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NFL Draft prospect to know: Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State

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LVE appears to be a legitimate option at pick 19 for the Cowboys.

NCAA Football: Las Vegas Bowl-Boise State vs Oregon Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Blogging The Boys will take a look at some of the NFL Draft prospects that will be in the 2018 NFL Draft class. Some weeks, we will look at potential targets that will be within the Cowboys’ expected draft range. Others, we will highlight some of the elite members of the class.

We are getting closer and closer to the 2018 NFL Draft! Which means, of course, mock drafts are gaining more and more steam as teams begin to get their pre-draft visitors together. Some common names throughout this process have been wide receiver Calvin Ridley, defensive tackles Vita Vea and Da’Ron Payne, and linebacker Rashaan Evans.

The first two Alabama players listed, Ridley and Payne, happen to be the two players trending for the Cowboys in the latest mocks.

Now that free agency has settled down, the mock drafts can reassess the needs for each team and adjust their picks. Today, we look at 16 mocks for the Cowboys first-round pick at #19 in the 2018 NFL draft. Instead of coming to a consensus as the draft draws closer, it seems like the Cowboys picks are getting more varied.

If there was a consensus, it comes at the wide receiver position where seven of the 16 mocks went for that position, and of those seven, four of them chose Alabama’s Calvin Ridley. D.J. Moore was the choice of two mocks and one chose Courtland Sutton.

The only other player mentioned in multiple mocks is defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne from Alabama. He is the top pick in three of the 16 mocks

Last week we took a look at a potential day-three prospect. Today, though, we will look into a linebacker that wasn’t listed but appears to be a potential first-round pick for Dallas.

Leighton Vander-Esch — linebacker, Boise State Broncos

6-foot-4
240
Junior

Las Vegas Bowl - Boise State v Oregon Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Leighton Vander Esch appears to be a prospect that is just now playing the best football of his career — and has the potential to continue get better and better.

Vander Esch played 8-man football in the smallest classification in Idaho as a high schooler. Because of this, no one outside of the home-state Broncos had even hard of LVE’s name. The unranked recruit signed with Boise State in the 2014 recruiting class, and the unknown linebacker took a redshirt season his initial year on campus.

In 2015, Vander Esch received his first taste of college football. The Idaho native played in eight games as a redshirt-freshman, where he made 20 tackles (14 solo), one for a loss, and one fumble recovery. His best game of his first collegiate season came against the UNLV Rebels, where he made five solo tackles. LVE added three solo tackles and a fumble recovery against Hawaii.

Vander Esch’s sophomore season began to show more of what he was and is capable of. The 6-foot-4 backer unfortunately dealt with injuries throughout the season, but he showed flashes: 27 tackles (23 solo), 3.5 tackles-for-loss, one sack, and an interception in just six games. Sure, he had talent — but could he show that through the year? Vander Esch was seen as a prospect with talent, but it’s doubtful that anyone could have predicted the kind of season he would go on to have and that he would forgo his senior year in favor of the draft.

But, that’s exactly what LVE did. The likely 2018 first-round selection exploded on the field during his junior campaign: 141 total tackles, 91 solo, 8.5 tackles-for-loss, four sacks, two interceptions, five passes defended, and four forced fumbles. Maybe the game of the season — and his three-year career — came on the road against the Washington State Cougars, as LVE made 16 total tackles, including ten solo, to go along with two sacks and a forced fumble.

Another performance that is up there was his Mountain West Championship Game Defensive MVP showing versus Fresno State — 16 tackles and a game-sealing pick. Additionally, Vander Esch — proving once again that he shows up on the big stage — recorded 12 tackles (10 solo), three TFLs, one sack, and he forced a fumble in the 38-28 Las Vegas Bowl victory over the Oregon Ducks.

Vander Esch was all over the field for the Broncos’ defense in 2017. He was a huge reason why Boise State won 11 games and the conference championship this past fall. While he may not be on the level of Roquan Smith and Tremaine Edmunds at this stage, Vander Esch is a solid linebacker prospect that offers a lot of upside if he gets into the right system.

