What the statistical trends say about the futures of Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch

A high upside linebacker with question marks coming out of college. An impressive start to give fans hope for their future on the team. Then injuries and decreased performance derailed any belief that they could be a perennial Pro Bowler.

Who did you have in mind when you read the previous paragraph, Leighton Vander Esch or Jaylon Smith? The truth is that both of these players have had remarkably similar careers to this point. In 2018, the Cowboys had two top-eight linebackers according to Pro Football Focus. The impressive aspect was those two players were under the age of 24.

Fast forward three years later, where the Cowboys are declining the fifth-year option for Leighton Vander Esch shortly after selecting a linebacker in the first round of the draft. Things have drastically changed since 2018.