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What anonymous NFL sources had to say about Cowboys selection Leighton Vander Esch

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Trying to get the real skinny on LVE.

NFL: NFL Draft Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes, when you really want to know what NFL executives, scouts and other front-office personnel think about a player, you have to give them anonymity. People in the NFL generally don’t want to go on record with any real analysis or criticisms, especially about a player on another team. One day that player could be playing for them via trade or free agency.

So if you really want to know what they think, let them speak off the record. That's what ESPN and Bob McGinn did concerning the draft. We’re mostly going to focus on what they had to say about first-round pick Leighton Vander Esch.

But first, over at ESPN, we’ll drop this nugget about draft strategy for the Cowboys.

There was no Cowboys trade for Seattle safety Earl Thomas. There was no mad dash to acquire a first-round wide receiver after Dez Bryant’s release, no scrambling for the top tight end after news broke that Jason Witten could retire. Instead, Dallas used its first-round pick for Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch despite some injury concerns.

Once the Witten news broke, it appeared as though Philadelphia might have outflanked its NFC East rival by trading ahead of Dallas to select tight end Dallas Goedert.

”The piece we are all forgetting is that Dallas has that Baylor basketball player [Rico Gathers] stashed away on their roster the last two years, and he had that really big preseason last year and then went on IR,” an exec said. “They have him coming back, so maybe in their minds, tight end is not as big a need as we all are evaluating it to be.”

Maybe that is the case! Read Tom Ryle’s excellent takedown of all the misinformation about the Cowboys draft strategy if you haven’t already.

Okay, on to LVE. As noted below, no one really had a criticism of the LVE pick among the anonymous NFL people they talked to.

There were no serious complaints about the 6-foot-4, 256-pound Vander Esch.

”Some have said he doesn’t have any pop,” an insider said. “That is OK. The league is holding three days of meetings in New York to take the head out of the game. They might get rid of the kickoff. This game is changing. [Vander Esch] can make a million plays in the pass game as maybe the best zone linebacker in the draft. Go find guys who play in space because the game is space.”

The game is faster than ever, and having linebackers who can cover, and run down ball-carriers, is more important than ever.

Bob McGinn has been doing his series on draft prospects using anonymous NFL scouts and other personnel for a long time. He’s now doing it at his own site, and had this information on LVE.

Vander Esch, the other giant [besides Tremaine Edmunds], outperformed [Brian] Urlacher at the combine: vertical jump (39 ½ inches to 34), broad jump (10-4 to 10-2), short shuttle (4.15 seconds to 4.30) and 3-cone (6.88 to 6.94). Urlacher bested Vander Esch in the 40 (4.62 to 4.65), the 60-yard shuttle (11.10 to 11.57), the bench press (27 reps to 20) and the Wonderlic (he had 28).

Vander Esch scored a 24 on the Wonderlic, which is still very good. Vander Esch was rated the fourth linebacker, behind Rashaan Evans, in this poll.

The dominance of the “Big Four” [Roquan Smith, Tremaine Edmunds, Rashaan Evans and LVE] was reflected in the results of a poll in which 13 executives in personnel listed their top seven best linebackers. A first-place vote was worth 7 points, a second-place vote was worth 6 and so on.

Edmunds edged Smith in points, 84-83, thanks in part to a 7-5 margin in first-place votes. Evans drew the other first.

Also with double-digit point totals were Evans (65), Vander Esch (49), Texas’ Malik Jefferson (28), Brigham Young’s Fred Warner (12), South Carolina State’s Darius Leonard (11) and Ohio State’s Jerome Baker (10).

They had this to say about LVE specifically.

“I thought you could put him outside and he might be able to take a tight end out of the game for you,” said one scout. “If you’ve got a guy like ‘Gronk’ (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. He’s not quick. Tad bit of a strider.”

“One-year player,” said a second scout. “Had some medical issues. He’s got up side. He’ll have to work on his strength and his block take-on and shedding and some balance. But plays hard, makes a lot of plays, got great range. He can play in coverage and can play against the run.”

We’ve been noting that LVE’s one big drawback is his ability to take on blocks and be strong at the point of attack. He used his athleticism a lot in college to get around blocks. In the NFL, he’s going to have to work on his technique in delivering a blow to the blocker then shedding him to make the tackle. Otherwise, the guy looks like he’s ready to go. He can cover, and he can most definitely play sideline-to-sideline.