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Sean’s Scout: Leighton Vander Esch Adds Range, Instincts to Cowboys Defense

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: Leighton Vander Esch Adds Range, Instincts to Cowboys Defense

The Dallas Cowboys came away with a solid haul of nine players at their AT&T Stadium hosted NFL Draft. Their first round pick, Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, did not come without some skepticism - especially given the first round slides of Calvin Ridley, D.J. Moore, and Harold Landry.

Vander Esch fills an immediate need for the Cowboys though, who lack any proven depth behind Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith.

With Kris Richard taking over as the passing game coordinator in Dallas (serving as Rod Marinelli's shadow in the war room this weekend), Vander Esch can help the Cowboys with his athleticism and size in both pass coverage and against the run.

Only a one year starter at Boise State, LVE is just scratching the surface of what the Cowboys hope he can be in the NFL. With 141 tackles in his final collegiate season, Vander Esch sat down with his new Defensive Coordinator to watch tape of Bears great Brian Urlacher during his pre-draft visit, and now the Cowboys have a LB to mold into their own star.

Here is Leighton Vander Esch's full scouting report.

Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch: Strengths

LVE1

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At 6041 (6' 4 1/8") and 256 pounds, Vander Esch looks the part of an intimidating middle of the field defender. Playing best when freed up to the ball though, Vander Esch is an extremely instinctual player when reading plays and shooting gaps.

Vander Esch will keep his eyes in the backfield to diagnose while still gaining proper depth in pass coverage, and has the ideal twitch to change directions and chase down ball carriers. When given a chance in the hole against backs, LVE rarely misses in stopping the player in his tracks, bringing his 33 7/8" arms through every tackle.

Not nearly a finished product when it comes to shedding blocks, Vander Esch is productive when beating blockers to the spot with light feet. Playing with this agile but square base, Vander Esch uses his power to lower the shoulder and create negative plays.

LVE5

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This play against San Diego State is one of my favorite from LVE, as he clearly shows no issue "picking through trash" to chase plays on the boundary. This is a trait that will suit Vander Esch very well when asked to line up at either WILL or SAM with the Cowboys.

Vander Esch gives the Cowboys a great ability to match up their linebackers depending on formation or down and distance, as they'll also be playing in support of a very deep defensive line up front.

LVE4

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Another example of Vander Esch's closing speed is seen here. LVE is a heat-seeking missile when he can react to a play in front of him and identify a path to the ball, rarely getting beat to the edge with quickness but rather steered out of plays by larger blockers.

LVE4

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Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch: Weaknesses

There are legitimate concerns that Leighton Vander Esch will always be a player that looks the part but continuously struggles to finish plays, particularly at this next level. When blockers are able to get into Vander Esch's frame, he is finished.

Relying on his physical traits to get to the ball, Leighton rarely shows desirable play strength against blockers to knock back or disengage. Arriving a step late more times than not because of this, Vander Esch will fail to plug his lane against the rush with the size he's capable of, instead playing upright and being dragged for extra yards on occasion.

As a pass defender, Vander Esch saw far too many receivers catch the ball going past him, creating big plays with LVE chasing behind.

This is a "flash player" that will certainly help the Cowboys defense in 2018 and beyond, but needs to be protected from himself if asked to play all three downs across multiple positions.

Have Cowboys Botched 1st-Round Pick Two Years In A Row?

Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch: Summary

If you followed along with my coverage leading up to this 2018 NFL Draft, you know I was very critical of Vander Esch as a first round prospect. Most teams had the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year in the round though, and the Cowboys locked in on him pretty early.

LVE is a patented Rod Marinelli defender with the traits to match the direction Dallas is going on defense, searching for elite athleticism and reaction ability to create a hard-to-break unit.

The Cowboys are as excited as Vander Esch is to get started, and working with the likes of Lee and Smith will only help Leighton.

