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Leighton Vander Esch Lands on List of NFL’s Top 10 Rookies

John Williams

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Leighton Vander Esch Lands on List of NFL's Top 10 Rookies

The Dallas Cowboys made an unsurprising -- if you were following all the pre-draft rumors -- move when they drafted Boise State University Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch with the 19th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. It was one of those picks where many analysts -- including me -- said, "fine player but not worth the 19th overall pick."

Well, the Dallas Cowboys just continue to do what the Dallas Cowboys do and that's hit on their early draft picks.

Leighton Vander Esch has caught the attention of national observers with his play in the first five weeks of the season. His 33 solo tackles are sixth in the NFL and he's only missed one tackle through the first five weeks. In total tackles, Vander Esch is only one behind Middle Linebacker Jaylon Smith, though Vander Esch has eight more solo tackles than Smith.

Pro Football Focus this week released their top 10 rookies at this point of the 2018 season and Leighton Vander Esch ranked second only to Cleveland Browns rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield.

Here's what Pro Football Focus' William Moy had to say about Vander Esch:

"Vander Esch continued his strong start as a professional with his best game so far in Week 5, earning an 83.5 overall grade against the Houston Texans. The Cowboys first-round pick ranks third among all linebackers this season in terms of overall grade, and he’s the only linebacker to currently own season grades of at least 80.0 in both run defense and coverage. Among the 52 linebackers who’ve made at least 10 tackles in run defense, Vander Esch ranks 10th with an average depth of tackle of just 2.38 yards. He’s also one of just 13 linebackers who has recorded at least 10 tackles in run defense without missing a tackle. In coverage, Vander Esch ranks fifth among linebackers with eight coverage stops. Out of the 55 linebackers who’ve spent at least 100 snaps in coverage this season, he ranks seventh, allowing either a first down or touchdown on just 35.3 percent of the catches into his coverage."

William Moy - Pro Football Focus

 

When Pro Football Focus released their grades for every first round draft pick, Vander Esch had the highest grade among the defensive players selected in the first round. Higher than highly regarded first round Linebackers Roquon Smith of the Chicago Bears and Tremaine Edmunds of the Buffalo Bills.

"Vander Esch played a career-high 80 snaps in Dallas’ overtime loss to the Houston Texans and put on a masterful display for the majority of the night. He accumulated a whopping 12 tackles, seven of which resulted in a defensive stop, and he ended the game with an elite run defense grade of 90.7 – the second-highest single-game mark by a linebacker this season."

Mark Chichester - Pro Football Focus

Leighton Vander Esch has had an excellent start to his NFL career and it seems like the Dallas Cowboys have found the eventual replacement for veteran All-Pro Linebacker Sean Lee as this team's weakside linebacker. In combination with Jaylon Smith in the middle of this defense, they are going to be a tremendously athletic and powerful duo for years to come.

 



Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could.

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Cowboys to Use 5th-Year Option on Ezekiel Elliott’s Contract

Jess Haynie

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Ezekiel Elliott, Rams

To nobody's surprise, the Dallas Cowboys intend to exercise the fifth-year option on star Running Back Ezekiel Elliott's contract. This will keep Zeke signed with the Cowboys through the 2020 season.

The deadline for teams to use the options years on the draft class of 2016 is Thursday, May 2nd, just a few days following the 2019 NFL Draft.

Jon Machota on Twitter

Cowboys VP Stephen Jones on the team eventually exercising the fifth-year option on Ezekiel Elliott's contract: "Obviously we're gonna do it.

It's appropriate that Stephen said "obviously," because there is no reason for the Cowboys not to utilize this provision. It's one of the perks of drafting a player in the first round; the option does not apply to any other rookie deals.

Right now, the 2020 option year projects to pay Elliott around $10 million. That is a bargain considering other franchise backs like Todd Gurley, Le'Veon Bell, and David Johnson are all now averaging $13-$14 million per season.

In fact, it may be more of a discount than Zeke is willing to give. He may very well holdout if the team doesn't give him a new contact closer to his market value.

For all we know, the Cowboys have every intention of doing just that. This move is little more than a formality; a placeholder that prevents Elliott from entering unrestricted free agency in 2020 and secures his rights while a new deal is negotiated.



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Connor Williams Adding Size and Strength Huge for Cowboys OL

John Williams

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All-22 Notes: Connor Williams Stands Out in Wild Card Win

It's no secret that heading into the 2018 NFL Draft, the book on Connor Williams coming out of Texas was that he didn't have enough length to play tackle in the NFL and didn't have enough bulk to play guard. At least not at first.

It was an issue we saw play out early in the 2018 season as he struggled with some of the more powerful defensive tackles. He struggled so much that the team went to Xavier Su'a-Filo during his injury and for a couple games after he was healthy, thinking they had a better option. After having a bit of time to sit back and watch, Williams came back into the starting lineup with a better feel for that power and was much improved over the last half of the season, including the playoffs. He never relinquished his job again.

