6. Leighton Vander Esch, Linebacker
The Dallas Cowboys drafted linebacker Leighton Vander Esch in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. At the time the pick seemed like a mistake given the fact that Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley was still on the board and the Cowboys were in desperate need of help in their receiving corps.
However, the Boise State defender quickly burst onto the scene during his rookie year and finished the season with an astonishing 140 total tackles and two interceptions. The young linebacker was selected to Pro Bowl after his impressive rookie campaign and has been the “quarterback” of the defense ever since.
Vander Esch headed into his second season with the organization with high expectations and he got out to a promising start in 2019. The second-year defender managed to accrue an impressive 72 total tackles before being sidelined with a neck injury that saw him miss the final five games of the year.
After missing the end of 2019 due to injury the 24-year old linebacker headed into 2020 with the hopes of once again reclaiming his role as the teams’ leader on the defensive side of the ball. Unfortunately, he suffered a fractured collarbone in the teams’ season opener against the Los Angeles Rams.
After missing a month of play the “Wolf Hunter” returned to action in the teams’ matchup against the Arizona Cardinals. He played limited snaps and struggled to make an impact on the field as the Cowboys got routed by the Cardinals 38-10. However, in his first game back playing at full strength he finished the contest tied for the most total tackles with 12.
Leighton Vander Esch’s’ return has helped the teams’ struggling defense. His ability to diagnose plays, bring down players and drop back effectively in coverage points to a potentially bright future for the young linebacker. However, Vander Esch will need to stay healthy in order to move up this list in the future.