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NFL Draft

What Drafting Leighton Vander Esch Means for Cowboys LBs Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith

Sean Martin



What Drafting Leighton Vander Esch Means for Cowboys LBs Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith

With the 19th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys stayed true to their intentions of drafting Boise State Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch. Doing so with both WRs Calvin Ridley and D.J. Moore available, along with DE Harold Landry, the Cowboys faithful in attendance voiced their displeasure over the team's first pick being seemingly predetermined.

The chances of Vander Esch coming off the board before the Cowboys came on the clock was slim. The exact opposite should be said about both Ridley and Landry - although the Boston College pass rusher remains available entering Friday's second round.

The Cowboys own the 50th overall pick in the second round and 81st overall in the third, preparing to address their team needs at guard and wide receiver on day two. While doing so is certainly important, Thursday night was about not allowing the upcoming 2018 season to be derailed in similar fashion to last year - lack of depth to compensate for injuries in Dallas.

Enter Leighton Vander Esch, the Cowboys insurance plan for both 31-year-old WILL LB Sean Lee and MIKE Jaylon Smith.

Vander Esch is undoubtedly a Rod Marinelli guy, and Cowboys Nation knows all too well the level of play Marinelli gets from his defense without Lee on the field. Preparing for life without Lee is something the Cowboys needed to do in this draft, but doing so in the first round carries further implications.

Sean Martin ✭ on Twitter

Vander Esch's impression of Rod Marinelli - "That guy is awesome. He's one of the coolest guys I've met". Says Rod told him he could be Brian Urlacher

Two years ago, with the 34th overall pick, the Cowboys drafted Jaylon Smith. The pick immediately set the Cowboys back, as Smith was not ready to play at any point in 2016 - debuting on opening night in 2017 only to struggle heavily through his first NFL games. In getting Smith on the field, the Cowboys climbed one mountain, and are in the process of ascending another by finally tapping into his full potential.

Smith ended his 2017 season on a high note, but didn't quite reach the peak of the Cowboys path towards stability at linebacker. With the 19th overall pick, they veered off this path to create a new challenge for themselves - become the team that Leighton Vander Esch reaches his full potential with.

Vander Esch tested as an freakish athlete at the Scouting Combine, blowing teams away without pads in a similar way to how LVE produced at Boise State. A one-year starter for the Broncos, playing with range and instincts is no problem for Vander Esch.

The Dallas Cowboys simply can't afford another season with more excuses than execution, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Thanks to last year's draft haul, Marinelli's unit has a ton of promise, and adding another one of his guys only solidifies the overall depth of the Cowboys.

Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith aren't depth players, and if you are among the waves of Cowboys fans upset about Vander Esch being the pick, your hope is that they are blue chip starters for 16 games next year.

This would allow Vander Esch to develop without added pressure in 2018. A linebacker that needs to work on his ability to avoid blocks and take on bigger linemen, this Cowboys rookie will get plenty of opportunities to bang heads with the likes of La'el Collins, Tyron Smith, and Zack Martin.

These practice reps will be just as important to Jaylon Smith, and whichever players earns more snaps alongside Lee will get them. The Cowboys view Jaylon as a player that will be here for a long time, and obviously feel the same way as of last night about Leighton.

At least early in his NFL career, Vander Esch projects best as a WILL linebacker. The Cowboys relying so heavily on two linebacker sets, having multiple players on the field that can play with the traits of a true WILL is ideal.

Vander Esch needs to be protected against defending at the point of attack and freed up to shoot gaps with great burst and finishing ability.

Sean Martin ✭ on Twitter

It's going to be awesome, playing with a guy like him. He's going to hold me accountable and I'll hold myself the same." - LVE on #Cowboys teammate Sean Lee

LVE may very well never be Brian Urlacher, and the Cowboys should be fortunate he won't have to. Their linebackers of the present and future are on this roster now, and Leighton Vander Esch may be just the depth piece needed for Dallas to keep their core together past 2018.

The Cowboys would be quick to move on from the top coaches they've put on the hot seat for this season if they miss the playoffs once again. That outcome would truly be a disappointment for everyone in the organization.

Last night was not a disappointment. With as many as nine picks still to make, the Cowboys came away from the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft with a player they're excited about - Vander Esch sharing the same enthusiasm for representing America's Team.

