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2018 NFL draft grade: Judging the Cowboys selection of Leighton Vander Esch

The Cowboys took Leighton Vander Esch in the first round, now it’s time to grade the pick.

Las Vegas Bowl - Boise State v Oregon Photo by David Becker/Getty Images

If you have been paying attention to the reporting and rumors on the Dallas Cowboys the past few weeks, you probably aren’t surprised that they wound up picking Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch at 19. His name has been circulating for some time as the leading candidate given how the draft was expected to play out. Although there were some unexpected developments before Dallas went on the clock, they apparently went with their board.

So was this a good pick? It was not as exciting as what might have been. For a while, it looked like safety Derwin James might fall all the way to the Cowboys, but the Los Angeles Chargers took him at 17, just two picks ahead of Dallas. Had the Cowboys not won that last totally meaningless game of last season . . .

But that is water under the bridge. The important thing is that the pick has been made, so what does Dallas have?

The best case scenario for LVE (as he is almost certainly going to be referred to) is if the recent comp to Brian Urlacher turns out to be at all accurate. There is no question that LVE is capable of playing all three downs and can work in all three positions. His strongest place may be at the MIKE, where Jaylon Smith was projected as the starter. And the team may have tipped their plans with the discussions previously of having Smith work at the SAM spot. The Cowboys use only two linebackers on most downs, but Smith did seem to have his best games when he was not carrying a heavy workload. And there has also been some discussion that the growing use of RPOs and more mobile quarterbacks may mean that there is going to be a higher priority on having three LBs on the field.

Here is the overview of him from’s draft page.

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.

What was interesting was that, despite so many who were mocking wide receivers to Dallas, they didn’t take one. As a matter of fact, by the time they went on the clock, no WRs were taken, and D.J. Moore was the first to go, at 24 to the Carolina Panthers. The idea of waiting until day two (at least) to address that position looks to be a pretty strong one at the moment.

That is part of “opportunity costs” and with it looking likely that there will still be plenty of good wide receiver candidates later, the pick of LVE looks better. The Cowboys also still need to address guard (the lack of OT talent makes taking one and moving La’el Collins look like a poor idea), defensive tackle, and safety, but a lot of possible names for Dallas have survived so far, and they may have a better set of options at 50 tomorrow than we thought - plus that Earl Thomas trade is still a possibility.

The only defensive option that the team passed up at 19 that seemed more appealing was DE Harold Landry, and at the moment, the Cowboys look stronger there than they did at LB going into the draft.

So what is the grade for the pick?

I give it a B.

Solid, not spectacular, and sets the team up for the later rounds. And remember as much distress as there was last year when Taco Charlton was the first-round pick, the team went on to take Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, and Xavier Woods afterwards. They were set up by the first-round pick, and if Dallas can do similarly the next couple of days, that B may get moved up a tad to a B+ or even an A-.

What do you think?


What is your grade for the Cowboys taking Leighton Vander Esch at 19?

This poll is closed

  • 30%
    Great, solid A, I love this guy.
    (2306 votes)
  • 50%
    Not bad, I see how it helps the team, so I go with a B, too.
    (3771 votes)
  • 12%
    Pure meh for me. C.
    (908 votes)
  • 3%
    This is not good. D.
    (225 votes)
  • 3%
    (236 votes)
7446 votes total Vote Now

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