Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch attributes family for molding him into an athlete
The Dallas Cowboys held their pre-draft news conference this week and didn’t reveal much in terms of which way they might lean with the 19th overall pick in the NFL Draft.
The trouble with having the 19th pick, of course, is that so many variables will unfold in the first couple of hours at AT&T Stadium in Arlington Thursday before the Cowboys are even on the clock. At this point, wide receiver and linebacker are the two strongest options.
The Cowboys cut wide receiver Dez Bryant earlier this month and have done extensive homework on the wide receiving class, including Alabama’s Calvin Ridley, Maryland’s D.J. Moore and SMU’s Courtland Sutton.
At linebacker, they’ve lost Anthony Hitchens in free agency and it’s tough to count on the health of Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith. That’s why they’re eyeing linebackers in this year’s draft, bringing in a couple of first-round options for pre-draft visits in Boise State’s Leighton Vander Esch and Alabama’s Rashaan Evans.
Vander Esch and Evans provide versatility at the position, and each would provide an immediate impact on a team that doesn’t think it’s too far off from contending for a championship.
The thought here is that the Cowboys go with a linebacker in the first-round for the first time since 2006 (Ohio State’s Bobby Carpenter). Vander Esch is our pick for them, assuming he’s available at No. 19.
And, in our final mock draft, he is available.
Here's the Star-Telegram's last mock draft ...
1. Cleveland Browns. Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
USC’s Sam Darnold may be the “safer” pick, and Baker Mayfield may be the “sexier” pick, but Allen has arguably the most upside of any quarterback in this draft. He has the best arm and seems to have the right mindset to turn around the Browns franchise. General manager John Dorsey uses this pick on who he believes is the future of the franchise.
2. New York Giants. Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State
Darnold and Saquon Barkley are tempting here, but the Giants throw the first curveball by going with Chubb. At the end of the day, an elite pass rusher is tougher to find than a running back. Last season’s leading rusher, Kansas City’s Kareem Hunt, was a third-round pick.
3. New York Jets. Sam Darnold, QB, USC
The Jets land the quarterback who's widely considered the “safest” quarterback choice in this year’s class. They hope Darnold lives up to the hype.
4. Cleveland Browns. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
The Browns could field trade offers for this pick, but Barkley is too talented to pass up. Cleveland lands what it hopes are two franchise-changing players in Allen and Barkley.
5. Denver Broncos. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
Case Keenum is the starter for the immediate future, and this provides a perfect breeding ground for the reigning Heisman Trophy winner.
6. Indianapolis Colts. Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame
Arguably the best player in the draft, the Colts get Andrew Luck more inside protection.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Derwin James, S, Florida State
A Day 1 starter who has drawn comparisons to Sean Lee and Ed Reed will help a secondary that ranked last in pass defense, allowing 260.6 yards a game.
8. Chicago Bears. Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
Shutdown corners don’t grow on trees, and Ward has the makings of being just that at the next level.
9. San Francisco 49ers. Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
At just 19, Edmunds is going to be the youngest player in the NFL. But he’s an elite athlete and should become a staple for a 49ers team that is facing an uncertain future with 2017 first-rounder Reuben Foster.
10. Oakland Raiders. Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
Jon Gruden lands a player he hopes becomes the next Derrick Brooks. Smith is coming off a monster season for Georgia in which he had 14 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks.
11. Miami Dolphins. Minkah Fitzpatrick, S, Alabama
Fitzpatrick is a do-it-all defensive back who can play safety, corner and nickel. Miami could look going quarterback here, but Adam Gase – a Nick Saban disciple – goes with the Jim Thorpe Award winner.
12. Buffalo Bills. Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
The Bills might have to trade into the top-five to get their quarterback of choice. But Rosen slides to them in this scenario.
13. Washington Redskins. Vita Vea, DT, Washington
A massive run-stuffing DT can only help a team that ranked last in run defense a season ago.
