Everyone has their particular misgivings about this Dallas Cowboys team, whether they fall on the players, coaches, or organizational staff. Given how they started this season, your complaints are probably well-justified.
However, there is one particular thing that this organization has proven they are capable of doing exceptionally well and have been doing so for many years.
When it comes to drafting new talent, the Dallas Cowboys are one of the best in the business.
Couple that with a few risky gambles they’ve made on certain players that have paid off, and the end result has become arguably one of the best defensive units in the league. Here is a short list of the factors that have played into how the long-term development of the defensive unit has culminated into a top-tier unit this season:
A second-round gamble on Randy Gregory, despite his off-field issues,
The team’s investment in a seriously-injured Jaylon Smith,
The repositioning of Byron Jones,
Key defensive talent drafted outside of the first round since 2015 (namely Gregory, Collins, Brown, and Woods), and
First-round success in Jones, Awuzie and Vander-Esch.
2018 team defensive stat totals through Week 14
568 tackles, 238 assists, 35 sacks, 11 forced fumbles.
- 2015 draft class (Randy Gregory, Byron Jones, Damien Wilson)- 56 tackles, 11 assists, 6 sacks, 2 forced fumbles.
- 2016 draft class (Jaylon Smith, Maliek Collins, Anthony Brown, Kavon Frazier)- 119 tackles, 52 assists, 9 sacks, 3 forced fumbles.
- 2017 draft class (Chidobe Awuzie, Taco Charlton, Jourdan Lewis, Xavier Woods,)- 95 tackles, 28 assists, 1 sack, 2 forced fumbles.
- 2018 draft class (Leighton Vander-Esch, Dorance Armstrong)- 87 tackles, 32 assists, 0.5 sacks, 0 forced fumbles.
This list accounts for 63% of all tackles made this season, and Vander-Esch and Smith by themselves account for about half of that. Think about that for one second- a player who was widely considered to have had played his last game due to a career-ending injury just three years ago, and a rookie who was the third at his position to come off the draft board- are two of the highest rated players on this Cowboys defense this year, and are both now playing at an All-Pro level. Fans criticized the team for both picks as well, considering Jaylon was a massive gamble as a second-round pick, and wide receiver Calvin Ridley was available to the Cowboys at 19 where Vander-Esch was taken instead. Man, do we love our Boise State players, or what?
The team’s defensive stats on the year so far sit mostly right around league average. However, one particular stat not mentioned above is the team’s interception stats, which also rest right at average. Dallas has eight picks on the year, where the league so far is averaging seven and players listed above account for six out of those eight. Now here is where the numbers jump off the page: In those eight interceptions, the Cowboys have returned the ball downfield for 141 yards.
The league average for yards off interceptions is 53 yards.
When you consider Dallas’ defense was one of the worst units in the league at creating turnovers not too long ago, these numbers are massive. And they have done an exceptional job of getting the offense back on the field in advantageous field position, and done more than their part in raising this team out of the depths at 3-5 to the season.
Dallas has taken a number of chances on players and invested in places where others would not, and it has paid massive dividends for them this season.
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