On Thursday, April 26, 2018, I sat inside my friend’s dorm in Commerce, TX, and stared anxiously at his television while the NFL Draft played.
Every year since 2014, Draft Day has been a holiday of sorts for me. I request the day off from my job, find a couple of friends, get some food together and enjoy watching 32 NFL franchises attempt to build the future of their team.
The Dallas Cowboys had just come off a disappointing 9-7 season that had fans and analysts across the country pushing for the firing of head coach Jason Garrett and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.
America’s Team held the 19th overall pick in the first round. Several names flew through my head as I thought about which rookie I wanted to don the Star in 2018: Vita Vea, Derwin James, Calvin Ridley and Harold Landry just to name a few.
These players all filled glaring needs for the Cowboys. Vea and Landry would cement the defensive line that had seen major improvements in 2017. Derwin James would allow Byron Jones to move back to cornerback and would give new defensive backs coach Kris Richard an amazing slew of talent to use. Calvin Ridley would give the offense a tall, powerful receiver that could learn alongside Dez – prior to his eventual release from the team over the summer.
Vea and James both went before Dallas was on the clock, leading to those of us in the room to argue over whether Ridley or Landry would get their name called. I was pulling for Landry, as I knew he was one of the best defensive talents in the game and our offense would be fine without a cat like Ridley.
One name did not come to mind, however, and that was the name that was announced by Roger Goodell.
“With the 19th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys select Leighton Vander Esch, linebacker, Boise State,” Goodell said.
First, there was shock. Then, there was disgust. Finally, there was sadness. Over the course of the next hour, I ignored the television and instead went to Twitter to let everyone know how upset I was.
I wasn’t alone, either. Most Cowboys writers, fans and analysts were upset with the pick. It seemed like a stretch.
Surely Vander Esch could’ve been drafted at a lower spot, right? What if they traded back a few spots and grabbed another second rounder? This was the third year in a row I was disappointed with Dallas’ first-round draft pick.
I didn’t like the Ezekiel Elliott pick at the time, but he proved me wrong very quickly, leading the Cowboys to a 13-3 regular season record alongside fellow rookie Dak Prescott.
I still don’t like the Taco Charlton pick. His production has been disgustingly low for a first-round draft pick, tallying four sacks, 25 tackles and a forced fumble in 24 games.
And now Leighton.
I didn’t want to blindly hate the guy, so I went to watch some film, and I found one glaring constant – he played softly. He couldn’t get off blocks, and if he did, he got trucked by the ball carrier. Exactly what the Cowboys needed: another soft defender.
I was unhappy about the pick for the next 5 months. When the season came around, he didn’t start, which I expected as much. Vander Esch’s first start came in Week 4 against the Detroit Lions. The Cowboys were 1-2 heading into the game and were without starting linebacker Sean Lee.
Prior to this game, Dallas was 1-7 in the past three years when playing without defensive captain Lee. That’s how big of an impact he has on this defense. Vander Esch’s six-tackle stat line wasn’t jaw-dropping, but it got the job done. The Cowboys won the game 26-24 and improved to .500 on the season.
In the following week’s loss to the Houston Texans, Vander Esch led the team in tackles with 14. This caught my eye. In Dallas’ second straight game without Lee, Vander Esch balled out.
Through the Washington Redskins game on Thanksgiving, Vander Esch has tallied 93 total tackles, two interceptions with 56 return yards, six pass deflections and two stuffs. He currently leads the Cowboys in tackles, 15 ahead of fellow linebacker Jaylon Smith. He is the NFL’s leader in solo tackles with 72. According to @BobbyBeltTX on Twitter, Vander Esch has only played 73.6% of Dallas’ snaps, making this even more impressive.
He is tied for the lead with safety Xavier Woods in interceptions AS A LINEBACKER. His two interceptions lead safety Jeff Heath, cornerback Anthony Brown and defensive lineman Demarcus Lawrence.