These two starters can also help Vander Esch in 2018 by playing as much as possible, as the plan for the Cowboys should still be to see 16 games out of both. If this happens, Cowboys Nation will notice Leighton Vander Esch plenty as a third linebacker to run on the field with fresh legs - bursting through gaps to force tackles for loss and stopping plays from getting to the edge.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: Leighton Vander Esch Adds Range, Instincts to Cowboys Defense" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Boro Panther, Montclair State Red Hawk, and most importantly a proud member of Cowboys Nation! I host "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.

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8 Comments
  • Saul Molina

    Sorry but I disagree I have been very vocal about this subject and I won’t change my mind dallas made a mistake drafting this guy I’m so sick of the he is the next sean lee or luke kechley or even better Brian Urlacher 2.0 not even close more like bobby carpenter jr

    • Nathan Crockett

      Put the pipe down Saul and back away slowly

      • Saul Molina

        First off I don’t know you so watch who your talking to and how the fuck you talk to me plain and simple don’t comment on my shit

        • Steve Tyrrell

          You got the sorry part right. Why hate on him.? Wish him well. Let him do his thing. Dudes a Beast. Time will tell, Nobody is going to be a Urlacher, you got that right. Have a good one Saul.

          • Saul Molina

            I disagree I think he is another bobby carpenter I thought it was just me then I went on YouTube and found a video of when they drafted him the fans outside the stadium were all booing now if it were just me ok maybe but when you have 1000’s of fans booing just saying somebody has to know

  • Chuck Wright

    Sorry Saul, you are welcome to your opinion but LVE/LB was a HUGE need for Dallas, frankly I’d have traded in from next year’s draft to add a player like Fred Warner as well. But I’m not Stephen Jones. Honestly think LB was biggest need and WR is in decent shape. BTW, really like the 2 WRs we got and the moves we made in FA & trading. Plus (granted we got lucky) we landed Conner Williams who will be outstanding.

    Dallas covered both biggest need and took best available LB with LVE. He’s no Bobby Carpenter.

    But, quoting the article above . . . .”Playing best when freed up to the ball though. . .” the BIGGEST boneheaded move was thinking Ward is our 1. . . .we still do not have a double team forcing 1 Tech on the team. Now trading for Ward is fine but we passed on so many good 1 Tech’s, Tim Settle, Maurice Hurst (a 3 who can play 1) Foley F from UConn, Sebastain Jones Rutgers or. . .and my pet cat, Poona Ford. Plus there was a kid from Tenn.

    I simply do not understand ignoring the 1 position on the defense which would instantly make EVERYONE else on D better, especially the LBs and edge.

  • Steve Tyrrell

    Great Player, fast motor, freak of a athlete. No need to compare him to anybody. He is ready to play.

  • Mr. Jaguar

    At first, I too almost threw a shoe at my flat screen , when the Cowboys organization made the selection in round one. I thought another Bobby Carpenter. But after watching some YouTube videos, I’ve since have had a chance of heart. Imho, another Lee Roy Jordan, from the Cowboys team of the 60’s and early 70’s, who happens to be inducted into the the Cowboys ROH. Jordan also wore # 55. Look up some old footage of Lee Roy Jordan, who wasn’t half the size of Vander Esch, but had the instincts, in the run, and passing game, and for a linebacker position back in the day was ahead of his time, in Coach Landry’s Flex defense .
    Vander Esch, has the potential to become a bigger version of Lee Roy Jordan, who by the way, was the Cowboys number one selection in 1963, from Alabama, under Coach “Bear” Bryant. He was the perfect selection by the master guru Gil Brandt .

    History repeating itself, once again. Imho, expect great things from this selection, by 2020, he’ll be the man, replacing Sean Lee in calling defensive signals, if not before, for the Cowboys. Just my two cents worth.

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Will DeMarcus Lawrence Be Franchise Tagged Again in 2019?

Mauricio Rodriguez

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DeMarcus Lawrence, Franchise Tags and Realities for Dallas Cowboys
Matthew Emmons / USA TODAY Sports

The deadline for extending players under the franchise tag has come and gone last Monday, in a day in which none of the remaining tagged players reached an agreement with their respective teams. That includes Dallas Cowboy Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence, who's set to earn $17M in 2018.

