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NFL Draft

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

Sean Martin

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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. https://t.co/rwuLba0qMC

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 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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1 Comment
  • Michael

    I don’t really agree with this pick. For one he has only 1 year as a starter in college, and two he has a neck issue. Even if he doesn’t end up a 1 year wonder he could re-injure his neck and possibly end his career, I hope that doesn’t happen, but it is an issue to worry about. What is it with this so called “great front office”? Why waste a pick on some one with injury issues. This makes no since to me.

NFL Draft

Cowboys Draft Class: How Many Will Be Starters In 2018?

Kevin Brady

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2018 NFL Combine: 3 LBs Who Impressed
Photo by David Becker/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys have been showered with praise by most national NFL media outlets for their 2018 NFL Draft class. NFL.com graded the Cowboys as having the 2nd best class in the league, and most other analysts have agreed that the team had a strong showing.

But now, of course, it's time to see what these new players will actually do on the field. Some are hoping the team found 3-5 new starters for the 2018 roster, but history would suggest that is pretty rare.

Dallas' 2016 draft class has been lauded as one of the best in the last decade, especially considering they look to have found their franchise quarterback in round four. That strong class only features four full-time starters heading into 2018, but we have to wonder if that's the outlier and not the norm.

Still, as we look back and examine this 2018 draft class it really appears they have found three day one starters in the first three rounds.

First round pick Leighton Vander Esch is expected to be the starting MIKE linebacker this season, with former second round selection Jaylon Smith moving to SAM. Vander Esch wasn't my favorite option at 19, but he is certainly starter-worthy in this Cowboys LB corps.

On day two the Cowboys added OL Connor Williams and WR Michael Gallup, two of my personal favorite picks of their entire class. Williams should be the starting LG week 1 of the season, and Michael Gallup may overtake Allen Hurns as the most productive WR on the roster by year's end.

Cowboys Land Small School WR In Latest PFF Mock Draft

DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 1: DUPLICATE***Colorado State Rams wide receiver Michael Gallup (4) picks up a few yards after catch as Colorado Buffaloes defensive back Isaiah Oliver (26) comes in for the tackle during the first quarter on September 1, 2017 in Denver, Colorado at Sports Authority Field. (Photo by John Leyba/The Denver Post)

What about the rest of the class?

Dorance Armstrong will probably have too much competition to start at defensive end this season, but he should be an interesting rotational pass rusher. TE Dalton Schultz has the chance to surprise some people, but overtaking Geoff Swaim as the "starter" would be unexpected.

After that, the player with the best chance to make the team and contribute early on might be Boise State WR Cedrick Wilson. Wilson was a late day-two, early day-three pick to me so snagging him in the sixth round should provide incredible value to this roster. That wide out room is getting very crowded, though, so Wilson has his work cut out for him heading into camp.

How many of the Cowboys' 2018 draft picks will be starters in 2018? Let us know what you think in the comment section below.


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NFL Draft

Did the Dallas Cowboys Find 4 Starters in the 2018 NFL Draft?

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Did the Dallas Cowboys Find 4 Starters in the 2018 NFL Draft?

One of the many winners of the 2018 NFL Draft were, without a doubt, the Dallas Cowboys. Not only did they addressed some of the team's most pressing needs, but they managed to draft very talented, capable players beyond the first round.

Cowboys Nation had to feel better about the rookie class the front office walked away with, specially after the second day of the Draft. Just like last year, they managed to find steals in the second and third rounds. In 2017, they did so with Cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis. Now, they stayed put at their original picks and walked away with OL Connor Williams and WR Michael Gallup.

But first things first. In the eyes of many, Leighton Vander Esch wasn't worth the 19th overall pick. While I do agree that Vander Esch was a questionable selection, the Cowboys fixed arguably their most concerning position of all. As much as it pains to admit it, Sean Lee has yet to play an entire NFL season and Jaylon Smith was pretty much the only other capable starter on the roster.

Cowboys en Español: Dallas Selecciona a Vander Esch, ¿Quién Sigue?

Although Vander Esch needs to develop a ton before reaching his full potential. he's a week 1 starter and an early contributor for this defense. Whether it felt like a "reach" or not, the Cowboys took a starter in the Boise State linebacker.

Later, the Cowboys managed to add an arguably first-round talent with pick #50 to plug-and-play along the offensive line. Texas OL Connor Williams was also seen as a tackle prospect, but he'll likely start at guard for Dallas as a rookie.

Since Ron Leary left for Denver, the left guard spot hasn't been as stable. Jonathan Cooper did a decent job filling that spot, but with Williams taking his place, the Cowboys dominance in the trenches will finally return. Playing next to All-Pros Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick, Connor Williams might become the best rookie in this class for the Cowboys.

One can't simply say the team found a "replacement" for Dez Bryant since he's a special player and with a very specific skill set, but Michael Gallup from Colorado State has the potential to become the team's WR1 pretty soon.