Sean Martin ✭ on Twitter

The @dallascowboys draft Boise State Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch with the 19th overall pick in the 2018 #NFLDraft.

An ideal landing spot for a player ready to get to work, the Cowboys defense is better as of this morning than it was at any point last season. Even when Jaylon Smith and Sean Lee were on the field together, they were better than at previous weeks of the same season.

Coming away from the first round of this draft without a wide receiver may very well prove a mistake for the Cowboys. Not finding their left guard of the future at 19th overall could be as well. Keeping both of these needs in the back of their heads while also being an injury away from collapsing on defense is truly reckless though.

It is this methodical approach to building through the draft that the Cowboys are determined to push forward with, doing so in just a few hours.

This year's team motto in Dallas is "Respect". You have to respect a team learning from their mistakes and doing everything they can to right them, as the Cowboys will need Leighton Vander Esch to develop into the versatile player that even his biggest critics know LVE can be.

Tell us what you think about "What Drafting Leighton Vander Esch Means for Cowboys LBs Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith" in the comments below. You can also email me at, 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 every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.


NFL Draft

Cowboys Draft: Reviewing Kansas DT Daniel Wise

Kevin Brady



Cowboys Draft: Kansas DT Daniel Wise

Throughout the post draft media process, the Cowboys' decision makers have been adamant that they found multiple draft-able players in undrafted free agency this year. Each of which, of course, will have an opportunity to compete for a roster or practice squad spot this summer.

One of those players who almost certainly had a draft-able grade despite fall through all seven rounds, is Kansas defensive tackle Daniel Wise.

At 6'3" and 290 pounds, Wise projects as a 3-technique in the NFL, and should compete for that very role on the Cowboys defense. Wise is not an overly bendy or athletic player, but he has a good initial quickness which allows him to penetrate gaps well. Wise plays with excellent effort, having the type of motor that I'm sure Rod Marinelli valued highly during the pre-draft evaluations.

A strong and powerful interior presence, Wise can offer some upside as a pass rusher as well. He has quick, active, and heavy hands. When combining his hands with his get-off, Wise is a real threat as a pass rusher. Maybe his most impressive pass rushing quality, however, is the effort which he plays with. Never giving up on a play, you'll have to block Wise until the final whistle or he will threaten for effort sacks.

In college, Wise was often asked to be a two-gap defender from the 5-technique, but that's just not where he'll be at his best. Rather, he should be used in the role the Cowboys likely envision for him, allowing him to play with power at the point of attack and disrupt the running game.

But what are Daniel Wise's chances of even making the team?

The Cowboys made a concerted effort to improve their defensive line this offseason, specifically on the interior. By adding free agents like Kerry Hyder and drafting Trysten Hill 58th overall, Dallas has improved what was considered a weakness during the postseason a year ago.

Not all of these talented defensive tackles will make the team, though, it's simply a numbers a game. And cutting an undrafted free agent will certainly be easier to do than cutting someone who will be owed real money, or was acquired through premium draft capital.

Regardless, Daniel Wise will have the chance to prove his worth during training camp and the preseason. And based on how he projects through his college tape and physical attributes, he'll likely make those final decisions very difficult on the Cowboys' staff.

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NFL Draft

Pre-Draft Visitors Highlight Dallas Cowboys 2019 Rookie Class

Brian Martin



Pre-Draft Visitors Highlight Dallas Cowboys 2019 Rookie Class

The Dallas Cowboys are "officially" adding 21 rookies to their roster, eight of which they drafted and the remaining 13 are undrafted free agents. The number of rookies the Cowboys are bringing in isn't all that surprising, but what did surprise me was how many of them were pre-draft visitors.

You may or may not know, but the NFL allows 30 allotted pre-draft visits for each team around the league. Teams don't have to use all 30 visits of course, but the majority of them take advantage of the opportunity and generally use up all 30 visits. It's a chance to introduce these rookies into the atmosphere they could be playing in and work them out in more of a one-on-one basis.

The Dallas Cowboys of course are known as a team who take their 30 pre-draft visits very seriously. Over the past several years they've drafted several players who were brought in for pre-draft visits, and 2019 was no exception.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, paying attention to the Dallas Cowboys 30 pre-draft visits is a good idea because the odds of them drafting one or more of them is pretty high. That's why I decided to run a pre-draft tracker this year, and because of it I was able to confirm 27 of the possible 30 pre-draft visitors for the Cowboys.

