The Dallas Cowboys have had some great fortune with first-round picks lately in wide receiver CeeDee Lamb and linebacker Micah Parsons, and if potential starting left guard Tyler Smith pans out, that will make three consecutive hits for Dallas. However, one former prized draft selection hasn’t been as fortunate.

Leighton Vander Esch, who the Cowboys took with the 19th overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft, took the league by storm as a rookie and earned a second-team All-Pro nod. Over the next two seasons, Vander Esch would miss 13 games due to multiple injuries, and although while played in 16 games in 2021, his impact wasn’t consistent.

EPSN feels that can change real soon. When discussing bounce-back candidates for all 32 teams in 2022, Vander Esch was the choice in Big D.

Todd Archer on a possible Vander Esch resurgence:

“The more he plays, the better he plays, and having to split time with Keanu Neal early last season did him no favors. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said Vander Esch had a great offseason, and his start to training camp was equally impressive. The signing of Anthony Barr should not impact him as much since the two will not play the same position. The addition of Barr means Micah Parsons can play more on the line of scrimmage. It is interesting to note that Vander Esch has been calling the defenses in training camp. He is also as healthy as he has ever been since his rookie year.”

It’s never been about ability with Vander Esch. When he’s not on the injury report, he can still be a serviceable linebacker for the Cowboys and one that could bolster a unit that not only processes Parsons and a seasoned veteran like Barr but a potential future stud in Jabril Cox.

One thing that will assist in maximizing what Vander Esch can do is having good play from the interior of the defensive line. When defensive tackle Neville Gallimore came back from injury last season, and interior offensive linemen weren’t able to get to the second level as easily, Vander Esch was able to roam and make plays, which is exactly when he’s been his best. The argument can be made that Vande Esch was the Cowboys’ best defender in their playoff loss to the 49ers as he led the team with 13 tackles.

It’s highly doubtful that the Cowboys feel Vander Esch will turn back the clock and ball out like he once did, and the proof of that is the one-year deal they signed him to in the offseason. However, they saw enough last season to kick the tires on him one more time, and if they are correct, the Cowboys’ linebacker room may be a surprising strength this season when it once looked pretty bleak for the position.

Feature image via Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports