After night one of the NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys were able to strengthen the middle of their defense when they picked Boise State standout linebacker, Leighton Vander Esch.
While not all of Cowboys Nation was happy with the pick, the media overall seems to think it was an ideal fit for what the Cowboys needed, and that there is still room for the Cowboys to get the other pieces they need tonight and tomorrow.
The Cowboys had the opportunity do land whatever wide receiver they wanted, as not one of them had fallen off the board by the time it was their pick. Perhaps, that is why they felt that going a different way made more sense. With the injuries they’ve had with Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith over the last couple of years, Vander Esch should allow the coaching staff to feel much more comfortable leading up to gameday each week. Plenty of wide receiver options still on the board for day two. Cowboys made the sensible early pick, which is something they are making a habit of over the last few years. Grade: A-
Vander Esch is a plug-and-play linebacker who can succeed Sean Lee as Dallas’ do-it-all guy. It was odd seeing Michael Irvin, Drew Pearson take the stage in dramatic fashion only to see the Cowboys pass on Dez Bryant’s replacement. Oh well, the Cowboys got a solid rookie. Grade: B
Vander Esch is a talented off-the-ball linebacker who can move on the outside and slip tackles inside to find the ball. Dallas needed to bolster the position, but should they have found a pass catcher here instead of a LB, given their dire need at WR? Vander Esch is a good pick, especially if his neck truly is not a problem. This draft will look even better if they secure a receiver on Friday night. Grade: B+
This is a steal. He will be a big-time star in their defense. Grade: A
One NFC team medically flunked Leighton Vander Esch, but as Charlie and I explained on the podcast, this didn’t mean that he wasn’t going to fall out of the first round. Teams have different medical opinions of players, and Dallas obviously has no issues with Vander Esch’s neck. If Vander Esch remains healthy, he’ll be a terrific player in a Dallas defense that has historically struggled mightily whenever Sean Lee has been injured. Lee being hurt now won’t be as problematic moving forward, which is a good thing.
I’d like the pick a lot more if there weren’t medical concerns about Vander Esch, but there’s a good chance his neck won’t be a problem, so I think this is a somewhat solid, albeit risky choice. Grade: B
The Cowboys love high-effort linebackers, and Vander Esch falls in line with Jaylon Smith and Sean Lee. Vander Esch also finishes as furiously as he pursues; he is built to cover a ton of ground, likely on the strong side. He was worth all the cheers for the home team of the draft. “First Round Winners”
A lot of people expected all along that if Vander Esch was available at No. 19 that he would be the pick for the Cowboys. Vander Esch is a great athlete who can patrol the middle of Dallas’ defense. He’s an asset in coverage with his ability to read the quarterback and make a break on the ball. A trio of Vander Esch, Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith is an imposing and athletic trio for the Cowboys. But does he make a bigger impact than a wide receiver like Calvin Ridley or D.J. Moore would? Grade: B
Vander Esch is an old-fashioned inside linebacker with just enough range to stay on the field on third downs. But the Cowboys are so needy at so many other positions that this is a luxury selection. Jerry Jones, as he so often does, drafted a guy with a lot of buzz instead of drafting the player the Cowboys really need.
At least the famous Cowboys bus and the Vander Esch bus can park side-by-side at team headquarters. Maybe they can even have bus races? The busses will be much quicker and faster than the Cowboys’ current batch of wide receivers. Grade: C-
Dallas’s biggest need is wide receiver, and every one of them was still on the board when they picked at No. 19. And yet, the team went with linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, which suggests it believes that Sean Lee—injury prone, 32 years old in July and a contract expiring in 2019—is nearing his end. If they don’t believe that Lee is almost done, this pick makes no sense with Jaylon Smith on the roster. In today’s NFL, where nickel defense is on the field around 60% of the time, you only need two high-quality linebackers. Vander Esch is a classic three-down ‘backer who started only one year in college. Most likely he’ll learn from Lee and then replace him. Good player, but the glaring need at wideout going unaddressed can’t be forgotten. Grade: C
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