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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.

Star Blog

Seahawks’ Tight End Will Dissly Flying Under the Radar

John Williams

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Seahawks' Tight End Will Dissly Flying Under the Radar

The Seattle Seahawks are in need of a big win this weekend to stay a game or two back of the NFC West leading Los Angeles Rams. The Dallas Cowboys hope to extend their one game winning streak to two, but to do that, they'll have to win certain matchups on both sides of the football. One player that the Dallas Cowboys will have to be aware of and contain is rookie Tight End Will Dissly.

With Doug Baldwin injured in week one and out week two, other players have had to step up in their lead wide receiver's absence.

Brandon Marshall and Tyler Lockett are the names that most everyone will recognize, but Dissly, is the name that Cowboys Nation should keep an eye on come Sunday.

Dissly, drafted in the fourth round of the 2018 NFL Draft out of the University of Washington, came into the season with a reputation as a blocking back. Dane Brugler, of The Athletic, had Dissly ranked 98th overall and as the ninth ranked tight end in the draft. Just one spot behind Dallas Cowboys rookie Tight End Dalton Schultz.

Here is what Brugler had to say in his 2018 NFL Draft Guide.

"A one-year starter at Washington, Dissly spent his first two years at Washington on defense and his final two years on offense, lining up inline and wing in the Huskies’ offense. He was a blocker-first and receiver-second in college, which was a role he embraced with his hard-nosed toughness and competitive edge. Dissly uses his upper body power and base strength in unison to control the point of attack, displaying the core flexibility and length to keep defenders busy. While he flashed reliable hand/eye coordination and run power after the catch, he lacks the route-running experience or athletic deception to consistently uncover. Overall, Dissly is a project as a pass-catcher, but he will contribute early in his NFL career as an inline blocker and sixth offensive lineman."

Dane Brugler - Dane Brugler's 2018 NFL Draft Guide

To say that it comes as a surprise at Dissly's start to his rookie campaign would be a huge understatement. A Brugler notes, there was a chance he'd contribute early as a blocking specialist, but was thought to be a project in the passing game. He's been a big play threat in the first two games of the season, already taking the lead in Seattle Seahawks TE snap distribution at 65%.

Among tight ends, Dissly's is tied for 12th in the NFL in targets with 10, tied for 17th in receptions with six, fourth in the NFL in receiving yards, tied for first with 2 touchdown receptions, third in yards per reception at 24.5, third in yards after the catch with 90, is tied for fifth with five receptions for first downs, sixth in yards per route run, and hasn't dropped a pass this season. He's averaging five targets, three receptions, 73.5 yards, and a touchdown per game. He's been targeted twice out of the slot and has two receptions for 36 yards and a touchdown while playing 46% of his snaps from the slot.

When Seahawks Quarterback Russell Wilson has targeted his rookie tight end, he has a passer rating of 143.8.

He's been way more than they could have hoped.

Here's what SB Nation' Seattle Seahawks blog Field Gulls had to say about Will Dissly after the Seattle Seahawks week one loss to the Denver Broncos.

"Hot damn! Who saw that coming? Was that Will Dissly or a prime Jeremy Shockey? 3 catches for 105 yards and a touchdown for someone drafted primarily for his blocking abilities. Seattle has a new weapon on offense, and I doubt anyone saw that coming."

Mookie Alexander - Field Gulls, SB Nation 

It's likely that nobody, including the Denver Broncos or the Chicago Bears, saw Dissly's breakout coming this soon. Now with it on tape, the Dallas Cowboys will have their eye on Will Dissly.

Russell Wilson doesn't have a ton of established -- or still good -- wide receivers at his disposal, but Will Dissly looks like a fourth round steal for the Seahawks.

The Dallas Cowboys' linebackers will be tested on Sunday.

Four of Dissly's six receptions have come against linebackers, including a 34 yard reception (19 yards after the catch) against Chicago Bears' Linebacker Danny Trevathan and a 66 yard reception (52 YAC) against Denver Broncos Outside Linebacker Bradley Chubb.

