The Dallas Cowboys have a linebacker problem. Anthony Hitchens, who has been an important player filling both the Mike and Will positions through his four-year career, is an unrestricted free agent. With the other priorities the Cowboys have, and all the cap space available throughout the league, he is likely to be wearing another team’s uniform (joining his former position coach in Indianapolis, perhaps). Kyle Wilber has been a utility man himself, playing all three linebacker positions as well as some defensive end and special teams. He also has an expiring contract.
The front end of the Cowboys’ linebacker depth chart looks great, with all-pro Sean Lee and former second-round pick Jaylon Smith nearing full health. But without Hitchens, the rest of the group looks shaky at best. Damien Wilson has been unreliable, both on the field and off. Justin March-Lillard and Travon Johnson are special teams guys on the fringe of the roster.
While the team will probably acquire some insurance for the position in free agency next month, the real way it will upgrade this part of the team is through the draft.
Many people have discussed the idea of the Cowboys selecting Roquan Smith or Tremaine Edmunds in the first round, with some — Dane Brugler of NFL Draft Scout — advocating a trade up to do so. But since we’re looking for depth — more precisely, a third linebacker who can fill in after a possible (read: probable) injury to Sean Lee, or even Jaylon Smith — the search for linebackers should focus on the middle rounds of the draft.
Fred Warner, BYU
At about 6-4 and 235 pounds, Warner brings the size and athleticism the Cowboys look for in their linebackers, giving him the ability to play both the Mike and the Will. He played a lot as an overhang defender at BYU, splitting the difference between the offensive line and the slot receiver while serving as the contain player against the run. He also had significant run responsibilities. He has the ability to diagnose, chase, and finish both between the tackles and in space.
Another nice play by Warner, doesn't overreact to the Jet action, plays through the outside shoulder of the TE's block, sheds him quickly and closes for the TFL. pic.twitter.com/whEQuX1Tob
— Joey Ickes (@JoeyIckes) February 10, 2018
Jack Cichy, Wisconsin
If not for an unfortunate set of unrelated injuries over the last two seasons, Cichy would likely not be on this list — he’d be projected much higher than the third or fourth round. At 6-1 and 234 pounds, Cichy’s 2016 tape was first-round worthy. He flies to the ball, gets off blocks, and finishes plays with authority. The 2016 pec injury and 2017 ACL injury will be worth examining for sure, but if he checks out, he would be an upgrade from Hitchens as the third linebacker in Dallas.
Jack Cichy avoids James Daniels like it's nothing, then makes the tackle. Textbook. pic.twitter.com/9i2vyx8ZRV
— Connor (@ConnorNFLDraft) February 21, 2018
Kenny Young, UCLA
At about 6-1 and 226 pounds, Young is the smallest player on this list, but he brings athleticism in spades. The first team All-Pac-12 linebacker from UCLA plays from sideline to sideline, but isn’t afraid to mix it up inside as well. A modern-day NFL linebacker who plays well going backward in coverage and coming downhill against the run, Young would be a great addition to the Cowboys’ linebacker corps and would make plays early in his career.