Because most rookies don’t get enough credit, we’ll be highlighting some top performances by the NFL’s next generation.
Defense: Week 10
Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Dallas Cowboys
Not many people had Leighton Vander Esch going in the first round this year. He was massively productive in his senior year at Boise St. but was also only a one-year starter. His combine numbers, however, were eye-popping, and he displayed a nose for the ball in the limited tape he had. I saw him going late in the first round to a stacked defensive team that would give him some time to grow into his frame and learn on the job, so I was a bit surprised to see Dallas take him at 19 th overall. Their faith has been rewarded. In Sunday’s huge win over the defending Super Bowl champs, Vander Esch took the Cowboys defense on his back. He racked up thirteen tackles, including one for loss, and a beautifully instinctive interception. Carson Wentz threw a dart that looked destined to become a huge gain deep in Dallas territory for Zach Ertz, but Vander Esch stepped into space and elevated, snagging the ball, and hit the ground running. Almost thirty yards later, he had set the Cowboys up in prime position to take the lead. Without Sean Lee, the Dallas defense has seemed somewhat unmoored, but it looks like they might have found a new quarterback for that defensive unit in Vander Esch, who’s already racked up 77 tackles, despite only starting four of the Cowboys first nine games.
Image Source: USA Today