Leighton Vander Esch

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Leighton Vander Esch
refer to caption
Vander Esch with the Dallas Cowboys in 2018
No. 55 – Dallas Cowboys
Personal information
Born: (1996-02-08) February 8, 1996 (age 22)
Riggins, Idaho
Height:6 ft 4 in (1.93 m)
Weight:255 lb (116 kg)
Career information
High school:Salmon River (Riggins, Idaho)
College:Boise State
NFL Draft:2018 / Round: 1 / Pick: 19
Career history
Roster status:Active
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics as of Week 17, 2018
Total tackles:140
Forced fumbles:0
Fumble recoveries:0
Pass deflections:7
Player stats at NFL.com
Player stats at PFR

Leighton Vander Esch (born February 8, 1996) is an American football linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys of the National Football League (NFL). He played college football at Boise State.

Early years[edit]

Vander Esch, who is of Dutch descent, attended Salmon River High School in Riggins, Idaho, with a graduating class of 11 students. He practiced eight-man football, basketball and ran track.

In football, he played quarterback and middle linebacker. As a senior, he completed 121 out of 199 attempts (60.8 percent) for 2,155 yards and 28 passing touchdowns and one interception. He also had 157 carries for 1,565 yards and 34 rushing touchdowns, 131 tackles (85 solo), 5 interceptions, 5 fumble recoveries and 4 defensive touchdowns. In the state's final 53-38 win against Lighthouse Christian School, he collected more than 500 yards of total offense and scored all 5 of his team's offensive touchdowns. He led his team to a 1A D2 State Championship and was named All-Idaho 1A Division II Player of the Year.

In basketball, he averaged 29.4 points and 11.1 rebounds per game as a senior. He helped his team win two consecutive 1A D2 State Championships.

College career[edit]

Vander Esch walked on at Boise State University.[1][2] As a redshirt freshman, he appeared in all 12 games as a backup linebacker. He registered 20 tackles (14 solo), one sack, one fumble recovery and a first down on a fake punt. As a sophomore, he was limited to 6 games due to a neck injury, returning in the twelfth game against the United States Air Force Academy. He tallied 27 tackles (23 solo), 3.5 tackles-for-loss, one sack and one interception.

As a junior in 2017, he became a starter at weak-side linebacker and had a breakout season. He was named the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year after making 141 tackles (fifth in the FBS), 4 sacks, 2 interceptions and 4 forced fumbles (led the team).[3] After the season, Vander Esch decided to forgo his senior year and enter the 2018 NFL Draft.[4][5] He finished his career with 188 tackles, five sacks and three interceptions.

Professional career[edit]

On December 21, 2017, Vander Esch announced his decision to forgo his remaining eligibility and enter the 2018 NFL Draft.[6] Vander Esch attended the NFL Scouting Combine and completed all of the combine and positional drills. Vander Esch’s overall combine performance impressed scouts as he finished tied for second among all linebackers in the vertical jump and short shuttle.[7] He also tied for fifth among his position group in the broad jump and finished fifth among linebackers in the three-cone drill.[8]

External video
Vander Esch’s NFL Combine Workout
Leighton Vander Esch runs the 40-yard dash

On April 3, 2018, Vander Esch participated at Boise State’s pro day, but opted to stand on his combine numbers and only performed positional drills. He attended pre-draft visits with multiple teams, including the New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, Philadelphia Eagles, Detroit Lions, Dallas Cowboys, and Buffalo Bills.[9][10][11] At the conclusion of the pre-draft process, Vander Esch was projected to be a first round pick by NFL draft experts and scouts.[12] He was ranked as the third best linebacker prospect in the draft by Sports Illustrated, was ranked the third best outside linebacker by DraftScout.com, was ranked the fourth best linebacker by NFL analyst Mike Mayock, and was ranked the sixth best outside linebacker in the draft by ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr.[13][14][15]

Pre-draft measurables
Ht Wt Arm length Hand size 40-yard dash 10-yd split 20-yd split 20-ss 3-cone Vert jump Broad BP
6 ft 4 14 in
(1.94 m)
256 lb
(116 kg)
33 78 in
(0.86 m)
9 34 in
(0.25 m)
4.65 s 1.56 s 2.69 s 4.15 s 6.88 s 39 12 in
(1.00 m)
10 ft 4 in
(3.15 m)
20 reps
All values from NFL Draft[16][17]


The Dallas Cowboys selected Vander Esch in the first round (19th overall) of the 2018 NFL Draft. Vander Esch was the third linebacker drafted in 2018.[18]

External video
Cowboys draft Vander Esch 19th overall
Vander Esch celebrates NFL draft with family

On May 11, 2018, the Dallas Cowboys signed Vander Esch to a fully guaranteed four-year $11.84 million that includes a signing bonus of $6.69 million.[19]

Throughout training camp, Vander Esch competed to be the starting middle linebacker against Jaylon Smith.[20] Head coach Jason Garrett named Vander Esch the backup middle linebacker, behind Jaylon Smith, to start the regular season.[21]

