The Pittsburgh Steelers will almost assuredly spend an early selection in the 2018 NFL Draft on an inside linebacker due to the serious spine injury suffered last season by starter Ryan Shazier. Because of that position being high on the Steelers need list this year, NFL draft analyst Mike Mayock was asked during his annual pre-combine conference call with the media to name a player that might still be on the board in the first-round when Pittsburgh picks 28th overall.
“A guy that I’m really intrigued by, and I need to do more work on, is Leighton Vander Esch from Boise State,” Mayock said after first noting that he expects top inside linebacker prospects Tremaine Edmunds and Roquan Smith to already be selected come the Steelers 28th overall pick in the first-round. “If you put his tape on against Oregon, which I believe was his bowl game, it was as good of an off-the-ball linebacker tape as I’ve seen in years. He goes sideline to sideline, he’s great in the pass game, he’s one of those guys that naturally slips under or over blocks to make the play.”
Mayock went on to say that he really looks forward to seeing Leighton Vander Esch perform later this coming week at the scouting combine and especially when it comes to him running the 40-yard-dash.
“He’s like 6-4, 240,” Mayock said of Vander Esch’s pre-combine height and weight. “I want to know what he’s going to run at the combine. In my head, I’ve got an over-under at 4.65 [seconds] and I’m hoping it’s under. And if he runs in that 4.6 range at 240-pounds and with his tape, he’s going to go late first-round and I think he’d be a great fit in Pittsburgh.”
Vander Esch being named a potential first-round selection of the Steelers certainly isn’t surprising as we’ve already seen his name in a few major media mock drafts already. One thing about Vander Esch that goes against the grain when it comes to him potentially being a Steelers first-round draft pick is the fact that he did not play for a Power 5 Conference college team. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is the one and only Steelers first-round draft pick that didn’t play for a Power 5 Conference college team since Kevin Colbert became general manager in 2000.
Vander Esch registered 188 total tackles, of which 62 of them resulted in lost yardage, in the 32 games that he played in at Boise State. He also had 4 interceptions to go along with 5 sacks and 5 pass breakups. He declared for the 2018 NFL Draft as an underclassmen several weeks ago and at that time said he was told by multiple scouts, agents, etc. that he’d likely be no worse than a second round pick.
Below is the cutup of Vander Esch’s performance against Oregon that Mayock referenced during his Monday conference call.