The Dallas Cowboys signed fourth-round draft pick Kyle Wilber on Thursday and the rookie is expected to challenge Anthony Spencer and Victor Butler for the starting outside linebacker spot opposite DeMarcus Ware. Wilber’s is a four-year deal worth $2.539 million, including a $439,220 signing bonus, which already ensures he’ll be around longer than Spencer and Butler, who are both in the final years of their respective contracts.
The Cowboys only plan to keep one of these two players, which is primarily why Wilber was drafted. However, Wilber possesses a skill that makes him unique of all the other outside linebackers in Dallas – he can defend the pass.
Even Ware, the incredible pass-rusher who is believed by many to be the anchor of Dallas’ defense, is a subpar defender against the pass. The Cowboys allowed opposing running backs to catch 57 passes in the flats for 430 total yards last season and roughly 25 percent of those were Ware’s fault. Of those, almost three-fourths of them were simply blown coverages by the freaky athlete.
Wilber, however, is a fantastic defender against the pass, and that trait will earn him playing time during his rookie season and perhaps an eventual starting spot starting as early as 2013 if Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has anything to say about it.
“He’s a smart kid. He plays hard,” Ryan said. “He knows how to cover, which is a hard thing for an outside linebacker. All they do is rush in college. Well, this kid knows how to cover. He’s going to be a lot further advanced than most rookies are.”
As a team, the Cowboys turned in the worst performance in franchise history versus the pass in 2011, which is part of the reason Dallas selected Wilber in the 2012 NFL Draft. With Spencer struggling to live up to his former first-round selection status and still not signed to an extension, Wilber could be in line to win the starting spot opposite Ware for 2013 and beyond.
Of course, he’ll have to beat out Butler as well, which won’t be an easy task. However, Dallas would be wise to re-sign Butler and keep both players for the future as a one-two combo at outside linebacker. Wilber could come in for either Ware or Butler to cover the pass while the latter two could handle the pass-rushing duties. Wilber could easily win a starting spot outright if he’s as effective a pass rusher as he is a pass coverer, but that remains to be seen. Regardless, it makes the outside linebacker competition just as intriguing as the strong safety position battle.