Leighton Vander Esch 2018 NFL Draft Profile

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Leighton Vander Esch

Overview
Position: Inside Linebacker
Height: 6’4″
Weight: 256 pounds
School: Boise State Broncos

Combine Performance Data
40-yard dash: 4.65 seconds
Bench press: 20 reps
Vertical jump: 39.5 inches (tied for second among linebackers)
Broad jump: 10 feet, 4 inches
Three-cone drill: 6.88 seconds
20-yard shuttle: 4.15 seconds (tied for second among linebackers)
60-yard shuttle: 11.57 seconds (second among linebackers)

Leighton Vander Esch 2018 NFL Draft Profile

Leighton Vander Esch was a dynamic high school athlete that played football, basketball, and track and field. He helped Idaho’s Salmon River High School win back-to-back state titles in both football and basketball as a junior and senior. Along with playing linebacker, Vander Esch impressed as a quarterback in a school district that plays eight-on-eight football. He threw for 2,155 yards, and 28 touchdowns with just one interception in his senior year, but his play at linebacker stood out even more. Vander Esch recorded 131 tackles (85 solo) along with five interceptions, five fumble recoveries, and four defensive touchdowns.

Vander Esch always dreamed of playing football at Boise State and he got his wish in 2014 after a successful walk-on try-out. Vander Esch redshirted his first season at Boise State and spent his freshman and sophomore years with the Broncos as a rotational player. He recorded a combined 47 tackles (4.5 for losses), one sack, and one interception in those two seasons.

As a junior, Vander Esch moved into the Bronco’s starting lineup and had one of the country’s best seasons at linebacker. He finished second in the NCAA with 91 solo tackles (8.5 for losses) and made four sacks. Vander Esch also recorded two interceptions, broke up five passes and forced a conference-best four fumbles on his way to winning Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year. Vander Esch saved his best for last in 2017, earning Defensive MVP in the Mountain West Championship Game, and turning in a 12 tackle, one sack, one forced fumble performance in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Strengths

  • aggressive at the point of attack, excellent at shedding blocks;
  • quick to diagnose run direction and find a path to the ball carrier;
  • dependable open-field tackler;
  • matches up well with athletic tight ends in man coverage;
  • has the size and speed expected from a traditional NFL MIKE linebacker;
  • didn’t blitz frequently at Boise State, but showed decent closing speed when rushing the passer;
  • rarely allowed completed passes when in zone coverage;
  • exceptional lateral mobility and change of direction ability.

Weaknesses

  • has trouble wrapping up bigger running backs;
  • will occasionally react too quickly and take a bad angle on runs up the middle;
  • has difficulty limiting and tracking mobile quarterbacks;
  • can get overwhelmed by down blocking linemen at times;
  • started only one season at Boise State.

NFL ComparisonRolando McClain

Projection: First round

Teams with need at positionOakland RaidersDallas CowboysMinnesota VikingsPittsburgh SteelersNew England PatriotsPhiladelphia EaglesBuffalo Bills

Bottom Line

Vander Esch is one of the most complete prospects at linebacker in this year’s draft. He’s an instinctive and aggressive pass defender in both man and zone coverage and has the size and speed to match up with elite NFL tight ends. Vander Esch quickly diagnoses run direction and excels at shedding blocks, although sometimes he takes on too many blocks when there’s an easier path to the ball-carrier. After starting only one season at Boise State Vander Esch may not be ready for full-time action in his first NFL season, but a great showing at the Combine has moved him up to a first-round projection.

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