The front office and the 26-year old defensive end failed to agree to a new contract before the season's start, but we saw that coming. After all, there was never a point in which we had the classic "X player and his team are close to a new deal" headline.

All of this makes the future of the Cowboys' promising "War Daddy" very uncertain. What lies a head of the player that put on an impressive show in 2018?

Since 2017 was Lawrence's breakout year, racking up 14.5 sacks trough the season, we have leaned towards the narrative of last season being his only good one. His performance last season was impressive and clearly his best one yet, but we tend to overlook 2015.

In his sophomore season, the only other year in which he has played 16 games, he finished the campaign with eight sacks and 35 tackles (55 combined). Really, the idea of 2017 being his only good year is not as accurate as we might think.

That being said, I think it's more likely that we see another great year from him this upcoming season than seeing a disappointing one. This, of course, will end up being the main thing that determines his future in Dallas.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 1

Dallas Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence

The Dallas Cowboys front office really took a risk by tagging Lawrence this offseason. #90 was reportedly asking for an average of $17M per year in his long-term contract, which is Olivier Vernon kind of money.

So what if he puts a similar season or an even better one? Lawrence and his agent could end up asking for even more money. Perhaps in the 18 or 20 million dollars per year range. If that ends up being the case, the team will find itself in a tough position when trying to reach an agreement with its promising pass rusher.

Which leads us to the possibility of seeing the Cowboys franchise tagging Lawrence for the second consecutive season. Dallas will already be negotiating a contract extension with QB Dak Prescott, and things will get complicated. Even more if they decide to pursue a big-time free agent in March, such as Earl Thomas.

It would make sense, from a financial perspective, to hand the tag twice in consecutive years to D-Law. However, it shouldn't be the priority. If he plays like he did in 2017, the front office will be more than wise to extend him for good.

According to OverTheCap.com, the Cowboys will have approximately $50.6M. Seemingly, the team's cap woes will be over soon.

Fortunately, Lawrence didn't become a headache by threatening to holdout for offseason programs and even training camp. However, don't expect that to happen if he finds himself under the tag next year.

Careers in the NFL are short, so DeMarcus will surely want to get paid. If he keeps it up, he'll deserve it. As much as he deserves it, though, football is a cold business. If the Jones need to tag him, they will.

Do you think the Cowboys will franchise tag Lawrence in 2019?

Tell me what you think about "Will DeMarcus Lawrence Be Franchise Tagged Again in 2019?" in the comments below, or tweet me @PepoR99 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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Without Looming Suspension, RB Ezekiel Elliott Should Shine In 2018

Kevin Brady

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Cowboys en Español: 3

NFL Films typically does a good job of exposing some truths around NFL teams. Whether through "Hard Knocks" or Amazon's new "All or Nothing" series, these documentaries do an excellent job of giving fans an inside look of their favorite teams.

If anything was revealed through the Cowboys' All or Nothing series on their 2017 season, it's that Ezekiel Elliott's suspension weighed heavy on his mind all year.

The Pro Bowl running back did not look, act, or play like himself while awaiting decision on his incoming suspension. And, once it was finally announced he would serve the six games, the entire team collapsed in Atlanta.

Despite the clear and detrimental effects Elliott's suspension had on the Cowboys' season, Zeke still put up more-than-respectable numbers; rushing for almost 1,000 yards and averaging a league leading 98.3 yards per game.

Now, Ezekiel Elliott enters a season with no doubts about his own availability. Scott Linehan gets to coach an offense that knows they will have their best player for the entire season barring major injury. And, Jason Garrett can lead his team without addressing questions about Elliott's future day in and day out.What Workload is Ezekiel Elliott Prepared for in 2018? 1

Of course, these effects aren't quantifiable. We can't sit here and say that without the pressure of court appearances and suspensions that Elliott will be worth "X" amount of more yards and "Y" more touchdowns.

But I do believe we can say, without question, that playing with a clear mind and without a looming suspension will breed the type of production we saw from Zeke his rookie year.

