Dallas Cowboys pick Leighton Vander Esch in NFL Draft Round 1
The Dallas Cowboys got better during the 2018 NFL Draft.
Did they do enough to close the gap on the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles?
Well, that remains to be seen.
On paper, it doesn’t look like it.
But no one saw the Eagles making a run to the Super Bowl in the days following the 2017 NFL Draft either.
In terms of what the Cowboys accomplished, they added talent and answered questions at every known need spot, save for safety.
The big question at the top is whether the Cowboys should have taken a receiver in the first round over one-year wonder Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch.
There were no receivers in the draft, let alone at 19 overall, who were No. 1 quality and come as an immediate impact player to replace Dez Bryant.
Vander Esch was the highest ranked player on their board. Yes, he had just one season as a starter and was flagged by five teams because of concerns about his neck. But the Cowboys cleared him medically and, more importantly, they see him as an ideal zone linebacker for their Tampa 2 scheme. He has been compared to Rolando McClain and Bears Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher for his size, athleticism and ability to make plays sideline to sideline and cover the pass.
Now that being said, second-round pick Connor Williams was the team’s best pick. Williams, picked 50th overall, played tackle at Texas and will fill a huge need at left guard next to Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith and Pro Bowl center Travis Frederick. Jonathan Cooper played left guard in 2017, but the Cowboys made no attempt to re-sign him in free agency. Williams is a huge upgrade and allows the Cowboys to make a strong offensive line even stronger to protect Dak Prescott and open holes for Ezekiel Elliott.
The Cowboys finally addressed the receiver position in the third and sixth rounds with Colorado State’s Michael Gallup and Boise State’s Cedrick Wilson to add to their committee approach to replace Bryant.
The Cowboys' picks:
Round 1/19 -- Leighton Vander Esch, LB, 6-4, 240, Boise State
Vander Esch started just one season at Boise State but what a season it was. He had 141 tackles, three interceptions and four sacks. He can run sideline to sideline and cover the pass. He is a middle linebacker and will replace the departed Anthony Hitchens. Cowboys say he reminds them of Rolando McClain and Brian Urlacher.
Round 2/50 -- Connor Williams, OL, 6-5, 296, Texas
He played tackle at Texas, where he was a three-year starter, but will be moved to guard with the Cowboys. He was a first-round talent who dropped to the second round. He allowed just one sack in three seasons at Texas. Cowboys got great value and added a premium player to an already stacked line. Keep what’s strong, strong.
Round 3/81 -- Michael Gallup, WR, 6-1, 205, Colorado State
Gallup was highly productive in college with two 1,000-yard seasons at Colorado State and a total of 21 touchdowns. He is a big physical receiver who goes and gets the ball. He is a future starter, but 2017 will be a part of a committee in Dallas to replace Dez Bryant.
Round 4/116 --Dorance Armstrong, DE, 6-4, 257, Kansas
Armstrong didn't run fast at the combine, but he is an athletic defensive end with excellent bend. Armstrong had 1.5 sacks and nine tackles for loss last season, but had 10 sacks and 20 tackles for loss in 2016. He has six forced fumbles and four pass deflections the past two seasons.
Round 4/137 -- Jordan Schultz, TE, 6-5, 244, Stanford
Jason Witten is retiring so the Cowboys needed to address tight end no matter what they said. Schultz is already a solid blocker and is an underrated receiver after catching 55 passes for 555 yards and five TDs in three seasons. He is smart and will adapt quickly to the NFL.
Round 5/171 -- Michael White, QB, 6-4, 224, Western Kentucky
White fits the QB prototype with his size and arm strength. Not very mobile and would certainly run the offense different from starter Dak Prescott. But he was slated to go much higher, so the Cowboys got tremendous value. Will bring competition to the position behind Prescott.
Round 6/193 -- Chris Covington, LB, 6-2, 245, Indiana
He is a former dual-threat quarterback who moved to linebacker his second year in college. He is a one-year starter but garnered honorable mention All-Big Ten honors after posting 85 tackles, 12 for loss, three sacks, and five pass breakups in 2017. Should make an immediate impact on special teams.
Round 6/208 -- Cedrick Wilson, WR, 6-2, 188, Boise State
Wilson is a speedy receiver who runs disciplined routes and has a chance to give Prescott another vertical threat in the passing game. He can make one-on-one plays down the field. He will replace Brice Butler in that role.
Round 7/236 -- Bo Scarbrough, RB, 6-1, 228, Alabama
He is a No. 1 pick on the "Get Off the Bus" team. He looks the part. He is a powerful, big back who runs behind his pads. He should look good behind the Cowboys offensive line. Has top-end speed. Could be a kickoff returner as a rookie if he makes the team.
The addition of running back/receiver Tavon Austin and defensive tackle Jihad Ward in trades with the Los Angeles Rams and Oakland Raiders are important parts of the draft and keys to the Cowboys getting better.
Austin brings a speed dimension to the offense that has been lacking. He is not going to get the ball 25 times a game, but he will provide a change of pace option to Ezekiel Elliott and the power running game.
Ward gives them another big body at defensive tackle to go with David Irving and Maliek Collins. He still has tools to develop as a former second-round pick.