The Dallas Cowboys have a logjam at linebacker and former Pro Bowler Jaylon Smith may be the odd man out when it comes to being a starter in 2021. The Athletic’s Jon Machota predicts Smith will not secure one of the three starting linebacker spots. Machota has Keanu Neal, Micah Parsons and Leighton Vander Esch ahead of Smith in his projected depth chart.
“We’re not allowed to report which players are working with which teams, so we won’t break any rules here,” Machota said of his projections. “But from what I’ve seen since the first training camp practice on July 22 through Wednesday, here’s an educated guess on what the Cowboys’ two-deep could be for Week 1.”
The talk heading into 2021 has been about a potential bounce-back season for Smith, but the linebacker has struggled in the early preseason games. Pro Football Focus gave Smith a 49.4 overall grade (out of a possible 100) through the first two preseason matchups. Smith’s coverage has been particularly bad with a 45.9 rating, but the linebacker fared better against the run with a 62.6 score along with a 59.3 pass-rushing number.
Smith’s grade has steadily declined since his impressive 84 score during the 2018 season. The Cowboys linebacker followed it up with a 70.2 in 2019 and 54.2 last season.
The Cowboys had a defensive-heavy draft in 2021 with a particular emphasis on linebackers. Dallas selected Micah Parsons (No. 11, first round) and Jabril Cox (No. 115, fourth round) with early picks. Parsons is already looking like the future cornerstone of the defense, but both players are expected to be part of the linebacker rotation.