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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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DL Kerry Hyder Helps Solidify A Re-Tooled Defensive Line

Kevin Brady

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DL Kerry Hyder Helps Solidify A Re-Tooled Defensive Line

The Cowboys got off to a busy start to week two of free agency on Monday, and capped it off by signing defensive lineman Kerry Hyder to a one year deal.

The former Detroit Lion could be classified as a "one year wonder" of sorts, but when you look closer at his career arc, you see that Hyder can provide upside at multiple positions across the Cowboys' defensive front.

After having 8 sacks and 19 quarterback hits as a defensive end in 2016, Hyder missed all of 2017 with an achilles injury. Last season, under new head coach Matt Patricia, Hyder was moved out of position and forced to play as a nose tackle and 5-technique more often.

So, the last time Hyder was healthy and playing in the role in he will likely fill in Dallas, he was productive. Yes that was a couple of seasons ago but it makes Hyder worth the one year deal he received from the Cowboys.

What exactly is that role, though?

I see Hyder primarily as a rotational 3-technique for the Cowboys. At just 270 pounds Hyder isn't going to play over the center often, and won't be very useful as a 1-technique against the run. He's at his best when lining on the outside shade of an offensive lineman, where he can use his get-off and quickness to create pressure.

Kerry Hyder can also fill in at defensive end if needed, especially when the Cowboys go into a nickel package. Hyder is similar to Tyrone Crawford in his ability to move inside and out, but is a bit better of a pass rusher than Crawford when at his best.

Hyder is a high energy, motor, and character defensive lineman who will fit right in with a Rod Marinelli unit. If it all clicks for Hyder and he regains his 2016 form, the Cowboys will have stolen an impressive pass rushing defensive lineman who can win from multiple positions.

If Hyder is actually a "one year wonder" who is more of his 2018-self with the Cowboys despite being put in a better role to succeed, Dallas can move on rather quickly because he is only on a one year deal.

This is a smart signing by the Cowboys front office as they look to re-tool their defensive line, and avoid being pigeon-holed into over-drafting at a certain position this Spring.



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New Cowboys WR Randall Cobb Announces His Signing With A Fantastic GIF

Kevin Brady

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New Cowboys WR Randall Cobb Announces His Signing With A Fantastic GIF

On Tuesday this week it became official the Cowboys would sign former Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb to a one year deal worth an estimated $5 million. After his visit Monday morning, speculation around whether and when he would sign was swirling.

Cobb confirmed his intentions to join the Cowboys himself, and did so with some A+ GIF usage on Twitter.

Randall Cobb on Twitter

Randall Cobb on Twitter

https://t.co/9H9xfApFqe

In case you don't know, the GIF Cobb tweeted is Woody from Toy Story, emerging confidently and tipping his cap.

This was Cobb signaling that he his a Cowboy, and he appears excited to be joining America's Team. Cobb also received some social media love from his now former teammates in Green Bay, including wide receiver Davante Adams and quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

https://twitter.com/tae15adams/status/1108158105957920770

RJ Ochoa on Twitter

Aaron Rodgers had some parting words for new Cowboys WR Randall Cobb

Clearly Randall Cobb made an impact in Green Bay, both on and off the field. Let's hope he can replicate some of that in Dallas now that he has joined the Cowboys.



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Star Blog

Malik McDowell Is Well Worth The Risk For The Dallas Cowboys

Kevin Brady

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Malik McDowell, Michigan State

The Dallas Cowboys are reportedly brining defensive lineman Malik McDowell into The Star this week for a visit, as they decide whether or not to potentially sign him for the 2019 season.

McDowell is a former second round pick of the Seattle Seahawks, who fell to day two because of what scouts call "off the field" or "character" concerns. McDowell did not last long with Seahawks, as he was released in 2017 following an ATV accident in which he reportedly suffered "extensive brain and eye trauma" according to Charles Robinson.

None of us know much about who Malik McDowell is as a person, or what concerns their really should be with his health. But what I do know is that on tape at Michigan State, McDowell was a top 5-10 player in the 2017 draft class. He was a stud, and has the traits to continue to be a stud in the NFL.

2017 NFL Draft: Scouting Michigan State DL Malik McDowell - Slant Sports

The 2017 NFL Draft is chock full of talented, athletic, and productive defensive linemen. While most of the draft pundits have focused on EDGE rushers thus far, the defensive tackle class also possesses some of this year's top NFL prospects. Arguably the best of those defensive tackles is Michigan State's Malik McDowell.

Back in 2017 I wrote a full scouting report on McDowell, detailing why he earned such a high grade on my board. McDowell is a versatile linemen who is explosive off the ball, powerful and rangy against the run, and a skilled pass rusher who plays with a high motor. What more could you really ask for?

"McDowell is a patient pass rusher at times, setting up the blocker how he likes and then beating them with ease. McDowell’s ability to swipe hands off helps him greatly, but his quick swim is his most effective pass rush move.

On this play he uses that swim to perfection, forcing the center to power down to the right before swimming back to the other side."

nfldraft malik mcdowell 3

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When the Spartans went to a three man pass rushing front, McDowell moved to the EDGE often and made plays with his quick, active hands and impressive swim move. He was much more impressive on the interior, however, and could be a direct replacement for David Irving as an explosive and powerful 3-technique for the Cowboys.

nfldraft malik mcdowell 4

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I love that the Cowboys are bringing McDowell in for a free agent visit. His price will likely be low, as he is yet to play in an NFL game over the last two years, but his ceiling remains very high if he is healthy. It's rare for a player with his college production, natural ability, and measurables to completely fail in the NFL.

Maybe all McDowell needs is a second chance to get his head right and prove that he belongs in the league. Maybe he flames out quickly and can't get on the field due to "off the field" stuff. Or, maybe he simply isn't healthy enough to contribute as an NFL player. Regardless, for the price he'll likely command, McDowell is well worth the risk if the Cowboys are willing to take it.



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