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Leighton Vander Esch-Boise State

The NFL draft is just days away, and by this point each player has been analyzed, scrutinized, and romanticized by every NFL guru from Kalamazoo to Calcutta. We here at turn once again to our director of scouting Nathan Cooper to help us look deeper into the draft at some guys from the group of five that may be a real steal on draft day!

Leighton Vander Esch College: Boise State

Position: Mike Linebacker

Year: 4JR

Jersey: #38

Hometown: Riggins, ID

Games Scouted: 2017 #4 Virginia, #7 Wyoming, #10 @ Colorado State, #14 Oregon 2017 Stats: 14 GP, 141 Tackles (91 Solo), 8.5 TFL, 4 Sacks, 4 FF, 3 Int Career Stats: 32 GP, 188 Tackles (128 Solo), 13 TFL, 5 Sacks, 4 FF, 1 FR, 4 Int All-Star Game: N/A


  • 2017 Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year

  • 2017 First Team All-MWC (Coaches)

  • Major in General Business

  • Also played basketball and competed in track and field in high school

Character – A

  • 2017 Team Captain

Medical – C

  • 2016 – Suffered a pinched c-spine nerve injury and concussion against Colorado State and missed the final seven games of the season

  • 2017 – Suffered a bruised right knee against BYU

  • 2017 – Suffered a hip injury in the Mountain West Championship against Fresno State

  • Also had an LCL injury in his knee during his career


  • Very good ability to play on all three downs

  • Good coverage ability in both man and zone

  • Great ability to navigate through the trash

  • Very good range from sideline to sideline


  • Not incredibly strong at the POA

  • Has a tough time shedding blocks of larger linemen

  • Will slip off potential tackles from time to time


Vander Esch projects as a starting Mike Linebacker in a 3-4 defensive scheme with the ability to play the Will and an edge rusher in the scheme as well. He mainly played Mike during his time in college at Boise State. He has very good athletic ability and shows good quickness. He also competes with his play and shows toughness battling through injuries. Against the run, he shows good leadership qualities and is a guy that can be the QB of the defense. He seems to have a tough time stacking and shedding against larger blockers and will get driven out of the play most times. He could stand to add some muscle and get stronger at the POA. He’s a productive player that makes a lot of tackles in the hole and out on the edge, but he could have more, as he will slip off of potential tackles from time to time. Also, he doesn’t always look to make a play in the backfield when taking on fullbacks. He takes on the block head on when he could use his hands to push him aside and shed to get around him and make a play. In those instances, he seems to be more interested in blowing up the fullback instead of making a play on the back that goes right by him. On the other hand, he does an outstanding job of sifting and navigating through the traffic. He plays with good instincts, and although he doesn’t always have the COD ability to make the play, he sees and reacts quickly to what’s going on in the backfield. Against the pass, he shows good communication to get everyone lined up where they need to be. He has the range to make plays from side to side and also to run with seams down the middle of the field. He shows good instincts in zone coverage and is able to jump routes and make plays on the football. He shows solid ability to stick with most backs and tight ends in man coverage, although he doesn’t have the speed to stick with faster receivers. He has the length to be able to blitz and rush the passer, but his experience is limited. If he’s able to grow that skill, he should be able to occasionally come off the edge in passing situations, although it would be tough to take him out of coverage in those instances. The neck injury is a little concerning on whether he will be able to play much special teams, but if he can, he should be a solid contributor. Vander Esch will probably need to start off as a 3-4 Will to give him time to develop and add strength, but should see the field his rookie season before taking the starting job at Mike or Will by his second season.

NFL Comparison: Zach Cunningham, Texans (2nd Round, 2017) Vander Esch and Cunningham both have good length and instincts for the linebacker position. They both were highly productive in college with good coverage ability and great range from sideline to sideline, but don’t always take the best angles to the ball and let ball carriers slip through their grasp on occasion.

Grade: 6.8 (Mid-Late 1st Round)

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