Here are 2019 pre-draft visitors currently on the Cowboys roster:

  • DT, Trysten Hill
  • RB, Tony Pollard
  • RB, Mike Weber
  • WR, Jon'Vea Johnson
  • CB, Chris Westry

If you're doing the math, 5 out of 30 equates to 17% of the players the Dallas Cowboys brought in as pre-draft visitors. But, if Dallas only brought in 27 that percentage rises to 19%. To say that the Cowboys value these pre-draft visits would be an understatement, at least as far as 2019 is concerned.

The first three of Trysten Hill, Tony Pollard, and Mike Weber were of course all draft picks and have the best chance to stick around on the final 53-man roster, but I wouldn't rule out Jon'Vea Johnson and Chris Westry. Both were draftable players, but somehow fell through the cracks right into the lap of the Cowboys as UFAs.

I don't really know if it's a good idea the Dallas Cowboys are so transparent with how valuable the treat these 30 pre-draft visits. We've seen teams time and time again trade up right in front of them to draft a player the Cowboys could've possibly been eyeing, and this year was no exception.

After drafting Running Back/Wide Receiver Tony Pollard with the first of their fourth-round draft picks, it looked like the Dallas Cowboys had their sights set on small school Defensive End/Defensive Tackle John Cominsky out of Charleston with their second pick in the fourth. Unfortunately, the Atlanta Falcons traded up a spot ahead of them to draft Cominsky.

This of course isn't the first time the Falcons have done this, which begs the question as to how they knew the Cowboys could have possibly been targeting Cominsky. We can throw a conspiracy theory out there that Atlanta might have been inside source, but that's highly unlikely. More plausible theory is they were paying attention to Dallas' 30 pre-draft visitors as well.

It may be time for the Dallas Cowboys to deploy a little more smoke and mirrors when it comes to who they bring in for pre-draft visits in the future. But regardless, there's no denying the Cowboys pre-draft visitors highlight their 2019 rookie class.

Are you surprised the Dallas Cowboys added so many pre-draft visitors to the roster?

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NFL Draft

Dallas Cowboys 2019 Draft Grades

Shane Carter



Dallas Cowboys 2019 Draft Grades 1

Another year, another draft come and gone. The difference was that this year the Dallas Cowboys were without a first-round pick thanks to their trade for Amari Cooper with Oakland. Their de facto first-round pick would obviously earn an A+ from how well he meshed with Dak Prescott and gave this Cowboys offense another dimension.

Given how well the Cowboys have done in the first round in recent history -- all but two of their first round picks since 2011 have been in the Pro Bowl, a trend that continued with last year’s pick, Leighton Vander Esch. This season, the Cowboys only had picks from round two and on. So this year was all about finding value and hoping it would fall into their laps.

Obviously time will tell if any of these players work out or not. For the time being, we can grade the picks based on what we do know. Some picks were worth it, while others raised questions, as well as eyebrows.

58 Overall: DT, Trysten Hill

Dallas Cowboys Draft Grades 1

In what has been considered the best defensive line draft in decades, the Cowboys took a bit of a risk with their first “official” pick. Trysten Hill is a first round talent out of UCF, but reports questioning his love for the game had some give him a third round grade.

Dallas has already had an off-season dealing with talented defensive linemen with questions around their passion for the game (i.e. David Irving) and so obviously people didn’t love this pick.

It’s a high risk, high reward move that we’ll have to wait and see how it turns out.

Grade: B

90 Overall: G, Connor McGovern

Dallas Cowboys Draft Grades 6

As far as value goes, McGovern was probably the team’s best pick. In my pre-draft rankings, Connor McGovern was my fourth overall interior lineman; a player who you can play anywhere in the interior and start immediately.

However, guard didn’t really seem like a need. This was obviously a “best player available” pick. What this pick has done instead is raise a bunch of questions.

Who’s job could be on the line?

Does this imply the team won’t re-sign La’el Collins?

Is Connor Williams going to play tackle like he did in college?

Is one of them going to get traded?

Is Travis Frederick really ready to go?

So many questions surround this pick, but there’s no questioning the player. Connor McGovern is likely a future starter on the line and Cowboys fans should be excited about that.

