NFL Draft Prospect Breakdown: Leighton Vander Esch

Other Breakdowns

Quenton Nelson – 93/100
Saquon Barkley
 – 92/100
Tremaine Edmunds – 89/100
Bradley Chubb – 89/100
Derwin James – 88/100
Roquan Smith – 87/100
Minkah Fitzpatrick – 87/100
Harold Landry – 85/100
Rashaan Evans – 84/100
Will Hernandez – 84/100
Baker Mayfield – 84/100
Sam Darnold – 83/100
Josh Rosen – 83/100
Lamar Jackson – 82/100
Marcus Davenport – 82/100
Calvin Ridley – 81/100
Josh Allen – 77/100

Stats, Awards, and Accolades

leighton

Class: Redshirt Junior
Height: 6’4″
Weight: 256 lbs
Awards & Accolades: First Team All-Mountain West (2017), Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year (2017)

After very limited playing time in his first two years, Leighton Vander Esch exploded onto the scene in his junior year, racking up 188 tackles and seven turnovers in his 14 games at Boise State. His four forced fumbles in 2017 ranked 1st in the Mountain West Conference. At the combine, Vander Esch ran a 4.65 40-yard dash at just over 250 pounds, slightly above average for linebackers. His 20 bench press reps were slightly below average.

For this NFL Draft prospect breakdown, I rewatched three of his games from this junior season, his primetime games against Virginia and Wyoming, as well as his bowl game against Oregon. These offenses ranked 109th, 119th, and 32nd in Bill Connely’s offensive rankings for 2017. Watching the bowl game and two primetime games will give me a good idea of how Vander Esch plays under the spotlight. Boise State’s defense as a whole ranked 30th in those same rankings.

Pros

Good size
Great in zone coverage
Follow a quarterback’s eyes
Causes fumbles
Quick
Good tackler
Quick to the flat
Scheme versatile
Upside

Cons

Overaggressive
Can’t shed blocks
Leads with shoulder
Injury-prone
Limited experience
Strength

Grades

Speed – 8.5/10
Coverage – 8.5/10
Tackling – 8.5/10
Block-Shedding – 6/10
Pass Rush – 6.5/10

Scheme Fits

Middle Linebacker – 8.5/10
Weak-Side Linebacker – 8/10
Strong-Side Linebacker – 8/10

Overall Grade: 77/100

A reminder, this where I think he should go, not where he will go, these rankings also DO NOT take into account positional importance

90+ Superstar
85+ Elite Player (Top Ten)
80+ First Round Talent
77+ Second Round Talent
74+ Third Round Talent
66+ Third Day Talent (Rounds 4-7)

10/10 Rating – Best in the class or close to it
7.5/10 Rating – Average
5/10 Rating – Poor

Leighton Vander Esch is rangy and plays good coverage, but I don’t see how you could draft him in the first round. Vander Esch often struggles to get off blocks, and while he can use his speed to avoid getting caught up in traffic, if he does get stuck on a block, he is out for the rest of the play. He needs to increase his strength if he wants to get better at block shedding, his 20 bench press reps came in the 34th percentile among linebackers. At times Vander Esch can be overaggressive, and can overpursue the play and get caught up in blocks rather than sitting back and waiting for the play to come to him. I feel he would fit best as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 or as the mike linebacker in a 4-3. He could play outside backer, but I would think his blitzing would need to vastly improve before he could be a three-down starter there. Vander Esch did impress me greatly in coverage, he is athletic enough to follow the quarterback’s eyes and jump the passing lane at times, which is a valuable skill to have.

Vander Esch is a one year wonder, and he has a major flaw in his game, the fact that he can not get off blocks, but he is good enough in coverage that he could make meaningful contributions to an NFL team as a backup middle linebacker early on in his first year. His lateral movement is good, but I don’t think I would send him to blitz the quarterback until he gets a couple years of NFL coaching. I would have Vander Esch as a mid day-two prospect (late round two to early round three), but the NFL seems to be much higher on him than I am.

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