Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said during this past offseason that he had never seen one side of the ball flipped like what they were able to do this year. They signed seven new defensive free agents, while eight of their 11 draft picks were dedicated to that side of the ball – including their first six picks being defensive players.
At the quarter mark of the season here’s a chance for us to put together an early ranking of their top five free-agent additions.
- Malik Hooker
The Dallas Cowboys signed Hooker during training camp in hopes of adding the instinctive ball hawk the Indianapolis Colts drafted with the 15th pick in the 2017 draft. Hooker has yet to force any turnovers for Dallas but he has added an extra body at safety that has allowed Dan Quinn to expand his playcalls. Hooker has six tackles and one pass defended since being activated against the Los Angeles Chargers.
- Tarell Basham
Basham recorded his first sack of the season Sunday against the Carolina Panthers and has been apart of a unit looking to replace the production of its best defensive end – DeMarcus Lawrence. Basham played 62% of the snaps against the Panthers and has been a productive force in his opportunities on the field. He has managed seven tackles thus far in the season.
- Keanu Neal
Neal was an exciting addition the moment Dallas decided to bring him on board. Neal missed most of 2018 with a torn ACL in his left knee and then was out almost all of 2019 after tearing his left Achilles tendon. The 25-year-old played 15 games last season. Dallas decided to move him from his traditional role at safety to linebacker this season where he has blossomed. Though he has missed the previous two games due to COVID, Neal’s present has resulted in a severe snap decrease for Leighton Vander Esch and gave Dallas the confidence to move on from Jaylon Smith.
Neal is set to return Sunday against the New York Giants. He has recorded nine tackles in two games this season.
- Damontae Kazee
Dallas has been trying to figure out the safety position since the days of Darren Woodson and Roy Williams. Damontae Kazee is another player that followed Quinn over from Atlanta and he has been a missile at free safety. Kazee has a forced fumble and an interception so far on the season, displaying his playmaking ability. Those were the types of plays the Cowboys did not make last season, as they were one of the worst in franchise history.
- Jayron Kearse
Jayron Kearse may have a case as the most surprising offseason addition that has translated to production on the field. Kearse, who nearly had two interceptions, one of which was negated by a penalty, has been a major surprise since joining Dallas. He has shown versatility playing both safety spots and some as a nickel cornerback, which has allowed the defense to get the best guys on the field.
Kearse’s 6’4 frame also allows him to play some big dime linebacker. Kearse notched six tackles (five solo) during Sunday’s win over the Panthers.
Kearse hasn’t reached double-digit stops since Week 1, but he has combined for a total of 17 tackles in the Cowboys’ last three games. As long as Donovan Wilson (groin) remains sidelined, Kearse will be in the mix as a potential starter.
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