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2018 NFL Draft prospect profile: Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State

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Could this one year wonder go from playing on a blue field to playing for Big Blue?

NCAA Football: Boise State at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants need to improve their linebacking corps. They have needed to for some time, but as the team transitions to a more linebacker-driven defensive scheme, the need has only increases. The team hasn’t spent a high-round pick on a linebacker since drafting Clint Sintim in the second round of the 2009 draft.

The combination of need and a good crop of linebackers could mean that this is the draft in which the Giants (finally) address the need with a premium pick.

Boise State’s Leighton Vander Esch was a break-out player in this year, generating significant draft buzz with a tantalizing combination of potential and production. He should be on the Giants’ radar, but will they be in position to draft him?

Measurables

Pros

  • Prototypical blend of height, weight, and speed.
  • Elite athlete. Moves like a much smaller player.
  • Comfortable dropping into coverage or attacking downhill.
  • Disruptive in the backfield when attacking gaps and can hang in coverage with most tight ends and running backs.
  • Quickly reacts to plays.
  • Generally reliable tackler.
  • High revving motor. Plays through the echo of the whistle and makes hustle plays.

Cons

  • Only one year of production.
  • Can take overly aggressive (or poor) angles that get him burned.
  • Occasionally goes for the arm tackle, leading to yards after contact.
  • Needs to work on using his hands to stack and shed blockers.

Prospect video

What they’re saying

“Vander Esch is a loose-hipped, instinctive linebacker who played in 2017 like he had a GPS tracker on the football. His production totals against both the run and pass are rare for being a first-year starter and with a frame that is primed for more muscle, his NFL ceiling is high. Vander Esch might benefit from a reduced role his rookie season while he improves his play strength and becomes more skilled at taking on blocks. He’s an every-down linebacker with very good starting potential and the talent to fill up a stat sheet.”

-Lance Zierlein (NFL.com)

Does he fit the Giants?

Vander Esch is an ascending linebacker with only one year of experience as a starter, but he visibly improved by the game in 2017.

His lack of exerpience shows up on tape, as he can be fooled by “eye candy” on the offensive side of the ball, as well as struggle to disengage from linemen when he takes their blocks on directly. However, when he is able use his impressive athleticism, he is a handful for offenses.

Vander Esch should be a first round pick, and teams will likely overlook his limited experience in order to cash in on his impressive upside. He is still filling out his fame and his combination of size and athleticism should let him play almost any linebacker position in any defensive scheme.

In the (highly) unlikely event that he slips to the second round, the Giants should absolutely have Vander Esch on their short-list of players to consider. But it is much more likely that he will be gone long before the second night of the draft.