Dallas Cowboys shore up LB position, select Leighton Vander Esch
The NFL draft may not have started how everyone originally saw it, but for the Dallas Cowboys, a popular name leading up to the draft became a reality once it was their turn at the 19th pick.
Leighton Vander Esch, the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year, is a remarkable story for a first-round draft pick. Out of high school, he was a no-star recruit and after not receiving any offers from a single FBS program, he decided to walk on at Boise State. He was a redshirt freshman in 2014, and didn’t become a full time starter until 2017. Yes, folks. That was last year, so you counted it up correctly. The Dallas Cowboys’ first round selection was on a guy with very limited reps and film.
But my how good that film looks. (See above)
He has been compared to former Chicago Bears linebacker, Brian Urlacher, who now resides in the Hall of Fame in Canton.
Is he the flashy pick? No.
The big time receiver like Calvin Ridley, Courtland Sutton or D.J. Moore to replace Dez Bryant? No.
The Cowboys almost landed a real big fish in Derwin James, who may have been the answer to the whole “will the Cowboys trade for Earl Thomas” question. Tremaine Edmunds, linebacker out of Florida State, was selected just two picks prior to the Cowboys. Vita Vea from Washingon would have been a force to add to the defensive line that already consists of DeMarcus Lawrence, David Irving and the young Taco Charlton.
Bottom line is the Cowboys needed to address one of the major weak spots in their defense, the linebacker position. They have Sean Lee, who when healthy, is as good of a linebacker as there is in the league, but has dealt with injuries throughout his career. Jaylon Smith, who will be heading into his third season (albeit he missed the entire first year of his career), continues to see improvement in his knee, but it’s still unknown what type of player they will get in the end.
They have Lee at weak side linebacker, and all signs point to Smith moving over to strong side. That leaves the middle of the field wide open, which is somewhere the Cowboys brass think “LVE” fits in.
As a full season starter, Vander Esch had a conference-best 141 tackles and three interceptions, earning Defensive Player of the Year in the Mountain West Conference. It’s pretty remarkable that a guy who comes from a small town and a high-school that played 8 man football walked on to a big time Boise State football program, put the defense on his back, and was drafted in the first round of the NFL draft.
One of the big red flags, aside from him having limited reps in college is his health. It was reported that one NFL team “medically flunked” Vander Esch, but it seems like the Cowboys don’t have concerns about his neck.
If he is just another addition to a linebacker core full of health concerns already, this could blow up.
If the Cowboys are correct in what they and the everyone else but that one NFL team see, this could be an absolute steal, and give the Cowboys a serious linebacker core to go along with a young and promising defensive line and secondary.
Stay tuned to see what else the Cowboys have in store for us when the second round of the draft kicks off tomorrow night at 6:00pm CST.
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