Name: Leighton Vander Esch
School: Boise State
Class: RS Junior
40 Time: 4.65
Games Watched: All 2017 tape
A high school quarterback/ linebacker, Vander Esch played 8 man football in Idaho and did not receive a single scholarship offer. He was offered the opportunity to walk on at Boise State and after putting on 40 pounds during his playing career announced early as a red shirt junior to enter the NFL Draft. As a junior in 2017 he was named the Mountain West DPOY with 141 tackles, 4 sacks and 2 interceptions.
He has everything you look for in a first round inside linebacker prospect. He has fluid hips, excellent change of direction and a nose for the football where he consistently finds himself in the right position to make a play. Against the run he is able to work around blocks and can navigate through traffic and find the ball carrier. His quick movement skills allow him to flow to the football and despite starting just one season for Boise, he already has excellent processing speed.
His coverage skills are highly coveted and this is what will likely see him taken late on day one. He has excellent footwork and is extremely smooth when dropping into coverage. He is excellent at watching the quarterback and extremely active with his hands in disrupting throwing lanes. Vander Esch is also dangerous when utilised as a blitzer.
His sideline-to-sideline range complement his prototypical size for the position. He could excel inside either in a 4-3 or 3-4 defense. He’d be an excellent Pittsburgh Steeler (the team I believe will draft him). He’s a wrap up tackler with excellent processing speed and is above average on all three downs – look’s a first rounder to me.
Despite his excellent size he is still growing into his frame. While a wrap up tackler, Vander Esch could do with adding more bulk to his base which would allow him to truly dominate blockers and running backs in the run game. This lack of confidence/ strength causes him to lead with his shoulder on lead blockers and can there take him out of plays. He also misses a few tackles on tape, nothing major to knock his grade but it’s something that will need polishing in the NFL.
While he works well through blocks by using his size and speed to work underneath linemen in the second level, he will need to improve his hand usage and ability to take on and shed blocks. Another weakness that flashes up on tape is his tendency to over pursue ball carriers.
He has limited experience with only one year as a starter and durability could be a concern after he missed six games as a sophomore.
There are few linebackers better at shooting the gap than Leighton Vander Esch. He has had something of a hype train leading into the NFL Draft based on his excellent athleticism and lack of available film to review. If you want to convince yourself to draft him in the first round, stick on the Washington tape.
Vander Esch is an excellent inside linebacker prospect. He is quick to diagnose, has fluid hips, sideline-to-sideline range and is a vocal MIKE. He is excellent in coverage and has plenty of upside if he can add further strength to his base.
Grade: Top-35 pick (Projected to go late 20s)
Pro Comparison: A more complete De’Vondre Campbell (much better run defender)
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Leighton Vander Esch scouting report.