The Dallas Cowboys seem fully capable of matching up with good receiving tight ends as Jaylon Smith showed on Sunday. Smith showed an ability to run with Odell Beckham Jr. in coverage on Sunday. No small task. We know that Sean Lee is good in coverage. Leighton Vander Esch's best trait coming out of Boise State is his coverage ability. I also wouldn't be surprised to see the Dallas Cowboys matchup Xavier Woods and Anthony Brown with the athletic tight end when he's lined up in the slot.

How the Dallas Cowboys defense does in coverage against the rookie tight end could be a major key to the game. With names like Brandon Marshall, Tyler Lockett, and Rashad Penny to keep an eye on, someone like Will Dissly could be easily forgotten.

You're going to hear his name called on Sunday. Let's just hope it's more for what he did weeks one and two.



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Star Blog

Xavier Woods Among Cowboys with Something to Prove in Seattle

John Williams

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The Earl Thomas trade rumors have been relentless this offseason. We've heard about them. I've written about them, and for better or worse, they just won't stop. No doubt Dallas Cowboys Safety Xavier Woods has heard them as well.

When Woods went down with his hamstring injury and as Earl Thomas continued his hold out, the clamor for Thomas grew louder and louder.

Per reports, it looks like Woods is set to make his 2018 debut. With a good game against the Seattle Seahawks, he can put a silence to the trade rumors.

I've been a proponent of making the deal for Earl Thomas all offseason. From the time he came running down the tunnel toward the Dallas Cowboys locker room, I've been all aboard the Earl Thomas hype train. Opportunities to add All-Pro players don't come along very often and if you're hoping to win football games in the short term, like the Dallas Cowboys are, you make the move.

My opinion isn't a knock on Xavier Woods, who was good as a rookie last year. He was especially good when asked to play in the slot early in the 2017 season. It has more to do with Woods still being a bit of an unknown and Thomas being a known quantity.

Xavier Woods has shown potential to be a really good safety in this league. In college, he played a lot of single high safety and played it very well. He has a knack for making plays on the football and can be a game changer for the Dallas Cowboys.

If the Dallas Cowboys can come away with a victory in Seattle, facing the player that the Dallas Cowboys have been linked to for months, and Woods has a good game in the process, then all of this will go away.

Heading into Sunday, Xavier Woods isn't the only player on the Dallas Cowboys roster who has something to prove.

Two Wide Receivers

The Cowboys added another wide receiver this week when they resigned free agent Brice Butler. I agree with Inside The Star Staff Writer Jess Haynie that adding Butler doesn't make a ton of sense, but it definitely adds question marks to the wide receiver room, in particular wide receivers Terrance Williams and Allen Hurns.

These two wide receivers were expected to be the starters on the outside and the primary targets, aside from Wide Receiver Cole Beasley, and yet, they've failed to have much of an impact in either of the two games in the 2018 season.

Take a look at their stat lines.

  • Allen Hurns: 5 targets, 2 receptions, 29 yards, 0 touchdowns, on 55% of the team's offensive snaps.
  • Terrance Williams: 3 targets, 2 receptions, 18 yards, 0 touchdowns on 25% of the snaps.

Those two are tied for fifth in receptions through two weeks of the season. Wide Receiver Deonte Thompson has found himself as a favorite target of Quarterback Dak Prescott through the first two games and has seven receptions for 60 yards.

With now seven wide receivers on the roster, there are less snaps to go around and with the increase in playing time for Tavon Austin and Michael Gallup, Terrance Williams may have already found himself as the odd man out. Brice Butler complicates things further for Williams and may eat into Allen Hurns snap count as well.

Now it looks like Terrance Williams is facing a suspension. If the suspension comes down before Sunday, he's going to really have a hard time finding a role on this team when he comes back.

Brandon George on Twitter

Sources: Cowboys WR Terrance Williams faces suspension stemming from May arrest for public intoxication https://t.co/of11Xlb7wD via @sportsdaydfw

If he comes back. 

Defensive End Making a Comeback

Things started out really well for returning Defensive End Randy Gregory. During the preseason he flashed the tools that made him a highly coveted player before his failed drug test at the NFL Combine.