We can say that Elliott has had a weight lifted off his shoulders, and could be looking for revenge on a league he feels did him wrong.

And, for the Cowboys sake, I hope this is true. Because they are going to need Ezekiel Elliott to be even better than he ever has been if they hope to make a run at the Super Bowl in 2018.



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Star Blog

Cowboys en Español: El Regreso de Randy Gregory

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Randy Gregory, Eagles
Eric Hartline / USA TODAY Sports

A sólo días de que los Dallas Cowboys aterricen en Oxnard, California para dar inicio a su training camp como todos los años, el equipo recibió excelentes noticias respecto a la selección de segunda ronda del 2015: Randy Gregory. Después de pasar todo el 2017 suspendido, el ala defensiva ha sido oficialmente reintegrado por la NFL.

Gregory, quien tuvo muchos problemas debido al uso de marihuana, ha pasado los últimos meses rehabilitándose para poder volver a vestir la estrella y volver al emparrillado. Los Cowboys, quienes siempre apoyaron a su joven jugador, sin duda estarán felices de verlo de vuelta en el equipo por motivos más allá que el football americano.

Sin duda alguna, antes de estar emocionados y felices por verlo en el campo intimidando a quarterbacks rivales, deberíamos estar alegres por el logro personal de Randy como un ser humano. Realmente hizo un esfuerzo consciente en un lugar en el que muchos se hubieran rendido y dejado sus sueños de ser parte de la NFL. Pero no lo hizo, y ahora, todos sus esfuerzos han valido la pena.

El siguiente paso en su lista por-hacer, es volver al campo y poco a poco, ganarse su puesto en el equipo y después, la titularidad. La última vez que vimos a Gregory en el campo, fue contra Philadelphia, en el final de temporada del 2016.

En este juego, Gregory mostró muchos destellos de lo que sería capaz de hacer semana tras semana en la liga y porque valió la pena nunca dejarlo ir, lo cual no hubiera tenido sentido hacer, dado que los Cowboys no les costaba nada (literalmente) mantenerlo en el equipo.

Sean Martin escribió un artículo recientemente en el que analiza este partido a fondo.

El potencial de Gregory es inmenso, suficiente incluso, para aventurarse a decir que se convertirá en el defensive end (ala defensiva) derecho antes de lo esperado. El reto más grande para el jugador de 25 años será regresar a una condición física óptima para la NFL.

Afortunadamente, a diferencia del 2016, Gregory no estará regresando a media temporada. Su llegada toma lugar justo a tiempo para el training camp, dándole tiempo para regresar a la forma en la que tiene que estar.

Una vez ahí, ¿qué tanto le tomará ganarse un rol más importante que el de Tyrone Crawford y Taco Charlton? A pesar de que prácticamente no lo hemos visto jugar en Dallas, sabemos el potencial que tiene para convertirse en un defensivo de suma importancia para los Cowboys.

Un año después de ver la mejor temporada en la carrera de DeMarcus Lawrence, los Cowboys tendrán el potencial de una estrella similar en el lado derecho de su línea defensiva. Gregory tiene una montaña que escalar para cumplir las expectativas de los aficionados, pero no será una sorpresa si lo logra.

Vaya, no olvidemos que si no fuera por sus problemas fuera del campo, hubiera sido seleccionado en el Top 10 del Draft del 2015. Tiene el potencial de conseguir diez sacks por temporada.

Con un poco de suerte, no nos equivocaremos en tenerle fe al jugador que ha tenido un gran viaje para llegar a este punto. El punto de ponerse el casco e ir a trabajar con su equipo.

Incluso si sólo llega a ser un jugador de rotación, sin duda será importante para el éxito del equipo. Entre DeMarcus Lawrence, David Irving, Randy Gregory y el resto del talento que los Cowboys tienen en la línea defensiva, el equipo podría tener un frente de muy buena calidad.

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys en Español: El Regreso de Randy Gregory" in the comments below, or tweet me @PepoR99 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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