What Will Teams Get If They Draft Leighton Vander Esch?

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I’ve heard a lot of words to describe Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch. Here are some examples.

  • BAMF (shoutout to Stick To Football. If you don’t know, look it up.)
  • Hard-nosed
  • Brick Wall
  • Tackling Machine
  • Tough As Nails

When it was suggested I take a look at Vander Esch, I went in with a clear head of all the outside. It’s hard not to take in some bias with you, but part of learning in this area is forming your own opinions. So, I did, ready to see what Vander Esch would show me on tape.

Prototypical Downhill Backer Alert

After a few games of tape, it was clear what teams would get if they drafted Vander Esch. He is about as prototypical as a downhill linebacker can be. Vander Esch is excellent at reading and reacting to what an offense throws at him. He recognizes very well in the run game, and is quick enough to move around blocks and get into position to make plays. When he’s in position, he is not afraid to put big hits down on players.

After hearing he’s a big hitter, sometimes that carries a connotation that he isn’t a form tackler and wants to lay the big hit on every time. This is definitely not true of Vander Esch. He’s as sound a tackler as you will find in this draft.

Vander Esch is also good with his change of direction, which helps when he’s caught out of position. At times, you’ll see a play where he attacks downhill and comes up empty. However, he finds a way to quickly turn and chase down players in the open field.

We’ve discussed a lot about the run game with Vander Esch, but how about his skills in space? Well, his agility scores (which will be discussed below) show that he has the athleticism and ability to play just fine in coverage. On tape, it’s clear he has the instincts to hang with faster players in space and does well recovering with his athleticism.

Make Sure You Know How To Use Him

You’ll often get a mix of players that were used extremely well in college and some who weren’t used in the correct manner. Both of these are true for Vander Esch. There are many examples on tape of Boise State sending Vander Esch on a blitz. When you send linebackers on a blitz, you expect to see certain things. To be an effective blitzer, you want to see someone get a great jump and accelerate to the quarterback. Otherwise, you want to see good hand usage and block shedding abilities.

The issue is, that isn’t there with Vander Esch on tape. He didn’t get good jumps when he blitzed, and he was stoned at the point of attack almost every time. Seeing this constantly makes me wonder if the coaching staff saw this at all.

The conclusion here? Vander Esch fits very well as a WILL linebacker.

Athletic Ability Strong

Vander Esch didn’t overwhelm me at all on tape. He’s a fine player, and he will certainly excel at the next level. I just don’t see a big game changer. However, if you take a look at his athletic scores, they are off the charts. He tested very well in agility drills, while also posting 98th and 96th percentile scores in the vertical and broad jump. Those scores do confirm a great athlete on the field.

Projection

At this moment, I see Vander Esch as a solid second round player. He isn’t in the elite category like Roquan Smith, Tremaine Edmunds, and Rashaan Evans, but you will get a great run defender with the athletic ability to hold his own on third downs. He reminds me a lot of players like Blake Martinez and Reggie Ragland. They don’t play extremely fast, but they are certainly reliable players on defense.

A lot of teams need a reliable defender like Vender Esch, so based on what I’ve read, it’s likely his name gets called on the first night of the draft. Teams like the Chargers, Titans, Saints, and Steelers could all use help at the linebacker position.

For more prospect suggestions, follow Jake on Twitter @JSchyvinck13. Also, don’t forget, Jake and Nate will be live once again talking NFL Draft for the first two nights on Twitter.

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