Grade: A

128 Overall: RB, Tony Pollard

If you follow me on Twitter, you know my feelings about Tony Pollard already.

Shane Carter on Twitter

Tony Pollard might be my favorite #Cowboys pick. Has experience at both the RB and WR position, plus had 7 career kick return TDs in college. He addresses all 3 needs in 1. #NFLDraft

Returner has been a need for a year now. I never liked the team trading away Ryan Switzer because it created a huge hole on special teams, as well as the receiving core.

The team also needed a backup running back to take the load off Ezekiel Elliott a bit. With Tony Pollard, they get all three positions filled in the form of a player who's 6'0" 210 pounds, ran a 4.52 40 and compiled 25 total touchdowns. Terrific value in the fourth round.

Grade: A-

158 Overall: CB, Michael Jackson

Dallas Cowboys Draft Grades 9

This is the type of corner Kris Richard loves; big and tall. At 6'1" 200 pounds, Michael Jackson fits the profile.

His 2017 tape was actually better than his 2018 tape, and all four of his career interceptions came in '17. However, the team is obviously betting on his potential, especially with corner being a serious need.

With the Cowboys' four primary corners coming into contract years the next three seasons, odds are that at least one will be gone. MJ doesn’t fill in day one as a difference maker but, given some time under Kris Richard, he could be a nice player.

Grade: C+

165 Overall: DE, Joe Jackson

Dallas Cowboys Draft Grades 11

Take Joe Jackson, new Cowboy, as well as Michael and Darius Jackson, and the team is just two short of a Jackson 5 reunion.

The team has been very busy trying to rebuild the depth at edge and Joe Jackson is icing on an already stacked cake. In an off-season that saw the retirement of David Irving and another suspension for Randy Gregory, the team was able to extend DeMarcus Lawrence and trade for Robert Quinn.

The edge room was already full but you can never have too many.

Joe Jackson is a fun, productive player from The U, who was teammates with the previous pick, Michael Jackson. In his career, he totaled 24 sacks and 37.5 tackles for loss all in three seasons. He’s not the fastest edge rusher in the world but has plenty of power to make up for it. With the team only for sure having DeMarcus Lawrence guaranteed beyond 2019, it’s good to have as much talent as possible.

Grade: B+

213 Overall: S, Donovan Wilson 

Dallas Cowboys Draft Grades 12

The team really needed a safety and it enraged most people that they didn’t pick one earlier. Especially with Taylor Rapp, Juan Thornhill and Amani Hooker all available at different times.

Donovan Wilson is an interesting pick. His career has been a rollercoaster while at Texas A&M, with a highly productive 2015 season, a dip in 2016, a fractured foot in the 2017 opener, and a rebound 2018 season.

Had his career not been derailed by his injury, he’s likely gone way before the sixth round and the Cowboys are obviously betting on his potential. Meets a need, but not a plug-in right away type of pick.

Grade: B

218 Overall: RB, Mike Weber

Dallas Cowboys Draft Grades 13

Tony Pollard is going to get first crack at the backup running back spot. However, given that he’s also the team’s likely return man as well, it makes sense that they’d want to deepen the running back room to give the team a true RB2.

Mike Weber was Ezekiel Elliott’s teammate at Ohio State, but didn’t come close to the impact Elliott had. Only topping 1,000 yards once in college, Weber is likely in competition with Darius Jackson for the backup spot.

He’s not as flashy as Zeke but can pick up the slack when asked to and is a solid receiver out of the backfield. If Weber can’t beat Jackson for the backup spot, then Weber is a likely candidate for the practice squad.

Grade: B

241 Overall: DE, Jalen Jelks

Dallas Cowboys Draft Grades 14

Jalen Jelks falls into a similar boat that both Hurricanes players are in. Like Joe Jackson, he’s a good solid edge piece (fifth round draft grade), but like Michael Jackson, his prior season's tape was better than his final season.

It's interesting that the Cowboys would pick a player who seems to be better suited to play in a 3-4 as a OLB, but has plenty of starter potential. Otherwise he’s a player that’s likely headed to the practice squad that the Cowboys wanted to make sure they get first crack at. Still, a good value in terms of where he was picked.

Grade: B-

Dallas Cowboys Overall 2019 Draft Grade: B

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