1st-round draft pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
PRO: With the selection of Leighton Vander Esch in the first round (19th overall) of the 2018 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys added a rangy, athletic linebacker with a nose for the ball. Vander Esch was an impact player for Dallas as a rookie, stepping in for Sean Lee (hamstring) and starting 11 of the 16 games he played. By season's end, Vander Esch led the team with a club rookie record 176 tackles (fourth in a season in team history) and earned a Pro Bowl spot (as a replacement for Luke Kuechly) to become the third Cowboys rookie defender, first linebacker, to play in the game. Along the way, he took home NFC Defensive Rookie of the Month honors (November) to become the third Cowboys rookie to win the award. After a stout rookie season, Vander Esch looked to improve his dominance, but his second season was shortened to just nine games and 87 tackles - third on defense - after suffering a neck injury that put him on Reserve/Injured for the finale and led to surgery. He spent the offseason rehabbing and regaining his form and returned in 2020 to start 10 games, missing six games with a broken clavicle (four games) and an ankle injury (two). Despite the injuries, Vander Esch finished third on the defense with 73 tackles and was named the team's Ed Block Courage Award winner.
9/15/20: Placed on Reserve/Injured with a clavicle injury.
12/24/19: Placed on Reserve/Injured with a neck injury.
4/26/18: Drafted in the first round (19th overall) by Dallas.
- Returned to the playing field after undergoing neck surgery in 2019 and started all 10 games he played, missing six to injuries.
- Third on the defense with 73 tackles, adding one tackle for loss, one sack, one breakup and a forced fumble.
- Selected as the 2020 Ed Block Courage Award winner by his teammates.
- Posted four tackles in the opener at the LA Rams (9/13) before a broken clavicle put him on Reserve/Injured.
- Returned to practice Oct. 7 and activated Oct. 19 to start against Arizona (10/19) and tallied four tackles.
- Logged a season-best 13 tackles at Washington (10/25).
- Selected as a team captain for the game at Philadelphia (11/1) and notched three tackles, his first career full sack and a forced fumble.
- Topped 300 career tackles, finishing with a team-high and season-high tying 13 at Minnesota (11/22).
- Left the game against San Fransisco (12/20) with an ankle injury and was inactive/injured the final two games.
- Started all nine games he played, missing six with injuries, and landing on Reserve/Injured-Neck for the finale.
- Despite missing seven games, finished third on the defense with 87 tackles while adding two tackles for losses, three pressures, three breakups, a forced fumble and a half sack.
- Had a half sack - his first career sack stat - and his first career forced fumble in the opener against the N.Y. Giants (9/8).
- Reached 200 career tackles in the game against Miami (9/22), posting eight.
- Led the team with a season-high 15 stops at New Orleans (9/29), then paced the unit with 12 tackles against Green Bay (10/6) and 11 at the N.Y. Jets (10/13).
- Suffered a neck injury in the game against Philadelphia (10/20), sat out at the N.Y. Giants (11/4) then returned against Minnesota (11/10) to lead the defense with a season-high tying 15 tackles.
- Played in his final contest of the season at Detroit (11/17) before a neck injury made him inactive for five games and eventually landing him on Reserve/Injured on Christmas Eve.
- Started 11-of-16 games played and led the team with a club rookie record 176 tackles - fourth in team history.
- Earned a Pro Bowl nod (replacement for Kuechly) - the third Dallas rookie defender, first linebacker.
- Made his NFL debut as a reserve linebacker in the opener at Carolina (9/9) and had four tackles, then was second on the team with 10 tackles at Seattle (9/23).
- Earned the first start of his career with Lee (hamstring) inactive against Detroit (9/30) and led the team with 10 tackles and his first career tackle for loss.
- Logged 18 tackles, including 12 solos, at Houston (10/7), then led the team with 12 tackles against Jacksonville (10/14) and Tennessee (11/5).
- Took home NFC Defensive Player of the Week, finishing with a single-game club rookie record 19 tackles, including a season-high 15 solos, with one for a loss, a breakup and his first career interception at Philadelphia (11/11).
- Reached 100 tackles on the season at Atlanta (11/18), finishing with 12 tackles, three breakups, an interception (second straight game with a pick) and a hurry.
- Tied the single-season club rookie tackle record (136), finishing against Philadelphia (12/9) with eight.
- Led the defense with 18 tackles (second in his career) in the NFC East-clinching win over Tampa Bay (12/23).
- Paced the defense with 12 tackles, along with a pressure, in the Wild Card game against Seattle (1/5/19.)
- Started all 14 games he played and led the team with 141 tackles, tied for the team lead with three interceptions, second with 8.5 tackles for loss and third with 4.0 sacks as a junior.
- Was limited to six games as a sophomore while fighting through injuries, logging 27 tackles, a sack, 3.5 stops for losses, one breakup and an interception.
- As a redshirt freshman, played in 12 games as a reserve linebacker and posted 20 tackles, one tackle for a loss, two breakups and a fumble recovery. Added a rush for 10 yards on a fake punt.
- Redshirted as a true freshman.
- Was a three-sport athlete (football, basketball and track and field) at Salmon River High School in Riggins, Idaho.
- Helped the school to state titles in both football and basketball as a junior and senior.
- Played eight-man football, seeing time at quarterback and linebacker.
- Majored in general business at Boise State.
- He and his wife, Madalynn, were married in the spring of 2019.
- 2018 Rookie Club presented by Essilor USA.
- 2018-19 Dallas Cowboys U High School Camp.
- 2020 Cowboys Draft Live virtual draft party.
- 2021 Draft-A-Thon.
- Annual Holiday Hospital Visits.
- Kick Off Luncheon and Dallas Cowboys Family Cookbook benefiting Happy Hill Farm.
- Make-A-Wish Foundation of North Texas.
- Salvation Army Angel Tree Christmas Program.