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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

8 Comments

  1. Saul Molina

    May 2, 2018 at 8:36 am

    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

      May 2, 2018 at 9:23 am

      Put the pipe down Saul and back away slowly

      • Saul Molina

        May 2, 2018 at 9:31 am

        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

          May 2, 2018 at 11:18 pm

          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

            May 3, 2018 at 10:25 am

            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

  2. Chuck Wright

    May 2, 2018 at 8:51 am

    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.

  3. Steve Tyrrell

    May 2, 2018 at 11:13 pm

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

  4. Mr. Jaguar

    May 3, 2018 at 3:24 am

    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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Star Blog

Cowboys en Español: Hablemos de los Coaches

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Cowboys en Español: Hablemos de los Coaches
Smiley N. Pool / The Dallas Morning News

Lamentablemente, la temporada 2018 de los Dallas Cowboys ha llegado a su fin. Lo hizo cuando el equipo visitó Los Angeles para intentar sorprender a los Rams en su propio campo en la Ronda Divisional de los playoffs. Ni siquiera con una invasión exitosa de la afición de Dallas pudieron ganarse un pase al Campeonato de Conferencia. En vez de eso, los Cowboys estarán viendo desde casa y la afición estará preguntándose: ¿qué sigue para los Dallas Cowboys?

Parece ya una tradición anual que no podemos dejar pasar. Este momento en el que comenzamos a cuestionar, una vez más, que entrenador es digno de quedarse en la franquicia y cual debe irse. En esta edición de "Cowboys en Español," hablaremos específicamente de los tres principales coaches en el equipo.

Cowboys DC Rod Marinelli Should Be On The Hot Seat

Coordinador Defensivo Rod Marinelli

El futuro del coordinador defensivo de los Dallas Cowboys no se puede tratar sin mencionar a Kris Richard. Fue la defensiva la que llevó al equipo hasta la postemporada y fue la unidad que cargó al equipo en muchas de sus victorias. Incluso con la llegada de Amari Cooper a Dallas, la defensiva fue siempre el pilar de la franquicia esta temporada.

Jaylon Smith y Leighton Vander Esch sorprendentemente se perfilaron como uno de los mejores duos de linebackers en toda la liga, la línea defensiva fue muy exitosa con Randy Gregory y DeMarcus Lawrence en los extremos y con la grata sorpresa que fue Antwaun Woods en el centro. La secundaria vio la mejor temporada en la controversial carrera de Byron Jones e hizo un excelente trabajo con un talento decente, pero no genial.

Todo esto, y el haber terminado como la sexta mejor defensiva en puntos permitidos (20.2) y la quinta mejor contra la corrida (94.6), hace a Rod Marinelli merecedor de una ronda de aplausos. Sin embargo, Richard probablemente merezca más aplausos.

Fue Richard quien revolucionó la defensiva de los Cowboys y la convirtió en un grupo mucho más agresivo. Fue él quien implementó jugadas de "blitz" en el equipo (algo no común con Marinelli) y quien en un punto de la temporada, comenzó a seleccionar las jugadas desde la banda.

En esta posición, me parece que los Dallas Cowboys tienen que enfrentar la dura decisión de decirle a Marinelli que es tiempo de dejarle el puesto a Kris Richard. Si bien no se llevó un trabajo de head coach, es muy probable que le llovieran ofertas a Richard si no se hace con el título de coordinador defensivo en Dallas.

Scott Linehan Acknowledges Need for New "Wrinkles" in Cowboys Offense

Dallas Cowboys OC Scott Linehan (Tim Heitman / USA TODAY Sports)

Coordinador Ofensivo Scott Linehan

Con un equipo tan polémico como este, la afición de Dallas no concuerda en muchas cosas. Sin embargo, lo hacen al hablar del pésimo trabajo que Scott Linehan ha realizado mandando las jugadas en ofensiva. Realmente ha sido doloroso de ver y es en mi opinión, el mayor problema que tiene el equipo actualmente.

Semana tras semana, fuimos testigos de pésimas decisiones en la ofensiva de los Cowboys. Vimos como el equipo se aferraba a llenar la caja de defensivos antes de correr el balón con Ezekiel Elliott. Vimos incontables pases pantalla en tercera oportunidad y largo. Pero no solo es lo que vimos, sino lo que no vimos.

A pesar de la innegable habilidad para correr el balón de Dak Prescott, Linehan se rehusó a explotar esta versatilidad de su QB. Vimos pocos "QB sneaks," jugada donde el mariscal toma el balón bajo centro y consigue poco yardage detrás del empuje de su línea ofensiva.

Siendo honestos, los Cowboys llevan dos años sufriendo por este coordinador. Dejarlo volver en el 2019 sería una decisión ridícula. Los comentarios en la radio de Jason Garrett no lucen prometedores, pero realmente sería una sorpresa que fueran ciertos. Linehan no debe volver... punto.

Jerry Jones Delivers Vote of Confidence in "Real Deal" Jason Garrett

Head Coach Jason Garrett

El futuro en esta posición será muy debatido durante los próximos meses, pero de los tres que hemos mencionado es sin lugar a dudas el más seguro de todos. Nos guste o no, Jason Garrett estará al frente del equipo la próxima temporada.

