With the 19th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys selected Leighton Vander Esch, linebacker from Boise State. When the Cowboys lost Anthony Hitchens in free agency, linebacker became a big need. Vander Esch is an athletic marvel, part of the new-breed of lighter, faster linebackers that can chase sideline-to-sideline. He should immediately slide into the rotation with Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith.
Vander Esch is a loose-hipped, instinctive linebacker who played in 2017 like he had a GPS tracker on the football. His production totals against both the run and pass are rare for being a first-year starter and with a frame that is primed for more muscle, his NFL ceiling is high. Vander Esch might benefit from a reduced role his rookie season while he improves his play strength and becomes more skilled at taking on blocks. He’s an every-down linebacker with very good starting potential and the talent to fill up a stat sheet.
Still learning to tap into his considerable physical skills after only one year as a starter, Vander Esch should only grow more comfortable both in pursuit and coverage over time.
You can get a full breakdown of LVE’s game from SB Nation at this link.
I watched three of Vander Esch’s 2017 games. (You can watch them yourself: against Virginia, BYU, and San Diego State.) Vander Esch is widely lauded for having sideline-to-sideline speed and being able to get to the perimeter quickly. But what jumps out to me is the power and speed with which he bursts through crevices in the offense.
Vander Esch is a large man. He measured 6’4 and 256 pounds at the combine, up from a playing weight of around 240 during his last season in Boise. That size is an asset, but he almost looks like he makes himself small — on purpose — to fit through holes and then charge after ball-carriers with speed. He reaches the backfield quickly:
Wide receiver: The Cowboys reeving corps struggled in 2017, and that was before they released Dez Bryant. Adding Allen Hurns helped, but they could still look for more firepower in a Dak-friendly offense.
Guard/Offensive line: Jonathan Cooper moved on, and the Cowboys didn't get a sure-fire replacement in free agency. There is still a discussion about moving La’el Collins back inside, so they need a guard or right tackle.
Linebacker: Anthony Hitchens was a solid part of the rotation, but he’s gone. Sean Lee is the main man but his injury history is a problem. Jaylon Smith is still tying to regain his form pre-injury. Dallas could use another piece here.
Defensive tackle: The Cowboys had to play Maliek Collins out of position for much of the year, and the run defense suffered for it. Collins was also not as effective as he was in 2016. A big 1-tech with 3-tech traits would be nice.
Cowboys draft picks:
(Round-pick in the round-overall pick)
1-19-19 Leighton Vander Esch
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