in the second quarter during the 25th Las Vegas Bowl at Sam Boyd Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
6. Steven Taylor, ILB/OLB — Houston
Who says edge rushing has to come from the defensive end position? Houston linebacker Steven Taylor spent time at both outside and inside linebacker for the Cougars and excelled at both. While he racked up a ton of tackles, he really drew praise for his ability to effectively blitz and record sacks at a pace equal to many defensive ends.
Height: 6-1 Weight: 225 pounds Career Tackles: 331 Career Sacks: 26.5 Career Interceptions: 4
What the Scouts Say:
Scouts love that Taylor is a team leader that started for four years in Houston. The Cougars transformed a lot during his time there, and Taylor played a big role in that. However, he isn’t a top prospect by any means and hopes to transition to the NFL despite having some flaws to his game. The biggest issue with Taylor will be defining his role. As Jon Dove from With the First Pick points out, he isn’t exactly defined by one position:
It’s important to note that Taylor isn’t a 3-4 linebacker who will generate pressure with his speed. He’s more of a moving chess piece capable of putting himself in proper position. – Jon Dove, With The First Pick
The Cowboys don’t like to blitz, so it seems like a blitzing linebacker would be a no. Yet the idea of spending a sixth- or seventh-round pick on a guy who recorded 30.5 tackles for a loss and 18.5 sacks in the past two years alone seems like a worth while gamble. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli uses his players like chess pieces in an attempt to derail offenses and Taylor was called a chess piece by Dove in his scouting report on Taylor. The simple truth is you can never have enough pass rushers, and Dallas should due their due diligence on all of them including a late rounder like Taylor.