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What Can We Expect From LB Leighton Vander Esch Going Forward?

Two years ago, Leighton Vander Esch looked to be on the road to becoming the Cowboys’ next great linebacker. He and Jaylon Smith each had phenomenal 2018 seasons, with Vander Esch even earning Pro Bowl honors during that rookie campaign.

Since then, however, it’s been almost all downhill. While Jaylon Smith gets most of the criticism, Vander Esch has been far from perfect himself. His biggest downfall may be his injuries. Vander Esch missed 9 games with a neck issue back during his Sophomore season, and another six this year with a broken collarbone and ankle sprain.

When he has been on the field, Vander Esch has frequently lacked gap discipline. Most famously when Lamar Jackson shook the entire Cowboys defense out of their shoes for a touchdown run on that fateful Tuesday night.

Lamar Jackson SPEEDY 37 Yard TD Run vs. Cowboys

Discord Server: https://discord.gg/98YJQffArchive Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_rKK9jvqBf6ugVk9cxsc4wOutro Song: Beat – Highlight Heaven: https…

After tallying 140 tackles during his Pro Bowl rookie season, Vander Esch has made 132 tackles in 19 games over the last two years. Fallen off a cliff is an understatement.

But what’s next for the young linebacker?

For starters, Dan Quinn’s hiring as the defensive coordinator should help him out a bit. Vander Esch thrived during the four-man front Rod Marinelli era in 2018, and under Quinn the defense should stay gapped out against the run. Hopefully this will simplify things for him and Jaylon Smith, allowing them to get back to making plays.

I’m skeptical, but that’s the hope at least.

The question of his health is another one altogether. I would never shame a guy for suffering serious injuries, but it does feel like Vander Esch simply cannot stay healthy. Similar to the linebacker who came before him, Sean Lee, Vander Esch has suffered a laundry list of serious injuries which have kept him off the field.

It’s cliche, but the best ability truly is availability. And Vander Esch has not had it.

The 2020 Cowboys defense was one of the worst units in team history. And while the big pass plays they allowed are incredibly concerning, their inability to defend both the traditional run game and mobile quarterbacks might be even more of an issue.

Leighton Vander Esch is going to have to be a guy who steps up next season for this defense to get back to acceptable levels.

What do you think?

Kevin Brady

Written by Kevin Brady

Die-hard Cowboys fan from the Northeast, so you know I am here to defend the 'boys whenever necessary. Began writing for a WordPress Cowboys Blog, and have been with ITS since 2016.

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  1. Probably gonna get a guy who looks like he’s a stud again , the guy who changes our defense from awful to great……….. then gets injured and our defense is back to being TRASH

  2. DRAFT ONE OF THE TOP TWO OR THREE RATED LBs. THEN MAYBE EVEN DOUBLE DIP LATER. PLEASE DON’T OVERANALYZE THIS VERY SIMPLE AND OBVIOUS DECISION, JERRY. THE NEED IS THERE FOR EVERYONE TO SEE. OUR RUN DEFENSE IS HORRIBLE AND SHOULD BE ADDRESSED AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE ON DAY ONE OF THE DRAFT. BTW, THESE COMMENTS ABOUT TAKING A TE FIRST ARE INSANE.

  3. CB/SAFETY/DT/ and yes LB are the four positions that need to be filled in round 1-4. OL maybe depending on the how the draft board falls and the value available for the before mentioned positions.

    If Parsons doesn’t fall to us in 1st rd then we can look at 2nd/3rd rd with several possibilities. Z Collins/ N Bolton/Dylan Moses. We desperately need an athletic LB that can cover, play the run and roam sideline to sideline.

    We simply can’t rely on LVE to stay healthy. I’m fearful a couple games into the season we’ll already be missing LVE and Tyron Smith due to injuries.

  4. In the NFL especially come playoff time, your defense needs to be able to stop the run and ur offense needs to be able to run the ball. The cowboys can do neither.

    Hopefully we address the interior of our defense in free agency and the draft. As far as running the ball, having a healthy functional line will help, but the regression of Zeke and Coach Jerry’s refusal to turn more to Pollard will prevent us from fully addressing that issue.

  5. Dallas needs to rebuild the whole team starting with upper management (cough,cough) JJ .So much talent and no one to steer the team is killing the boys. If Aaron Rodgers had this kind of talent on his squad, he’d be another Super Bowl Champ this February. Go Pack Go!

