3 linebackers the Cowboys could draft to replace Leighton Vander Esch

After the line-backers retirement, Dallas must look to fill his shoes.
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When the Dallas Cowboys drafted Leighton Vander Esch in 2018 out of Boise State, they knew they were getting a tackling-machine. Sadly, Vander Esch announced his retirement following complications from his latest neck injury that prematurely ended his 2023 season.

Vander Esch leaves his NFL career among the top ten players in recorded tackles in Cowboys franchise history with 296 takedowns. The former first-round pick's career was cut short, but he made his mark in the league and will be missed.

The Cowboys signed veteran LB Eric Kendricks, but they could use another linebacker to rotate with Damone Clark and 2023 third-round pick DeMarvion Overshown. They've hosted a number of LBs for 30 visits, so let's take a look at some prospects Dallas can draft to replace Vander Esch.

1. Payton Wilson, NC State

2023: 138 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, 6 sacks

NC State's Payton Wilson was the 2023 Chuck Bednarik award winner for a reason. Where his success starts is the hefty amount of tackles his tallies. With138 tackles as a senior and 402 throughout his college career, Wilson has a knack for bringing down ball-carriers.

Wilson has perfect size at 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds and his pursuit, speed and acceleration make him a ferocious pass-rusher. He can blitz from either end and Mike Zimmer could put Wilson in different roles to cause havoc. The 2023 ACC Defensive player of the year is a perfect fit for Dallas.

Additionally, Wilson has the football IQ to be effective in zone coverages. He can guard crossing tigh ends and even run stride-for-stride with slot receivers. The former Wolfpack star could step in right away and be productive. His injury history is a potential red flag, but it likely won't be long until he has a "Captain emblem on an NFL uniform regardless of where he's drafted.

2. Edgerrin Cooper, Texas A&M

2023: 84 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 7 sacks

If there was ever a raw player that has the intangibles to become a stud, look no further than Edgerrin Cooper, who formally met with Dallas at the combine and is a 30 visit with the team. The 2023 All-American is a fearless pass-rusher and has molded into a well-rounded player throughout his time at Texas A&M.

Cooper has a killer instinct coming downhill and his quick first-step and reaction-time make it easy for him to get into the backfield. His long arms and wide frame give him a wide tackling radius. He'd fit well in Zimmer's scheme as he could be used in a variety of ways.

Cooper has the tools of a great modern-NFL linebacker and his intensity would be a great asset to the Dallas defense.

3. Jeremiah Trotter Jr., Clemson

2023: 88 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 6 sacks

Viewed as undersized and not as physically-gifted as other linebackers in his class, Trotter Jr. still shines in different areas. Elite speed and high motor are his strong-suits. His pass-rushing ability is scary as he gets in the backfield fiercely. He is long and he can cover a lot of ground.

Trotter Jr. has a precise tackling technique and his ability to step back in coverage is reminscent of longtime Cowboys enemy Fred Warner of the 49ers. Dallas needs a LB than can make plays from any spot on the field. The former Tiger can do just that.

Trotter Jr. didn't qualify for the all-important relative athletic score due to a lack of measurements. That could see him slide to day three of the draft. If the Cowboys come away with an offensive tackle, running back and defensive tackle with their first few picks, Trotter Jr. would be a nice consolation prize on day three.

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