The Cowboys defense struggled immensely when Sean Lee wasn’t on the field last year. Second-year linebacker Jaylon Smith was, for all intent and purposes, just a rookie and has been gradually recovering from a serious knee injury. And Anthony Hitchens is rolling around in a bunch of money, courtesy of Kansas City Chiefs. With all the past struggles at the linebacker position, the front office is determined to make sure that madness doesn’t happen again.
The Cowboys took a big step to bolster their defense by selecting Boise State’s star linebacker Leighton Vander Esch with the 19th overall pick in the draft. With Vander Esch, the team was able to fill a big need on the roster by taking the super-freaky linebacker.
Many people will talk about him being a one-hit wonder as he’s only had one notable season, but boy was it a good one. Vander Esch was virtually unknown throughout most of his college career, but after a breakout season last year that included 141 tackles - everyone took notice. Vander Esch is a player on the rise.
He has drawn comparisons to Brian Urlacher, who Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli coached when he was with the Chicago Bears.
Leighton Vander Esch worked out at the Star and spent significant time with Sean Lee when he was here. They thought he was a Brian Urlacher 2.0 and DC Rod Marinelli coached Urlacher in Chicago #Cowboys— Jane Slater (@SlaterNFL) April 27, 2018
Vander Esch has great athleticism and can blaze sideline-to-sideline to cover the field. He’s smart and can mirror the quarterback’s eyes. And when he messes up and over-pursues, he’s got the speed to recover. While a limited production sample has some people worried, this guy is just scratching the surface. Vander Esch has a lot of upside.
He was all over the field last season, leading the nation in run-stopping percentage. He also led the league in defensive stops (plays made close to the line of scrimmage). He grades out very well from Pro Football Focus.
Vander Esch is a big guy, standing 6-foot-4 and weighing 256 pounds. He’s got a wide frame and can swallow up ball carriers like a venus flytrap. His nose for the ball is apparent from his ridiculous production. Not only is he a great run-stopper, Vander Esch is also good in coverage. He moves around extremely well in the secondary and has great hands to knock down balls.
Vander Esch is in the “A” quadrant in the SPARQ/production chart as his production is matched by his great athleticism.
If you’re wondering where he fits with the Cowboys defense - don’t. He fits anywhere. Vander Esch is very versatile and can play any of the linebacker positions. He’s a three down linebacker and adds another level of talent to this defense.