In the team's effort to build a Dak-friendly offense, Gallup is a crafty and smooth route-runner who has what it takes to play in any spot of the offense. His skill-set will allow him to play anywhere on the field and become Dak's favorite target in a year in which Jason Witten and Dez Bryant will no longer be lining up on his squad.

Taken in the first three rounds, Vander Esch, Williams and Gallup will be unquestionable starters. The question, however, is who else could become a starter for the Cowboys? Who could line up and start in week 1?

Dallas Cowboys Add Depth on Day 3, Building Future with Young Starters 1

Even though it definitely isn't as certain as the other three rookies, I'm betting on Dalton Schultz to be a more important starter than we imagine. Listen, maybe it's not an ideal scenario to have the TE from Stanford start in week 1, but it could be necessary.

The Rico Gathers Adventure might just be over before it starts and Geoff Swaim and Blake Jarwin may not be anything special. In college, Schultz was pretty good at run blocking. In the Cowboys' offense, led by one of the best running backs in the league, Ezekiel Elliott, Schultz may be able to find success earlier than expected.

Besides, he has what it takes to catch passes in the NFL and although he certainly won't be the flashiest, he could be enough to give Dak Prescott a reliable tight end.

Dalton Schultz could be the surprise of this Draft for Dallas. He'll probably become a starter at some point in the season and for a fourth-round pick, that's a very good thing to say.

For a front office that's constantly bashed by Cowboys Nation, their job at this year's NFL Draft was a pretty good one. Now it's just a matter of time to find out which picks were as good as we originally thought.

Tell me what you think about "Did the Dallas Cowboys Find 4 Starters in the 2018 NFL Draft?" in the comments below, or tweet me @PepoR99 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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NFL Draft

Why Cowboys Nation Should Feel Better About Leighton Vander Esch

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Why Cowboys Nation Should Feel Better About Leighton Vander Esch
Loren Orr / Getty Images

A week ago, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell walked out to the stage at AT&T Stadium to announce the Dallas Cowboys first pick of the 2018 NFL Draft. For the second consecutive year, a large portion of Cowboys Nation was not pretty happy about the player America's Team had drafted in the first day of the Draft.

Boise State's Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch has become one of the main debates among Cowboys fans right now and will continue to be one at least until the season starts. Some are fine with the decision the front office made and some simply don't view Vander Esch as a first round talent.

Naturally, taking Leighton in the first round has been widely compared to the team's last first round pick: Taco Charlton.

Both of these selections resulted in fans all around the world complaining and criticizing the selections since they both seemed like a reach, arguing that they could've gotten better players at other positions.

But fans shouldn't be so quick to compare the Charlton and Vander Esch selections, because they really aren't that similar. Sure, most of the media and Draft fans didn't consider any of these players worthy of a first round pick, but that doesn't mean both players were ranked similarly in the Cowboys' draft board.

Defensive End Taco Charlton, despite showing some very promising flashes towards the end of the year, wasn't able to become a starter at any point during his rookie season. Hopefully he develops into one next season. But when you're talking about first-round picks, being a solid starter at the end of the season at the latest is a very usual expectation.

Possibly what made the Taco pick hurt even more, is the fact that the front office didn't even consider him a first-round talent. Although he was drafted to wear the Star with the 28th overall pick, he wasn't their guy.

Drew Davison on Twitter

The #Cowboys had three first-round grades on DEs, but Taco Charlton wasn't one of them.

With Leighton Vander Esch, the same can't be said. The Cowboys knew he was their guy and that they were going to take him, regardless of the situation. For many weeks we wondered about just every scenario the team might face when they were on the clock.

What if DE Harold Landry is available? What if Calvin Ridley is still on the board? What if Derwin James slides, would they trade up?

For the front office, there was quite a lot of talent to choose from at 19 (not to mention James did slide out of the top 15), but they still took Leighton Vander Esch, even with Landry and Ridley on the board. We might disagree with the pick. We might not think the Boise State's product should've been taken so early. That's completely fine.

But Cowboys Nation should be happy knowing that this was the guy they wanted all along. Maybe if Derwin James hadn't been drafted by the Los Angeles Chargers with the 17th pick, Dallas would have still taken Vander Esch.

 "If the Cowboys traded up a few spots in the first round, I believe it would have been to ensure they got Vander Esch, not get James or Edmunds." Dane Brugler on the Cowboys' approach to the Draft. 

For now, it's time to root for the Dallas Cowboys' new rookie. Vander Esch will provide a special factor to this defense and has the potential to become a very good starter down the road. Playing side by side with Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith will certainly help his development and turn him into an impact player soon.

At the end of the day, it takes years to properly evaluate how a draft pick turned out in the NFL. There are first round players who turn out to be complete busts just like there are sixth or seventh round players that go on to become superstars in the league.

The Dallas Cowboys did a hell of a job addressing their needs throughout the Draft this year and there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about this year's draft picks. Leighton Vander Esch is without a doubt, one of them.

Tell me what you think about "Why Cowboys Nation Should Feel Better About Leighton Vander Esch" in the comments below, or tweet me @PepoR99 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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