He made his professional regular season debut in the Dallas Cowboys’ season-opener at the Carolina Panthers and recorded three combined tackles in their 16–8 loss. On September 30, 2018, Vander Esch earned his first career start after Sean Lee sustained a hamstring injury and was inactive for three games (Weeks 4–6).[22] He made six combined tackles as the Cowboys defeated the Detroit Lions 26–24. The following week, he collected 14 combined tackles (11 solo) during their 19–16 loss at the Houston Texans in Week 5.[23] On November 11, 2018, Vander Esch recorded a season-high 13 solo tackles and made his first career interception during a 27–20 win over the Philadelphia Eagles, earning him NFC Defensive Player of the Week. Vander Esch intercepted a pass by Eagles’ quarterback Carson Wentz, that was intended for tight end Zach Ertz, during the first quarter.[24] The following week, Vander Esch recorded eight combined tackles, a season-high three pass deflections, and intercepted a pass by Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan during a 22–19 win at the Atlanta Falcons in Week 11. In Week 16, he collected a season-high 15 combined tackles (11 solo) as the Cowboys defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27–20.[25] He finished his first season in 2018 with a franchise rookie-record 140 combined tackles (102 solo), seven deflections, and two interceptions in 16 games and 11 starts.[26] Vander Esch finished with the third most tackles among all players in 2018, behind Indianapolis Colts’ linebacker Darius Leonard (163 tackles) and Green Bay Packers’ linebacker Blake Martinez (144 tackles). He received an overall grade of 87.5 from Pro Football Focus in 2018, which ranked fourth among all qualifying linebackers.[27]

The Dallas Cowboys finished first in the NFC East with a 10–6 record and earned a playoff berth. On January 5, 2019, Vander Esch started in his first career playoff game and recorded ten combined tackles (six solo) as the Cowboys defeated the Seattle Seahawks 24–22 in the NFC Wildcard Game.[25]

Career statistics[edit]

Regular season[edit]

Year Team Games Tackles Interceptions Fumbles
GP GS Comb Total Ast Sck SFTY PDef Int Yds Avg Lng TD FF FR
2018 DAL 16 11 140 102 38 0.0 -- 7 2 56 28.0 28 0 0 --


  1. ^ "Idaho native Vander Esch continuing to improve for Boise State". Retrieved April 28, 2018.
  2. ^ "Vander Esch's rise at Boise State has a whole Idaho community cheering — and busing". Retrieved April 28, 2018.
  3. ^ "Boise State linebacker named Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year". Retrieved April 28, 2018.
  4. ^ "Boise State LB Leighton Vander Esch declares for draft". Retrieved April 28, 2018.
  5. ^ "Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch declares for NFL Draft: "there was nothing holding me back"". Retrieved April 28, 2018.
  6. ^ Hiatt, Kevin (December 21, 2017). "Leighton Vander Esch Announces He's Leaving For NFL". 247sports.com. Retrieved October 23, 2018.
  7. ^ "Sources Tell Us: NFL Combine standout not just workout warrior". NFL.com. March 9, 2018. Retrieved October 24, 2018.
  8. ^ "2018 NFL Combine: Top Performers". NFL.com. Retrieved October 24, 2018.
  9. ^ Gowton, Brandon Lee (March 19, 2018). "Eagles reportedly hosted Leighton Vander Esch on pre-draft visit". bleedinggreennation.com. Retrieved October 24, 2018.
  10. ^ Brady, Kevin (March 22, 2018). "DRAFTREPORT: BOISE STATE LB LEIGHTON VANDER ESCH VISITING COWBOYS". insidethestar.com. Retrieved October 24, 2018.
  11. ^ "BSU LB Leighton Vander Esch scheduled to visit Detroit Lions next week". prideofdetroit.com. April 6, 2018. Retrieved October 24, 2018.
  12. ^ "*Leighton Vander Esch, DS #3 OLB, Boise State". DraftScout.com. Retrieved October 24, 2018.
  13. ^ Mayock, Mike (April 20, 2018). "Mike Mayock's 2018 NFL Draft position rankings 3.0". NFL.com. Retrieved October 24, 2018.
  14. ^ <Kiper Jr., Mel (March 2, 2018). "Mel Kiper's Big Board and position rankings: Top 2018 NFL draft prospects". abcnews.go.com. Retrieved October 24, 2018.
  15. ^ "The 2018 NFL Draft Big Board, 2.0". si.com. Retrieved October 24, 2018.
  16. ^ "NFL Draft Prospect Profile - Leighton Vander Esch". nfl.com. March 1, 2018. Retrieved March 1, 2018.
  17. ^ "Boise State OLB Leighton Vander Esch : 2018 NFL Draft Scout Player Profile". NFLDraftScout.com. Retrieved May 12, 2018.
  18. ^ Sessler, Marc (April 26, 2018). "Cowboys pass on WR, draft LB Leighton Vander Esch". NFL.com.
  19. ^ "Cowboys sign Leighton Vander Esch to rookie deal". NFL. Retrieved May 11, 2018.
  20. ^ "Is Leighton Vander Esch another Brian Urlacher in the making? Or the Cowboys' insurance for Jaylon Smith and Sean Lee?". sportsday.dallasnews.com. July 26, 2018. Retrieved October 24, 2018.
  21. ^ Walker, Patrik (September 5, 2018). "Cowboys release depth chart for season opener vs. Panthers". 247Sports.com. Retrieved October 24, 2018.
  22. ^ "Film Room: Why Cowboys defense will be just fine with Leighton Vander Esch replacing Sean Lee". sportsday.dallasnews.com. September 27, 2018. Retrieved October 24, 2018.
  23. ^ "NFL Player stats: Leighton Vander Esch (2018)". NFL.com. Retrieved October 24, 2018.
  24. ^ Bergman, Jeremy (November 14, 2018). "Ben Roethlisberger, Mitch Trubisky among Players of the Week". NFL.com.
  25. ^ a b "NFL Player stats: Leighton Vander Esch (2018)". NFL.com. Retrieved January 10, 2019.
  26. ^ "NFL Player stats: Leighton Vander Esch (career)". NFL.com. Retrieved January 10, 2019.
  27. ^ "Pro Football Focus: Leighton Vander Esch". profootballfocus.com. Retrieved January 10, 2019.

External links[edit]