Unfortunately the start of his 2018 season was derailed due to a concussion early in the Carolina Panthers game forcing him to miss week two.

In his place, Taco Charlton emerged as an impact player on the right side of the defensive line. Charlton has played the most defensive snaps of any defensive end through the first two games of the season; DeMarcus Lawrence included. Taco went from a 73% snap share in week one to an 83% snap share in week two. It's obvious that he's earned his snaps and the coaching staff wants to get him on the field.

This doesn't even begin to mention the contributions by rookie fourth round pick Dorance Armstrong, who like Charlton, saw a 10% snap increase from week one to week two and played really well when in the game.

This is a bit of a problem for Randy Gregory. Yes, he flashed in the preseason and early in the Carolina game, but the NFL is a "what have you done for me lately" league and Gregory hasn't done much of anything in the regular season, yet.

Coming into the Seahawks game, Gregory is going to have to earn back some of those snaps. By all accounts he has a chance to be an elite defensive end on the right side of the Dallas Cowboys defense, but he has to prove that he can stay on the field and effective when on it.

He needs to shine in week three.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

Who are your players with something to prove heading into the week three matchup with the Seattle Seahawks? Let us know in the comment section. 



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Star Blog

How The Seattle Seahawks Have Increased Importance In Cowboys’ Lore

Kevin Brady

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Cowboys Headlines - Dallas Cowboys At Seattle Seahawks: 5 Bold Predictions
Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

You can't talk about this decade's Dallas Cowboys without discussing the Seattle Seahawks.

In 2012, when Golden Tate took out Sean Lee on a crack-back block and the Seahawks embarrassed a Cowboys team who had just defeated the defending champion New York Giants, we saw which of the two teams was truly ready for the big stage.

In 2014, as Rolando McClain intercepted Russell Wilson and the Cowboys clinched a critical road victory, we knew that Dallas was a legit contender.

In 2015, when Seattle finally came to Dallas and rendered the return of Pro Bowl receiver Dez Bryant meaningless in a 13-12 win, the then 2-5 Cowboys were sent further into a Romo-less abyss.

And, in 2017, Dez Bryant's key drops and Dan Bailey's missed field goals during a horrendous home loss to the Seahawks on Christmas Eve might have sealed each of their fates for the following offseason.

The most important moment in this Cowboys/Seahawks history, however, occurred during a preseason game. A meaningless preseason game which turned out to be the most meaningful day in recent Cowboys history.

Cliff Avril dragging Tony Romo down from behind, effectively ending his career, and kicking off the roster massive turnover we have seen the last two offseasons. From Dak Prescott, to a brand new secondary, to the retirement of Jason Witten, and the cutting of Dez Bryant. All of this change, which put an end to the Romo era rosters in Dallas, began with that hit in Seattle.

Since 2012 the Cowboys, and the rest of the NFC really, have been judged by how they play against two teams: the Packers and the Seahawks.

They have been the class of the NFC, and while we like to think that if the "Dez Caught It" game went how it should have Dallas would've handled Seattle, that will forever be an unknown.

Sunday's game is not expected to carry the franchise-changing implications that some of these other match ups have had. The Seahawks are 0-2 and reeling, with a shaky offensive line and reported distrust throughout the organization.The Cowboys, however, can jump-start their season with a big road win over a winless team that they should beat in the minds of many.

But knowing how things between these teams tend to go, Sunday afternoon may end up having major implications on the rest of the Cowboys' season.

Where this could be the case is in a potential Earl Thomas trade. It's been speculated that Seattle has been hesitant to deal Thomas to Dallas before their week 3 match up, but could be more willing to do so after the game.

Especially if that game is a loss which sends them to 0-3. The Cowboys have been actively pursuing Earl Thomas, and Thomas has certainly made it clear that he wants to be in Dallas. The only party not willing to make it happen thus far, are the Seahawks.

So, this weekend, there is a chance another chapter is added to those franchise-changing moments in Cowboys/Seahawks lore.



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