Houston Texans: Four candidates for DROY competing with Justin Reid

Houston Texans safety Justin Reid (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Houston Texans safety Justin Reid (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) /
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Houston Texans
Leighton Vander Esch, a DROY candidate competing with Justin Reid (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) /

Player #1: Leighton Vander Esch

The first player that comes to mind in regard to defensive rookies having successful seasons is linebacker Leighton Vander Esch.  I recall the Dallas Cowboys fan base being extremely critical of this pick as they wanted a wide receiver to replace the outgoing Dez Bryant.

The team signed Allen Hurns and Tavon Austin but it wasn’t enough to complement Cole Beasley who continues to be one of the team’s best weapons on offense in the slot.

However, that still wasn’t enough as the Cowboys’ offense was still struggling to find a rhythm with Dak Prescott to produce points up on the board.

The Cowboys made a deal with the Oakland Raiders well before the trade deadline to swap their 2019 first-round pick to land the talented but beleaguered wide receiver Amari Cooper.  Things started to click with his presence and Cooper can really say that he has been vital to the team’s four-game win streak being tops in the NFC Least…err uh…NFC East.  I kid but it’s so hard to give credit to anything related to Cowboys as I’m obviously a fan of the Houston Texans.

But Vander Esch has evolved into a vital piece to the Front 7 with talented but aging 32-year-old Sean Lee, his counterpart, having missed seven games this season thus far with his return still remaining uncertain.

According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Vander Esch, a first-round pick (19th overall) out of Boise State, is first among rookies in tackles (85), first in run stops (42) and second in targets (64).

His PFF grades are: 88.5 overall, 83.3 run defense, 84.2 tackling, 65.5 pass rush and 83.3 in coverage.

The only thing he’s lacking is his ability to create a pass rush but I think that’s something he’ll develop over time through his career.  He’s not asked to do that much and has been impactful in Rod Marinelli’s hybrid 4-3 defensive set.

Will Vander Esch win it all?  He’s certainly got a strong case.