The Dallas Cowboys have done fairly well in the draft in the first round, although not every pick has been a home run. After a shaky 2017 draft that had Taco Charlton as the headliner, the Cowboys went back to the defensive side of the ball and chose Leighton Vander Esch to start the class.
What we knew heading into the draft is that the Cowboys needed wide receiver help as they decided to approach the position by committee rather than have a true top guy. This would be the season that the Dallas Cowboys ended up trading for Amari Cooper as the plan didn’t go as they expected. That said the Cowboys did approach the 2018 draft looking to add to the defense which was also in need of help.
This was the year the Dallas Cowboys had decided to let Dez Bryant go and Jason Witten had retired. The season started off rough and forced the hand of the front office to make a trade for Cooper. This draft added some depth pieces and while Vander Esch has certainly been a solid player, when healthy, this was not the best draft class for the Cowboys. Jason Garrett would go on to coach this season and next, before Mike McCarthy took over, and with the change has come a bit of a draft strategy change.
Let’s re-grade the Dallas Cowboys 2018 draft class that started with Leighton Vander Esch.
…A class that added depth, but with it only three players still remain from the class.
Tony Pollard has rated as a top RB in the past two seasons and there's no reason to think that will stop as the clear Dallas Cowboys RB1 in 2023.
The first round saw the Cowboys choose Leighton Vander Esch out of Boise State. His rookie year was easily his best season for the Dallas Cowboys, and while he has been a strong player, health has been an issue.
Vander Esch would start 11 games in 2018 and record 140 tackles, 2 interceptions, and made the AP second team for defense. Vander Esch was to be teamed with Jaylon Smith and this was supposed to solidify the defense for years to come.
As we know, between Jaylon regressing to not much more than a backup and Vander Esch missing games, this would not come to fruition in the ways the coaches and front office envisioned.
Vander Esch, when healthy is a solid off-ball linebacker, but without a lot of help in front of him on the defensive line, he has been solid, but not close to his 2018 stats.
The next two seasons saw him miss 13 games, and while he sprang back for a full season in 2021, he was not the same player they had drafted. Some of it has been a philosophical change, some being an off-ball linebacker, and some has been his health. A very good starter, the reliability has been a question so that takes him down just a bit.
Individual Grade: B+