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Cowboys season in review: LB Leighton Vander Esch

How did Leighton Vander Esch perform in his rookie year?

NFL: NFC Wild Card-Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

In this offseason series, we will be taking a look at some of the Cowboys key contributors to see how they did in the 2018 season. Kicking off this offseason series is WILL linebacker and second-year player, Leighton Vander Esch.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys-Minicamp Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The start: Coming out of Boise State, Vander Esch was physical freak that had barely scratched the surface at Boise before declaring for the NFL draft. The day Leighton Vander Esch was drafted, there were many Cowboys fans (including myself) who were not very happy with the Cowboys first-round pick. It took awhile for anyone to feel good about the pick after a rough start to training camp that was filled with injuries and lack of positive reviews coming out of Oxnard. It didn’t take long for that all to change. Once Vander Esch got on the field, it was hard to imagine a scenario with him off of it.

Best Game: Week 9 @ Philadelphia Eagles - This was a tough decision to make with all the good games Vander Esch had in 2018. Not only was this game his top game statistically, but when you turn on the tape, it’s incredible just how good the Boise State rookie was against the Philadelphia Eagles in a must win game. In the Cowboys 27-20 win, Vander Esch recorded 13 tackles (all solo), one tackle for loss, and an interception. Vander Esch’s tackle for loss in this game was one of his best plays of the 2018 season.

Worst Game: NFC Conference Championship @ Los Angeles Rams - After a great rookie-season, and solid Wild Card performance, Vander Esch and the Cowboys hit a brick wall in their 30-22 loss to the Los Angeles Rams in LA. While this was by far the worst game of his career, the same could be said for almost every player on the defensive side of the ball. Vander Esch struggled with his pursuit angles, tackling, and struggled to get off blocks at the second-level which led to the Rams 273-yard, three-touchdown performance on the ground.

2019 Role: After an incredible 11-start rookie-season, it’s no surprise that Leighton Vander Esch is already being talked about as one of the best young defenders in the NFL. After reaching his first Pro Bowl in 2018, he will be looking to do the same in 2019 as the teams starting WILL linebacker. Vander Esch performed so well in 2018, that he pushed a healthy, but aging, Sean Lee to a new position (SAM) and earned the starting WILL LB job with his play in 2019. With Vander Esch earning the starting WILL linebacker spot, and with Jaylon Smith holding down duties as the MIKE, the Cowboys will have one of the best linebacker trios in the NFL with Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith, and Sean Lee.

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