Garrett está lejos de ser un gran coach y aún le hace falta demostrar que puede cumplir las aspiraciones de los Cowboys de traer un sexto Trofeo Lombardi a casa. Pero siendo honesto, este equipo debería tener suficiente con Garrett y un par de buenos coordinadores. ¿El problema? No hay un par de buenos coordinadores en el equipo.

Sin embargo, Garrett ha demostrado que cuenta con el amor y apoyo de sus jugadores. Ha demostrado que efectivamente, puede ganar la división (lo ha hecho en tres de los últimos cinco años). Este año el equipo le dio la vuelta a la temporada después de comenzar 3-5.

Lo más preocupante en mi opinión, es la falta de urgencia para despedir a Linehan, por ejemplo. Quizá a puerta cerrada Garrett quiere un cambio en su staff, pero nunca lo sabremos.

Jason Garrett no es un coach excelente, pero podría ser suficiente para llevar a los Cowboys a un Super Bowl si tiene un equipo adecuado. Todo parece indicar que su trabajo está seguro (incluso más de lo que pensamos) así que es tiempo de esperar que se arreglen sus coordinadores.

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys en Español: Hablemos de los Coaches" 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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Star Blog

2018 Draft Class Season Review: LB Leighton Vander Esch

Kevin Brady

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

As the first round draft pick of America's Team, any player would be under a ton of pressure from all angles. Whether it's from the fans on the outside or the organization on the inside, the expectations around being a first round pick for the Cowboys are immense. But the pressure placed upon linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, from the second he was announced as the 19th overall draft pick, was second to none.

It felt like Cowboys Nation let out a collective groan when Vander Esch was taken, with fans hoping for a more glamorous first round selection. Someone like wide receiver Calvin Ridley or edge rusher Harold Landry would've done the trick, but after Vander Esch's rookie season it's hard to imagine either of those players would have had the impact Vander Esch did in 2018.

Though he didn't start a game until week 4, and didn't become the unquestioned full-time starting WILL until week 10, Vander Esch earned Pro Bowl honors for his rookie season. Tallying 140 total tackles and 2 interceptions, Vander Esch made his presence felt week in and week out.

No counting stats can fully measure Leighton Vander Esch's impact as a rookie, however.

Prior to the 2018 season, the Cowboys defensive success often came down to the health of Sean Lee. When available and playing at his best, Lee led an overachieving Cowboys defense to solid performances each week. But, when Lee went out (as he often did), the entire Cowboys defense seemed to fall apart.5 Studs and Duds From the Dallas Cowboys 2018 Season

This year, though, that all changed. When Sean Lee was out with injury the Cowboys defense got better. Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith became a versatile, hard hitting tandem the NFL immediately feared, and helped to direct the Cowboys defense to signature wins throughout the 2018 season.

There are arguments against taking any off-ball linebacker in the first round, as the value of the position has been questioned due to the new style of offense in the NFL. Nowadays linebackers are relegated to two-down players, taken off the field in favor of faster defensive backs on critical passing downs.

Leighton Vander Esch is athletic enough to be both an old school run stopper, but also a three down linebacker in today's fast paced NFL.

Despite the doubts which surrounded the pick, the Cowboys absolutely nailed their first round selection in 2018. And Leighton Vander Esch made Dallas' front office look like geniuses each and every Sunday.



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Star Blog

What Is The Cowboys Most Pressing Offseason Need?

Kevin Brady

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Can we Believe General Manager Jerry Jones?

Finishing their season with a Division Round loss, Dallas Cowboys fans are getting a somewhat late start on the 2019 offseason. Of course, we'd much rather a later start, but the results are what they are.

Now Dallas must get better, and re-tool before heading into Dak Prescott's fourth season, and the Cowboys' 2019 campaign. Though they didn't feel all that close to a championship this season, looking around the roster, it's actually tough to identify one key need the Cowboys must address.

They are filled with young, talented players that they have high hopes for across the board. And in the places they are "older," such as across the offensive line, they have established veterans who aren't going anywhere anytime soon.

So what is the Cowboys' most pressing offseason need?

Well, despite already using their 2019 first round pick to address it, the answer very well might be wide receiver.

Adding Amari Cooper midseason provided a massive jolt to the Cowboys previously anemic passing attack, but on his own he is not enough to take this passing game to where it needs to be to compete in this new NFL.

Third round pick Michael Gallup is going to be a very good pro, and progressed really well as his rookie season went on. I think he can play opposite Amari Cooper nicely, and be the number two option in the passing game going forward.

Though arguably their best wide out against man coverage, Cole Beasley is a free agent, and if the reports are true about Scott Linehan returning in 2019 it could very well mean Beasley will not be opting to sign back with Dallas.

Regardless of Beasley's decision, however, the Cowboys need to seriously evaluate their pass catchers heading into next season.

This is a passing league. The rules have dictated that you must be able to pass the ball efficiently if you want to compete with the best of the best around the NFL. To take the next step in their progression, and reach an NFC title game and/or Super Bowl, Dak Prescott will need to have as explosive a group of pass catchers as possible.

The Cowboys have already taken solid steps to making this a reality, but another move or two this offseason could go a long way to putting Dallas in the conversation with teams like the Rams and the Saints in 2019.



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