Leighton Vander Esch had an amazing rookie season so today we revisit that and look forward to his sophomore campaign with the Dallas Cowboys
When the Dallas Cowboys selected Leighton Vander Esch with their first pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, Cowboys Nation erupted in passionate, “meh”. It’s not that the one-year starter at Boise State was a bad college player, he was just largely unproven.
To make matters worse, he was an off-ball linebacker – A position of generally lower value that rarely warrants first round investment. But the Dallas Cowboys saw a player who could be a game-changer. And in a day and age where the read-option was a growing trend, having long, athletic linebackers was key.
But not even the Dallas Cowboys could have predicted what happened next…
Leighton Vander Esch didn’t start from Day 1. No, playing the same position as Sean Lee has a way of limiting a linebacker’s snaps. LVE got his shot in week 3 when Lee fell to injury. And he never looked back.
LVE would go on to finish as Pro Football Focus’ 4th rated linebacker. For a rookie to have that type of immediate impact is nearly unheard of and combined with Jaylon Smith’s ascension to dominance, the Dallas Cowboys have arguably the best LB duo in the NFL.
Dominant in both coverage as well as run support, LVE proven to be a true three-down linebacker on this defense. His versatility allows the defense to play more 4-3 than before and holds up better against RPO offenses looking to exploit mismatches.
This didn’t come out of the blue because LVE had the best run stop percentage in college football at 16.2 percent earning an overall PFF grade of 89.8, making him the second rated LB in the draft.
Sadly LVE finished the season on a sour note, having his worst game of the season in the playoff loss to the Los Angeles Rams when he missed his second and third tackle of the season in the same game, and logged zero “stops” in the entire game.
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Cause for concern?
Hardly. LVE was absolutely dominant on the season and showed steady improvement throughout. The poor outing in the Divisional round should be seen as an aberration rather than a sign of things to come. The entire Cowboys front-seven was outplayed.
LVE appears to be a cornerstone piece the Dallas Cowboys plan to build around. With proven elite performance already in his rookie year, the sky is the limit for the man known as “Wolf Hunter”.
The Dallas Cowboys struck gold with LVE and together with Jaylon, they have solidified their LB corps for next decade.
- Published on 07/24/2019 at 12:00 PM
- Last updated at 07/24/2019 at 11:50 AM