NFL Draft

2018 NFL Draft Player Profiles: Boise State ILB Leighton Vander Esch

From now until the 2018 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to showcase as many prospects as possible and examine both their strengths and weaknesses. Most of these profiles will feature individuals that the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have an interest in, while a few others will be top-ranked players. If there is a player you would like us to analyze, let us know in the comments below.

#38 Leighton Vander Esch /Boise State ILB – 6’4” 240 lbs.

The Good:

– Good vision and football instincts
– Nice wrap-up, open field tackles
– Versatile, can play any inside or outside linebacker spot in a 3-4 scheme
– Gets out to the flat quickly
– Pursues the pigskin from snap to whistle
– Likes to mix it up with blockers

The Bad:

– Lacks superior quickness
– Runs high and appears off balance
– Issues disengaging from blockers
– Doesn’t knock the ball carrier or blockers back often, more like a catcher’s mitt
– Needs to get smoother dropping back into coverage


– Played in 31 career games with 118 tackles, 58 assists, 4 sacks for 41 yards lost, 3 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, and 3 interceptions for 47 yards.
– Starred in Salmon River High School in football, basketball, track and field.
– Won 2017 Mountain West Championship Game Defensive MVP with 16 tackles and an interception
– 2017 Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year
– Former high school quarterback

Tape Breakdown:

Vander Esch lines up at middle linebacker facing a 4 wide set. He drops back about five yards at the snap into coverage and notices that most of the offensive line is letting his teammates through. The backer steps up to attack a blocker while using one arm to bring down the receiving back.

The backer reads the delayed handoff at the snap of the ball. He charges in to attack the ball carrier, but does not stay square and over-penetrates. This allows the center to turn Vander Esch in the hole and turns a short loss into a 6 yard gain on first down.

Vander Esch spies the quarterback in the shotgun. Off the snap of the ball, the backer slow plays the running back slipping into the flat. #38 clicks and closes on the ball carrier, wrapping up the Duck while using the crown of his helmet to knock out the pigskin from the runner’s grasp, then a fellow Bronco recovered the ball.

Vander Esch lines up five yards off the line of scrimmage staring directly at the signal caller’s eyes. The Bronco defender keys on the the back’s path towards the QB to take the handoff, while reading the San Diego State’s o-line blocks. Vander Esch gets his arms up to disengage the guard’s attempt to greet him. He quickly greets Rashaad Penny in the hole, standing the runner up, and limiting the damage to a simple 2 yard gain.

There is a lot to like about Vander Esch. He is a playmaker, a strong tackler, and has good football sense. On the other hand, the linebacker is still a bit raw and is not a completely fluid athlete. If the former Bronco can play special teams and learn for a year, I believe he could develop into a very good startling inside linebacker with the Steelers.

Projection: Late first round to late second

Games Watched: Wyoming, BYU, Oregon, San Diego State

Previous 2018 NFL Draft Player Profiles
Sam Darnold Garret Dooley Calvin Ridley Fred Warner Ronald Jones II
Maurice Hurst Mike McCray DeShon Elliott  Malik Jefferson Ogbo Okoronkwo
Trayvon Henderson Josh Rosen Ronnie Harrison Kallen Ballage Cedric Wilson Jr.
Micah Kiser Will Hernandez
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