What do the experts say?

Regardless of where LVE is ranked on a board, many analysts appear to believe that the talented linebacker will be taken with one of the first 32 selections of this year’s draft. The linebacker position is always an important piece of any defense, and the expectation of Smith and Edmunds going in the top-15 makes Rashaan Evans and LVE that much more of a priority. Here’s what some analysts have to say about the former Boise star.

19. Dallas Cowboys

Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State

Some might see this as a reach, but the Cowboys don’t. Vander Esch is an ascending talent with very encouraging tape, traits and production, giving Dallas immediate depth at linebacker and a potential Pro Bowler.

  • Bryan Broaddus, however, is a tad worried about Vander Esch, and he explains why.

Bryan Broaddus: I was very, very critical of Joey Bosa a couple years ago so I’ve kind of learned my lesson about being so critical of guys. I’ll continue to fight that battle.

The only real problem I have with him is there’s sometimes where he takes on blocks and I don’t think he’s as physical as he needs to be for as big as he is. Now he’s a player, again, with the length he has, the ability to run sideline to sideline: that’s going to be something I think is very advantageous to whatever team he goes to. I picked him for our mock draft [in our Star Magazine].

8. Chicago Bears

Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State. They need to get better at linebacker and some scouts have compared Vander Esch to Luke Kuechly.

31. New England Patriots.

Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State: In lieu of trading back out of the first round, which is ultimately what Bill Belichick will do in this draft, let’s give him a prospect that just seems to fit the mold of the Patriots’ defensive strategy.

28. Pittsburgh Steelers

Leighton Vander Esch, ILB, Boise State. The Steelers signed inside linebacker Jon Bostic as a stopgap but Vander Esch has been impressive during predraft workouts. He’s long on athleticism but short on experience, which could means he spends much of his rookie season learning from the sidelines.


As you can see, Vander Esch’s stock is all over the board. For as many that has him as a top-20 player, others view him as late first-round, maybe early second-round choice.

The fact of the matter is that LVE will more-than-likely be a day-one selection. The fact that he was invited to the draft in AT&T Stadium, as well as his meetings with teams such as the Lions (pick 21), Steelers (28), and others, makes it appear that some team will grab him on April 26th.

The Dallas Cowboys are another team that is set to meet with the 26th ranked player on Brugler’s board. Vander Esch is one of three linebackers on the list of the Cowboys’ 30 pre-draft visitors which signifies that there is at least some real interest from America’s Team. Will (or should) the Cowboys take him at 19 is a completely different question, but there appears to be some legitimate interest there.

Vander Esch is a player that his warts — like his struggles to get off blocks, only having one big season, and his bizarre similarities to 2006 Cowboys first-round pick Bobby Carpenter; but he also has upside and talent: long and athletic, MWC Defensive Player of the Year, and 141 tackles in one season. While he may not be worth the 19th selection in some eyes, he will certainly be long gone before 50.


With the Cowboys need at LB, would you like to see LVE in silver and blue?

*Stats gathered from sports-reference.com, unless otherwise noted.

Catch up with our previous installments below!

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Austin Bryant, DE Clemson

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Tarvarus McFadden, CB Florida State

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Martinas Rankin, OL Mississippi State

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Dre’Mont Jones, DT, Ohio State

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Daron Payne, DT, Alabama

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Harold Landry, DE, Boston College

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Derwin James, Safety, Florida State

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Ronnie Harrison, Safety, Alabama

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Deontay Burnett, WR, USC

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis

NFL Draft Prospect to know: Vita Vea, DT, Washington Huskies

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Michael Gallup, WR, Colorado State

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Cedrick Wilson, WR, Boise State

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Mike Hughes, CB, Central Florida

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Nyheim Hines, RB, North Carolina State

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Josey Jewell, LB, Iowa Hawkeyes

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Deadrin Senat, DT, South Florida

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA Roadrunners

NFL Draft Prospect to Know: PJ Hall, DT, Sam Houston State