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‘America’s Team’ makes Vander Esch its No. 1 choice

NFL draft

— Before he went to Boise State, before he went on to be picked No. 19 overall in the NFL draft, Leighton Vander Esch was better-known for basketball than football, judging by the number of people who recalled his slam dunks for Salmon River High School among their favorite memories Thursday night, April 26.

Now the pride of Riggins is officially an NFL pro, having been selected as a top-round linebacker by the Dallas Cowboys, who released an audio recording of team owner Jerry Jones informing Vander Esch his name would be the one league commissioner Roger Goodell would announce from the podium.

The NFL draft, always a celebration of the league’s past and future, was especially mindful of history during the proceedings, with Cowboys greats joining Goodell on stage at the outset. Before announcing the pick, Jones’ team – sometimes called “America’s Team” – filled the stage with Texas high school players in a show of thought for the future.

When Goodell called Vander Esch to the stage, the crowd at Summerville’s erupted.

So why did the Cowboys choose Vander Esch?

ESPN staff writer Todd Archer wrote the Cowboys had targeted Vander Esch early on account of his big season at BSU, and highlighted Dallas’ need for a linebacker with the loss of one to free agency and injury questions haunting two others.

“Vander Esch gives the Cowboys a ton of flexibility,” Archer wrote. “While some teams might have had questions about Vander Esch’s neck following a 2016 injury, the Cowboys were not worried. At the start, he can play middle linebacker but he can play both the weak and the strong sides.”

How good an NFL player can Vander Esch become?

Other analysts have made comparisons to hall-of-famer Brian Urlacher – the absolute highest expectation anyone could imagine for a just-drafted modern linebacker – and Archer’s note expanded on the comparison. He highlighted the role Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli had during Urlacher’s rise to prominence while both men were with the Chicago Bears.

What does Vander Esch think about all this?

In February, he told the Free Press it hadn’t yet hit him he is done with college football.

“I’ve got a lot to look forward to in the future,” he said.

Vander Esch’s immediate future arrived Thursday night, and after the draft, he tweeted: “No better feeling than getting drafted by the @Cowboys in front of #CowboysNation. Let’s get this rolling!! … Couldn’t be more excited and thankful to be a Dallas Cowboy, it’s only the beginning and such a blessing to finally live out my dream and be part of the best organization in the country! We got big things to do Dallas!”


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