When the Cowboys drafted Leighton Vander Esch in the first round of the 2018 NFL draft, there were mixed opinions among the pundits and fans.
Some applauded the pick, noting his outstanding athleticism and elite production in 2017. He was seen as an ascending player who would only get better.
He also fit a need for the Cowboys. Dallas had two talented linebackers already on the roster, but each came with a caveat. Sean Lee is one of the best in the business, but he has a hard time staying on the field. Jaylon Smith is supremely talented, but can he ever get back to what he was before his major injury in his college bowl game? It was all kind of okay as long as they had Anthony Hitchens, but he went bye-bye in free agency. They needed a linebacker.
For those who didn’t like the pick, it generally fell along two interconnected lines. One, the pick at #19 was too high for the player. They could have gotten better value at that spot, or attempted to trade out and still get LVE later. The other thinking was a position like guard or wide receiver was as big a need, and there were some very talented players the Cowboys passed on at those positions to pick LVE.
There is sound reasoning in all of that. But now that the draft is over, and you look back, there are two very good reason the Cowboys picked LVE.
Those reasons are Saquon Barkley and Derrius Guice.
The NFC East looks like it’s going to be the home of some very talented running games, and the Cowboys need to be ready.
Barkely is like Ezekiel Elliott. He is a star in the making, a guy you can build an offense around. And you can bet the Giants will do that. They drafted Will Hernandez, a bull of a run blocker. They also have Dave Gettleman as their new GM; he ran the Panthers for a few years and they were definitely known as a running team.
The Giants leading rusher last year was Orleans Darkwa with 751 yards. They also only had six rushing touchdowns last year. They ranked 26th in the league in rushing yards. You can bet that is all about to change with Barkley on board.
While Guice may not be Elliott or Barkely, he should give Washington a true threat at running back. He might have fallen down draft boards because of some off-field behavioral issues, but he has first-round talent. He is a big back with a violent running style, but he is also athletic - think Marshawn Lynch.
Last year, Washington's leading runner was Samaje Perine with 603 yards. They ranked 28th in rushing yards had one of the worst yards per attempt averages in the league.
The Philadelphia Eagles were already a good rushing team, now the other two teams in the division should also be greatly improved in the ground game. It’s a good thing the Cowboys added Leighton Vander Esch.