Though he played better, it was obvious what his number one offseason focus would be; adding size and strength. According to Dallas Cowboys Vice President Stephen Jones, he's done just that.

Speaking to 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Tuesday afternoon, Jones gave us some insight into how Williams is looking this offseason.

Jon Machota on Twitter

Cowboys VP Stephen Jones on offensive lineman Connor Williams, last year's second round pick: "My understanding is that he's taken some huge steps in terms of his strength and size. My understanding is that he's put on some really good weight.

Jones then added some lofty expectations on the second year guard from the University of Texas.

Jon Machota on Twitter

Cowboys VP Stephen Jones on @1053thefan: "I think Connor Williams is gonna be a mainstay in our offensive line for many years to come. ... I think we'll be talking about him just like we do several of the other players on our offensive line.

Connor Williams was already proving himself capable of standing up to powerful defensive lineman as late in the season and in the playoffs, but this is very encouraging to hear as we look to 2019.

Against the Seattle Seahawks and the Los Angeles Rams, Williams and the rest of the Dallas Cowboys interior offensive line had big challenges in front of them. Seattle's Jarran Reed and Los Angeles' Aaron Donald were two of the better defensive tackles in 2018. Donald, is considered by many, the best defensive player in the NFL because of his brute strength that is matched by his quickness.

Against both players, Williams performed well. Not perfect, but well enough to be encouraged about what Williams could bring in 2019. Per Pro Football Focus, he only allowed five total pressures during the playoffs, including one in the divisional round against the Rams. There's a reason that everyone is so high on Williams heading into his second year.

The front office included.

Stephen Jones praise is significant. The Dallas Cowboys feature three All-Pro offensive lineman. To say that "we'll be talking about him just like we do several of the other players on our offensive line" is very high praise. There aren't many teams in the NFL that boast as much talent along the offensive line as the Dallas Cowboys do in Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and Travis Frederick. For Jones to think Williams cold be that level of player doesn't sound like generic front office speak.

With a full year under his belt, including two playoff starts, Williams should be confident heading into his second year. Adding strength and weight will help him anchor better against the strong interiors he'll face weekly in the NFL. Getting Center Travis Frederick back in the lineup will help him with the mental aspect of the game.

There's a lot to be excited about with the Dallas Cowboys in 2019 and the offensive line remains one of those things. How Connor Williams improves from year one to year two will be one of the major storylines throughout the offseason heading toward week one. The Cowboys offensive line remains a focal point for America's Team and all eyes will be on Williams as he looks to make the second year jump.



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La’el Collins Has Surgery Ahead of Contract Year

Mauricio Rodriguez

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La'el Collins

The list of injured Dallas Cowboys players getting surgery keeps getting larger. DeMarcus Lawrence and Byron Jones will welcome La'el Collins to the "surgery recovery" group chat after Collins had a procedure to repair a torn rotator cuff.  According to the report from Forth-Worth Star Telegram, Collins suffered the injury at the end of the 2018 season.

La'el Collins expects to be ready for training camp, but don't expect much from him in the upcoming offseason program.

For Collins, this is a very meaningful season. At 25 years old, he's heading into a contract year in 2019. So far, his career has been decent at best. He began playing at guard, where he showed some pretty impressive flashes before moving to right tackle, where he's started since 2017.

Even before it was reported that he would have surgery, many in Cowboys Nation have wondered about his future. The truth is, since he signed as an undrafted free agent in 2015, his career hasn't lived up to the hype. Prior to the 2015 NFL Draft, an off-the-field misunderstanding made every team pass on him. However, he was seen by many as a top prospect in the class and was a projected first round pick.

Although he improved when Marc Colombo took over as the OL coach, Collins has struggled during his time at right tackle. At this point, he hasn't earned a long term deal.

La'el Collins' Toughness And Availability Earning High Praise

Right now, the Cowboys should see offensive tackle as a need in the NFL Draft. Not a priority one, but definitely one to watch out for in the later rounds. Tyron Smith is 28 years old, but his injury history doesn't look promising at all. I can definitely see this team addressing the lack of depth at the position at some point in Day 3.

This whole discussion raises yet another question. Would the Cowboys trade La'el Collins? I don't think it would happen, but it doesn't sound like a terrible idea either. At the moment, Cameron Fleming is on the roster and he isn't a bad starter. Now granted, he might be a downgrade from Collins. However, if you're able to get a good draft pick in exchange, it's worth considering. Use Fleming as a bridge player between for a younger one down the line.

Connor Williams could also move over to tackle, although I doubt they want to try experiments like this with a young player just like they did with La'el Collins. Let Williams grow as a guard and keep him there.

La'el Collins or not, the Cowboys have a need at offensive tackle and Collins' makes it even more evident. The good news is he expects to be back by training camp and doesn't seem like a huge question mark for week 1 as DeMarcus Lawrence and Byron Jones do.

Tell me what you think about "La’el Collins Has Surgery Ahead of Contract Year" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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