14. Green Bay Packers. Harold Landry, OLB, Boston College
Landry had a disappointing season as a senior in 2017, but he still has the makings of being an elite edge rusher at the next level. The Packers gamble on him over Texas-San Antonio's Marcus Davenport.
15. Arizona Cardinals. Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
Larry Fitzgerald can’t play forever, and Ridley couldn’t ask for a better mentor than the future Hall of Famer.
16. Baltimore Ravens. Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
The Ravens had one of the worst passing offenses last season. Sure, they could use more weapons, but quarterback Joe Flacco could use more time too. McGlinchey is an upgrade over James Hurst at right tackle.
17. Los Angeles Chargers. Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA
A quarterback, such as Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph, is tempting here. But Miller had impressive workouts and becomes another piece of a young core on this O-line.
18. Seattle Seahawks. Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA
Davenport is a project, but has massive upside. He piled up 15 sacks the past two seasons at UTSA and would fit in nicely with the Seahawks’ scheme.
19. Dallas Cowboys. Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State
Wide receiver is a need, but the Cowboys can address that in Round 2. At this point, they opt for a promising and versatile linebacker who had 141 tackles last season.
20. Detroit Lions. Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama
Payne is the best player on the board at this point and is a talent in the trenches who will help every level of the defense. He also has flexibility if Matt Patricia is running a 3-4 or 4-3.
21. Cincinnati Bengals. James Daniels, C, Iowa
Daniels is the best center in this class and maybe best to come out since Alex Mack in 2009. He has versatility to start at any three of the interior line positions and will help the Bengals immediately.
22. Buffalo Bills. Isaiah Wynn, OG, Georgia
The Bills’ O-line is going through a transition with the departures of Cordy Glenn, Richie Incognito and Eric Wood. Wynn is a plug-and-play starter who is expected to transition from left tackle in college to guard in the pros.
23. New England Patriots. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
The Patriots have shown interest in Jackson throughout the draft process and pull the trigger here on Tom Brady’s heir apparent. Jackson is a dual-threat quarterback who threw for 27 touchdowns and rushed for 18 last season.
24. Carolina Panthers. Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville
He had an injury-plagued season as a junior, but had five interceptions as a sophomore. Carolina is looking for secondary help.
25. Tennessee Titans. Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama
A physical linebacker with power and speed who had 13 tackles for loss last season. Oh, and new coach Mike Vrabel knows a thing or two about linebacker play.
26. Atlanta Falcons. Taven Bryan, DT, Florida
Bryan has drawn comparisons to Philadelphia’s Fletcher Cox. A prospect with that much upside has to entice a coach such as Dan Quinn, who spent time at Florida as the defensive coordinator and defensive line coach in 2011-12.
27. New Orleans Saints. Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State
Drew Brees gets another weapon in hopes of making another push for a championship. After failing to bring back Jimmy Graham, Gesicki gives the Saints a big target at 6-foot-5, 247 pounds, especially in the red zone.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers. Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
The Steelers could be tempted to find Ben Roethlisberger’s eventual replacement, but Jackson is too hard to pass up. This is a guy who had 27 passes defended and eight interceptions for the Hawkeyes last season.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars. Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
The Jaguars didn’t have a 1,000-yard receiver, and the leader in TD receptions was veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis with five. They need more playmakers for Blake Bortles, and Sutton has the makings of being a No. 1 receiving threat.
30. Minnesota Vikings. Mike Hughes, CB, Central Florida
Mike Zimmer loves cornerbacks, and Hughes has upside. He had four interceptions and 11 passes defended last season for the undefeated Golden Knights.
31. New England Patriots. Connor Williams, OT, Texas
Nate Solder bolted in free agency, and the Patriots address that void by bringing in Williams. Williams played left tackle in college, but could move inside in the NFL.
32. Philadelphia Eagles. Derrius Guice, LSU
The Eagles have a stocked roster and add another playmaker to their offense in Guice, who was among the Eagles’ pre-draft visits. Guice provides stability at running back, too, with Jay Ajayi entering the final year of his contract in 2018.