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Next Day Rant: Cowboys Drafting LB Vander Esch Looks Pretty Smart Now

Last April, the took a lot of criticism for selecting in the of the 2018 . But one month into the regular season, that pick is looking smarter every week.

The knock on the pick was that the Cowboys already had , , and as starting linebackers. Many felt Vander Esch was too raw to compete for a starting job right away, meaning you spent your first-round pick on a depth and rotation player.

Believe it or not, though, these teams do know what they're doing. They also know things we don't, such as just how fragile a certain 32-year-old linebacker really is.

Dallas didn't take Vander Esch for 2019 and beyond. They knew just how precarious trusting Sean Lee to stay healthy is, and they were proven right almost immediately. Lee got hurt in Week 3 and now could miss several weeks.

But the playing time and starting role aren't all that validates the selection. Vander Esch is playing well, even standing out among his defensive teammates. He's been more noticeable than Jaylon Smith these last two games.

Comparisons were made between Leighton and Hall-of-Famer Brian Urlacher months before he became a Cowboy. When Dallas drafted him, given 's role on the team, it said that they agreed wholeheartedly.

Leighton was never a luxury pick. The Cowboys saw him as a necessity given Lee's likelihood of ; a present danger and a future asset wrapped into a single first-round rookie.

Next Day Rant: Cowboys Drafting LB Vander Esch Looks Pretty Smart Now
Dallas Cowboys LB Leighton Vander Esch

Granted, the Cowboys' need for new offensive weaponry was a valid concern. You could still make the argument that a receiver like , who already has six touchdowns for the , would've been a better pick.

But for years, we've seen what happened when Sean Lee misses time. Last year, even with terrorizing quarterbacks, the Cowboys' looked lost when Lee missed five games.

The Cowboys had a decision to make for 2018; trust Sean Lee to stay healthy or trust that some of your receivers and tight ends would step into the holes left by and .

I get why Dallas went the way they did. They signed in to replace Bryant, which at the time didn't look like a bad swap. Hurns didn't have Bryant's cache but Dez hadn't been living up to that reputation or salary for a few seasons.

Nobody expected one of the tight ends to be Jason Witten, but they didn't really have to be. There are only a handful of great TEs in the league at any given time, and other than those 5-6 guys everyone else is a J.A.G.

Dallas banked on the strength of their to keep the moving. They also added guys like and for some fresh talent and new wrinkles. So far, the chemistry hasn't developed as soon as you'd hoped.

Hindsight may say that they needed to do more to replace Bryant and Witten. I won't deny that. But you also can't deny that drafting Leighton Vander Esch has proven to be just as necessary.

Next Day Rant: Cowboys Drafting LB Vander Esch Looks Pretty Smart Now 2
Dallas Cowboys LB Leighton Vander Esch

I've heard some say “ could be starting right now,” but that's another hindsight argument. Nobody knew how good Thomas would look in this scheme back in April. Back then, he was just a journeyman backup from the Packers that we signed for depth.

And really, do we even know how Thomas would look in a starting role? Lighting it up in can mean very little come September. Maybe he'd be great, maybe not, but you had no reason to count on him during the 2018 draft.

Here's another thing you didn't realize was coming; 's absence. If Dallas had their All-Pro out there, maybe the offensive chemistry would be a lot better right now. Maybe your hopes for Hurns, Swaim, and other guys would have had a better shot at coming true.

You deal with a lot of uncertainties and unknowns in putting together a roster and planning for a season. The Cowboys drafted Vander Esch because they were confident in two things, that Sean Lee was a major liability and that Leighton had some serious upside.

I won't quibble if you still think Dallas should've taken a WR or TE. But if you're still someone arguing that the Vander Esch pick was a mistake, then you're just being stubborn.

The Cowboys used their first-round pick on a guy who is helping them now in a major defensive role and looks like he could be a star for years to come. Even if he never goes to Canton with Urlacher, Leighton Vander Esch could still be a major factor on this team for the next decade.

If you're still not happy with that from a guy taken 19th overall, then you just don't want to admit that you were wrong.

Jess Haynie
Jess Haynie
Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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This is what I was saying the night of the draft. On the first night, it hadn’t been reported that Witten was retiring so saying we should have taken a TE in round one is a moot point. Calvin Ridley would have been a solid pick but I think we went the right way. Sean Lee needs to move into the coaching staff after this season. We needed LVE to replace him and it is already paying off.

Sean Leonard

I didnt even know who LVE was until I saw this 6’5 beast at the combine. I said to myself, who is this kid that moves this fluid and was aceing every task. I knew this was the kid Marinelli was waiting for in his Tampa 2. I was also positive that we would get Earl Thomas and the defense could be elite. As we are seeing early on, that Tampa
Bay defense wouldnt have been without the elite safety play of John Lynch. I am also a conspiracy theorist. I really don’t believe Sean Lee is hurt right now. I still havent seen the particular play when he was hurt. Sean Lee knows LVE is special. He is sitting out on purpose for three reasons. One: LVE is only going to get better quickly with playing time. Two: Jaylon is the next General-in-charge. Putting that onus on Jaylon early in the season can only make this defense better in the long run. Three: Sean Lee gets to save his body for a deep season run.

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