  6. All three levels of our defense need an influx of talented, hungry football player. Most of the commenters here see this reality. I hope the Cowboy front office does also. Without a good defense, we are doomed to 8-8 or probably worse. We already should have most of the offensive pieces in place or on the mend.

    An OT and possibly a RB addition may also be needed. But the main focus should be on building a sound D.

  7. All you people talking about getting Micah Parsons in round one are crazy!! Yes he is a talented player, but he is NOT a talented LB!! Everyone of you guys keep talking trash about Jaylon Smith, and then you wanna go and waste our 1st round pick on a LB that’s just like Jaylon Smith, if not worse!! Micah Parsons hasn’t been playing LB for very long, if I remember right, he just started playing the position last year and then he opted out this year!! At least Jaylon Smith had a lot more experience at the position before he was drafted!! And safety and DT are also bigger needs than LB So why waste a top 10 pick on a player with just one year of experience at the position!? That’s stupid!! I’d rather wait until the 2nd or 3rd round and get Bolton or suratt, or even Dylan Moses!! CB is our biggest need and it needs to be addressed in the 1st round!! So those positions should be addressed before LB too!! The only way I’d draft a LB before safety or DT is if there’s not a good DT or safety on the board when we’re on the clock!! But other than that I’m drafting corner, DT and then safety first and then I’ll find my LB!!
    So my draft would look a little bit like this….
    1. Patrick Surtain/Caleb Farley/Jaycee Horn
    2.Cristian Barmore/Marvin Wilson/Trevon Moehrig
    3.Andrea Cisco/Javon Holland/Paris Ford
    3 Moses/Suratt
    4. OT/another corner/another safety (best one available!!)

  8. We have a new DC who should implement a scheme that should make our defense look ;a lot better. Nobody seems to be considering an offensive lineman in the first round. The days of the ‘Boys having the best offensive line are long gone. Prescott, Zeke, Pollard and out trio of elite receivers need the line to be reinforced. Smith is still elite when healthy but he is getting old and worn down and constantly injured. His backups are a joke.. C Wiiliams keeps getting bowled over by bull rushers and our new center may need some time to further develop. Take on O Lineman in thef first and a defensive tackle in the second. Maybe Dan Quin can convince Jerry to finally bring over Earl Thomas also.

  9. Cowboys fan- Most experts (which we aren’t) consider Parsons the best defensive player in the draft. Yep CB is a big need but so is LB where LVE can’t stay healthy and Smith is regressing badly. If you have the chance to get the best defender in the draft you take it. It’s not like any of the top CBs are can’t miss prospects.

    But the mock draft u presented is very much in line with mine. I would be very happy if it played out that way. But I wouldn’t say it’s stupid or crazy for someone to disagree with any portion of it. It’s all just opinions, and there are no absolutes in here.

  10. I think for the defense to the defensive line must be improved I’m not very high on Jaylon Smith but with a better line he may drastically improve this would keep some blockers off of him so he could use his speed which seems to be his best asset and with less time to throw the secondary should improve as well it all starts up front

  11. You wanna argue Cowboys fan ? Go ahead , but I’m just gonna go with the rankings of EVERY draft ranking of best players in the draft including CBS sports ranking parsons as the 3rd best overall player in this draft only behind T Lawrence and Sewell , and you make it sound like he shouldn’t be drafted , check yo sources ya DORK

    HE ISN’T THE BEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER IN THIS DRAFT FOR NO REASON AND IS WHY HE PROBABLY WON’T EVEN MAKE IT TO 10

  12. O-line is an issue but if you can’t land Sewell then it ain’t worth taking O-line at 10 overall , there’s plenty of O-line man we can pick later In draft

  13. Sewell won’t be available at #10 in the draft. Doubt Micah Parsons will be available either. I believe we need to draft either Surtain or Farley with our pick. Either one should be available as there are talented QB’s being taken in the first picks.

  14. Im trading back to around 15 and picking Jaycee Horn while also picking up and extra second and possibly another pick. Micah Parsons is a spectacular athlete but not a spectacular linebacker. You can’t get by on just athletic ability in the NFL you have to have natural instincts which Parsons doesn’t have.

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