But, the stat lines don’t reflect just how well Vander Esch has played this season. His ability to recognize the play, change directions and make the tackle in open space is incredible. He’s much more powerful than his college film showed, stopping offensive players running full speed in their tracks.
Vander Esch has the potential to be the next General Lee, but hopefully with better hamstring and ACL health. If he can stay on the field, Vander Esch could be the best player wearing the Star for years to come.
So, this is my official statement on the matter.
I was wrong about Leighton Vander Esch.
Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott Paying for Funeral Expenses for 8th Grade Football Player
Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Ellitt is paying for the funeral expenses of promising eight-grade football player Jaylon McKenzie, who was killed by a stray bullet as he left a party near St. Louis, Missouri on Saturday night, according to ESPN’s Todd Archer.
Elliott grew up in St. Louis, and wanted to keep the matter between him and the McKenzie family.
“Zeke is really a special guy,” coach Jason Garrett said Wednesday. “He’s a great football player obviously, but he’s a really good person and that doesn’t surprise me one bit.
McKenzie’s mother, Sukeena Gunner, said that her son was trying to leave a party in Venice, Illinois, when a fight broke out. Illinois State Police say that McKenzie was struck by a stray bullet and passed away at a local hospital.
“He’s just very generous. He’s got a great spirit about him. We see that every day as players and coaches. Anybody that’s been around him knows that, and it doesn’t surprise me one bit that he would get involved there. He’s someone that a lot of people look up to, a lot of people certainly in St. Louis and Missouri, Ohio State, all across the country. If you’re a fan of football, you know Zeke Elliott, and anybody who’s been around him on a daily basis knows what kind of person he is.”
McKenzie was a stand out running back and had already received college scholarship offers in 8th grade. He was selected to compete in the All-America All-Star Game in Canton, Ohio during the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction weekend.
A 15-year old girl, who was also hit, remains in critical condition.
Troy Aikman Rips Cowboys Organization, Calls for Overhaul of Organization
Former Dallas Cowboys signal caller, Hall of Famer, and current color commentator Troy Aikman has seen enough of the Cowboys ineptitude following Monday night’s embarrassing loss to the Tennessee Titans.
Aikman, who won 3 Super Bowl titles with the Cowboys, is calling for a major organizational overhaul in order to get things right.
“Go through the list and this team, over a long period of time, has been what it’s been,” Aikman said Tuesday on 1310 The Ticket, according to ESPN’s Todd Archer. “It hasn’t always mattered who the head coach has been. So to me, if you’re asking me, I’d say there has to be a complete overhaul of the entire organization.”
Aikman is probably like a lot of fans, and even analysts, who believe that changes are needed in Dallas, particularly along the sidelines that head coach Jason Garrett currently roams.
Change beyond that seems unlikely as Jerry Jones still rules supreme and has since the late 1980s.
Cowboys Cut Dan Bailey From Team
Over the weekend, when teams are finalizing their 53-man roster, the Dallas Cowboys makes Cowboys fans say… why? Why did you cut Dan Bailey?
Eight-year veteran kicker out of Oklahoma State Dan Bailey was released from the Dallas Cowboys. When Bailey arrived in 2011 as an undrafted free-agent, he became the highest scoring Cowboys player in multiple games. Also, during those six seasons, he has made at least 95 percent of his kicks becoming the second most accurate kicker in the NFL.
In 2017 during the San Francisco 49ers game, Bailey injured his groin and had to miss four games. When he returned he would miss at least one kick dropping his accuracy to about 70 percent.
During the 2018 off-season, the Cowboys cautiously signed Kicker Brett Maher. Maher kicked for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Ottawa Redblacks from 2014-2017. Since he is the only kicker on the roster, he is expected to start in week 1 when the Cowboys travel to Charlotte, NC to battle against the Carolina Panthers.
Now that Bailey is on the market and has cleared waivers, he is on the free-agent market. With that, he is expected to work out with the New York Jets this week.
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