Cowboys pass on WR, draft LB Leighton Vander Esch

The wideout-needy Cowboys were widely expected to take a receiver during Thursday night's first round.

Instead, Dallas flipped the script to add a playmaker on defense.

The 'Boys picked linebacker Leighton Vander Esch out of Boise State with the 19th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Chalk it up as an intriguing selection. The 6-foot-4, 255-pound Vander Esch is a long, instinctive inside linebacker who joins a talented group in Dallas that already includes veterans Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith.

"Understand this dude is 20 pounds heavier than the rest of the upscale linebacker class. In the pass game, I think he's special. He's got eyes everywhere," said NFL Media draft guru Mike Mayock. "Just an outstanding football player. I hope the cervical neck issue is OK. I couldn't be happier for the young man."

Speaking with Bob McGinn of, one NFL scout said of Vander Esch, a walk-on at Boise State: "If you've got a guy like [Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski] and the linebacker has to take him down the seam, this guy can do it. He could cover 'Gronk' because he's big and strong, and he's tough. I didn't think he had inside instincts but this kid plays hard, is smart and will hit you."

The Cowboys had the NFL's fourth-worst third-down defense in 2017, an ugly scenario that stands to improve with Vander Esch in the mix.

"Against the run, he's quick to key/read and aggressively shoot gaps. He does a good job sorting through the trash to find the ball," wrote NFL Media draft expert Daniel Jeremiah. "... Vander Esch was one of the most productive players in the country this past season and should be an immediate starter at the next level."

With Vander Esch in the mix, look for the Cowboys to address the Dez Bryant-free wideout room in the coming rounds of the draft.

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