Playing eight-man High School football in a small town in Idaho, working as river rafting guide, and graduating with a class of 11 students is where his journey began. His odds of making it to the National Football League were one in a million, however, Leighton Vander Esch was determined to make it one way or the other.
— Dallas Cowboys (@dallascowboys) November 19, 2018
He started off college football career at Boise State University as a walk-on Redshirt freshman and spent the season as a backup and did get some playing time. After his freshman season, Vander Esch was awarded a scholarship. Dealing with a neck injury his sophomore year, he only appeared in six games. In 2017, he was named Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year, becoming the first player in Boise State Football history to win the award. Soon after, he made the decision to forgo his senior season and declare for the NFL Draft. He was ranked as the third-best linebacker prospect of the 2018 NFL Draft and was projected as a first-round draft pick.
The Dallas Cowboys selected Vander Esch in the first round of the draft. The Cowboys initially intended on taking a wide receiver but when Dallas was on the clock and Vander Esch was right there, they took him, and the rest is history. His draft profile describes him as a loose-hipped and instinctive every-down linebacker that has the strength that allows him to counter blocks, do well in coverage, and rack up statistics.
At the 2018 NFL Combine, Vander Esch was compared to Brian Urlacher. Current Dallas Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli coached Urlacher from 2009 to 2012, so if there’s anyone who can truly compare Vander Esch to Urlacher, it’s certainly Marinelli. However, comparisons are simply just opinions and being compared to Urlacher should be the last thing on Vander Esch’s mind.
Vander Esch began this season as a backup and made his first start on September 30th against the Detroit Lions replacing an injured Sean Lee. He recorded his first career interception on November 11th against the Philadelphia Eagles and was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week.
He would record his second interception the very next week against the Atlanta Falcons. Vander Esch currently leads the Cowboys defense in tackles and he recently became the sixth rookie in Dallas Cowboys history to register 100 tackles. When Vander Esch steps on a gridiron, he simply lets his athleticism do the talking.
Vander Esch was never guaranteed anything in his entire football career. Everything he has accomplished so far in his career is thanks to his hard work. This season, there was no guarantee of starting games, but when the door opened for him, he immediately jumped in and took advantage. For a Cowboys team in need of young talent like Vander Esch, the 22-year-old is a breath of fresh air.