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Early national reactions: Cowboys get an 'A' for adding Leighton Vander Esch

Quick review of the late evening/early morning reactions to the Cowboys' first-round pick

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2018 NFL Draft Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

2018 NFL Draft Grades: Cowboys get an A for adding Leighton Vander Esch to defense -
CBS really likes the Cowboys' pick, givig the Cowboys one of just 7 "A's" for the night.

Grade: A

Pete Prisco: This is a steal. He will be a big-time star (or "Star") in their defense.

Cowboys believe they have a playmaker well-equipped for the middle of their defense - Joe Trahan,
Some lofty comparisons are already being drawn for LVE.

The Cowboys say Vander Esch was the highest rated player on their board when the picked him. The brain trust inside The Star believes he can be a playmaker along the lines of former Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, as well as former Cowboys linebacker Rolando McClain.

"This guy's got a very low floor and high ceiling," said Cowboys executive vice-president Stephen Jones. "He could be a 10-year starter. When you get that in the latter part of the first round that's a mouthful."

The Cowboys said they didn't even consider moving up to take Florida St. safety Derwin James, who was picked by the Chargers with the 17th pick.

"We were not tempted to move up," said Cowboys Jerry Jones.

NFL experts weigh in on Vander Esch - Marc Sessler,
Sessler offers three different takes on the LVE selection:

"Understand this dude is 20 pounds heavier than the rest of the upscale linebacker class. In the pass game, I think he's special. He's got eyes everywhere," said NFL Media draft guru Mike Mayock. "Just an outstanding football player. I hope the cervical neck issue is OK. I couldn't be happier for the young man."

Speaking with Bob McGinn of, one NFL scout said of Vander Esch, a walk-on at Boise State: "If you've got a guy like [Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski] and the linebacker has to take him down the seam, this guy can do it. He could cover 'Gronk' because he's big and strong, and he's tough. I didn't think he had inside instincts but this kid plays hard, is smart and will hit you."

"Against the run, he's quick to key/read and aggressively shoot gaps. He does a good job sorting through the trash to find the ball," wrote NFL Media draft expert Daniel Jeremiah. "... Vander Esch was one of the most productive players in the country this past season and should be an immediate starter at the next level."

Winners & losers, best & worst of first-round picks - Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News
Iyer counts LVE as one of the winners in the first round.

Leighton Vander Esch, for landing with Cowboys

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.

Cowboys NFL draft: Dallas goes D over WR with Leighton Vander Esch - Lorenzo Reyes, USA Today
Dallas had a need on the outside after dispatching Dez Bryant, but it instead chose to bolster its front seven with LVE.

At the time the Cowboys picked, a receiver hadn’t yet been selected, so they had their choice of the lot. Maryland’s DJ Moore (who went at No. 24 to the Carolina Panthers), Alabama’s Calvin Ridley (No. 26 to the Atlanta Falcons), SMU’s Courtland Sutton and Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk were all passed up.

Even with talent at linebacker with Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith on the roster, felt they needed another athletic difference maker at the position. Vander Esch also gives them flexibility given the questions facing both players.

Lee will turn 32 before the start of the season and has had durability concerns. Smith made his NFL debut in 2017 after an extensive rehab following a significant knee injury suffered in his final collegiate game on New Year’s Day in 2016. The Cowboys also lost Anthony Hitchens to the Kansas City Chiefs in free agency.

Dallas Cowboys' 2018 draft: Analysis for every selection - NFL Nation- ESPN
Todd Archer with his take on the ultra-productive LVE.

The Cowboys had their eyes on Vander Esch for some time. They had a private workout with him, and they brought him to The Star for a pre-draft visit. He was incredibly productive last season with 141 tackles, three interceptions and four sacks. With the loss of Anthony Hitchens to free agency and the injury questions around Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith, Vander Esch gives the Cowboys a ton of flexibility. While some teams might have had questions about Vander Esch’s neck following a 2016 injury, the Cowboys were not worried. At the start, he can play middle linebacker but he can play both the weak and strong sides. Not to raise expectations, but defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli had Brian Urlacher during his time with the Chicago Bears.

Cowboys' drafting of linebacker might be huge step toward Super Bowl - Rick Gosselin, SportsDay
Gosselin argues that the investment in the front seven could lead the Cowboys to the promised land.

The Philadelphia Eagles proved last year that championships can be won up front with dominating offensive and defensive fronts. Even if you are playing with your backup quarterback, if you can control the line of scrimmage, you can control your fate. Sound familiar? It was the same formula the Cowboys themselves used when they were winning three Super Bowls in the 1990s.

Jacksonville and Minnesota reached conference championship games last season with dominating defensive front sevens. The Vikings led the NFL in defense, the Jaguars finished second and the Eagles fifth. The Eagles led the NFL in run defense and the Vikings finished second. Steelers also won a division title with the NFL's best pass rush (56 sacks) and the NFL's fourth-ranked defense. The Jaguars had the second-best pass rush (55 sacks).

If Vander Esch can become the Pro Bowler that his fellow Boise Stater DeMarcus Lawrence has become, the Cowboys will have taken a huge step toward building that dominating defensive front seven they'll need to win another Super Bowl.

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