One former Dallas Cowboys Pro Bowler signed with the wrong team, says one analyst.
According to Bleacher Report’s Alex Ballentine, linebacker Leighton Vander Esch signed with the “wrong” team this offseason. The 26-year-old signed a one-year deal worth $ 2 million to return to the Cowboys. However, Ballentine argues that Vander Esch should have taken his talents elsewhere considering his role has declined in Dallas during the 2021 season.
“Vander Esch had an astounding rookie season in 2018,” says Ballentine. However, his time in Dallas has been rocky since. He has posted PFF grades of 58.4, 50.6 and 63.5 in his past three seasons after scoring at 84.4 as a rookie.
While playing in Dan Quinn’s system helped him post his highest grade since his rookie year, he did so while playing the smallest role of his career. Vander Esch was only on the field for 58 percent of the defensive snaps in 2021 despite being a starter. ”
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Vander Esch’s Sensational Start With Cowboys
Vander Esch made waves during his rookie campaign, as he made the Pro Bowl in his first season in the league. The former first-round draft pick posted 140 combined tackles in his rookie season, ranking third overall in the NFL and setting a franchise rookie-record in the process.
According to Pro Football Focus, Vander Esch posted an 85.4 overall grade during the 2018 season, ranking fifth among all linebackers.
As noted by Ballentine, Vander Esch’s role and playing time continues to decrease. During the 2021 season, Vander Esch saw just 58% of the snaps on defense. That was by far the lowest amount of playing time of his career as he played 77% of defensive snaps in 2018, 85% of snaps in 2019 and 67% snaps in 2020.
It also doesn’t help that Vander Esch’s career has been derailed by injuries. The fifth-year linebacker was limited to just 19 games during the 2019 and 2020 seasons due to a nerve issue that required surgery in 2019 and a broken collarbone that required another surgery during the 2020 season.
If one believes Vander Esch’s playing time will suddenly skyrocket back to 2019 and 2020 levels, think again. Despite the departure of Keanu Neal – who shifted to a linebacker role with the Cowboys from his natural safety position – Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones says 2021 fourth-round pick Jabril Cox will step into that role.
Cox is coming off of ACL surgery and was limited to just seven games last season.
Cowboys EVP Stephen Jones said LB Jabril Cox, a 2021 fourth-round pick, is ‘doing really well’ after the ACL tear on Oct. 31. ‘I think he is coming along great. Should be a big plus for us this year. Will fill right in where Keanu left off. I think he has great coverage skills. ‘”
Vander Esch will likely maintain a key role as a fixture in the defense, but he likely would have been better off playing on a one-year “prove-it” deal elsewhere.
Cowboys Sign RB Ryan Nall
Dallas is adding some veteran depth to their running back room.
The Cowboys announced the signing of Ryan Nall on Friday, April 8.
The 26-year-old Nall spent the first four seasons of his career with the Chicago Bears after joining the team as an undrafted free agent in 2018. He has seen the vast majority of his playing time on special teams, appearing in 65% of the special teams snaps in games he’s played in.
Nall has appeared in 25 games over the past three seasons.