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Under Review: Debating the Defensive MVP 


What a wild ride it was for the Cowboys this past season, enduring so many ups and downs and twists and turns along the way. For the most part, it was an enjoyable journey for this Cowboys team that found a way to rally from a 3-5 start to win eight of nine games, including a postseason victory over Seattle.

But the season ended painfully in Los Angeles, leaving Cowboys Nation hungry for more.

Before we turn the page completely on this season, let's go back and recall some of the best moments, players, games and individual plays that made the season so memorable. Let's also start focusing on the offseason plans and try to see how the Cowboys can take the next step in 2019.

The staff writers of have put together a 10-part series – Under Review – which begins today with their debate on the Defensive MVP.

Mickey Spagnola: To me, this asks for the most valuable defensive player, not the best defensive player. The best would be DeMarcus Lawrence. Valuable? Well, that has to be rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch. Not only did he lead the team with 176 total tackles. Not only did he become the first Cowboys' rookie defensive Pro Bowl selection since Everson Walls in 1981. But he did the unthinkable. Stepped in twice for the injured and erstwhile irreplaceable Sean Lee and the Cowboys defense didn't miss a beat. That's MVP stuff right there.

Nick Eatman: The fact that you have options here is why this has been such a good defense. I love what Jaylon and LVE added to this defense, but in terms of value, I'll go with DeMarcus Lawrence. Not only was he the best player up front who gave teams fits with his pressure, but he rallied that unit from the start. The creation of the Hot Boyz and all that really unified the group and elevated the play from a handful of guys that proved to be major factors in this defense.

Rob Phillips: I look it at this way. Who's been the defensive MVP for so many years? Sean Lee. Who kept this linebacker crew rolling when Lee went out of the lineup this year? Leighton Vander Esch. The rookie had moments where his inexperience showed, but overall he was a big-time addition. What's interesting was how much the 22-year-old played like peak Lee at times – the range, the instincts. It's pretty uncommon for a first-year player to earn Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors. Credit Ben Bloom, Lee and Jaylon Smith for bringing him along so quickly. The Cowboys hit a home run with last year's first-rounder.

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