FRISCO, Texas –A full breakdown of the Cowboys' first-round draft pick (No. 19 overall) Thursday night:
- Name: Leighton Vander Esch
- Position: Linebacker
- College:Boise State
The first player in Boise State history to win Mountain West Player of the Year, Vander Esch had a breakout season in 2017 with four sacks and a conference-best 141 tackles. The former walk-on posted only 47 tackles in his first two college seasons but showed star potential in his first and only year as a starter. Vander Esch is the fourth Boise State player drafted by the Cowboys since 2008: Orlando Scandrick (now with Washington), Tyrone Crawford and DeMarcus Lawrence.
How He Fits In:
Linebacker has been a top need for the Cowboys this offseason after starting middle linebacker Anthony Hitchens left for Kansas City in free agency. The Cowboys signed Joe Thomas to help offset the free-agent loss of Kyle Wilber, and they're confident in Jaylon Smith's progress. But Vander Esch adds depth as a starting-caliber player who can play all three linebacker positions. Remember, defensive captain Sean Lee also missed time last year with injuries.
- Best trait is his ability to play with range. No question that he can get from sideline to sideline. Flows to the ball.
- Will run through when he finds the ball. Knows where he needs to fill.
- There are snaps where he tackles as a half man. Would like to see him take on more square. Will miss with his hands. Has to be careful not to overrun.
- Quick reactions when he sees it. Trip up the ball carrier in space. Has some redirection skills. Not always aware against blocks. Times where you see him get cracked or trapped.
- Best when he can play on the move. This is his way of avoiding blockers. Has a feel for how to play in coverage. Nice drops and reactions. Ball skills for interceptions. Can carry the back in the flat or up the field.
- Attacks the pocket as a blitzer. Can be disruptive. Physically an impressive linebacker. Has the ability to line up in all the spots. Feel like his best position is at the MIKE.
- Retrace his steps. Will take on blockers. Can close on ball in front. Will step up to tackle. Doesn't have much pop. Will shoot the gap. Will get his head around in coverage.
- Like to see him finish better. Movement is good. Needs to be more physical.